Communication and persistence can make almost impossible assignments happen.

October 17, 2009

Some years ago, I got the project to set up a fish processing operation in Klemtu on the central coast of British Columbia. Some agreement had been made a couple of years earlier, as the whole project started with the set up of fish farms.

For the processing, we needed to not only equip the plant, but also train the staff of this small coastal community isolated on an island with no road connection to the mainland. Therefore, the logistics were quite adverse: an isolated island with about no choice of carriers except the one that had been appointed on a sea that is often dangerous to the point that barges do not even venture on it. The risk was that the fresh fish could be stuck and not be delivered on time. Of course, that would have been unacceptable for our customers, who were located thousands of km away.

When it came to the facilities, the local community was providing for the plant, meaning a very basic building with no specific equipment for salmon processing. In the plant’s yard we had to browse through a pile of old tables and pipes to figure out something. Since volumes were starting rather low, it would not have been sensible to buy automated processing equipment, because the cost per pound of fish would have been horrendous. Further, the isolation of the place would have made any call for a technician about useless, as it would have taken him a couple of days to be on the premises. All the work was to be manual.

The equipment was probably the easiest part, though. We needed to train the staff to modern food production and educate them about to all aspects of food safety and quality, as they had never been exposed to this. Everyone who has dealt with First Nations knows that they are dealing with a number of social issues and poor physical health and condition, unfortunately the result of past colonization and the destruction of their traditional society. As such, this exercise was a great way of merging two worlds and recreating a feeling of community between this village and the international food business including large retailers and food service companies in the US and Canada.

We developed the training program covering all theoretical aspects as well as the practical realities of fish processing. A few chosen crew members were sent to an experienced fish plant to get exposure to modern processing. We set up an exam to have an incentive for the potential employees to study our material. As it appeared the day of the exam, half of the students did not show up and someone explained to me that some felt uncomfortable with writing. Of course, this was an awkward situation and there was a chance of losing some of the workforce, which is not good when that workforce is already limited, and replacement not easy to find. I turned this around by giving only one collective grade. After all, I had repeated so many times that this would be teamwork, what better example could I find to illustrate that than giving the team the grade, instead of individual marks?

Considering how important it is to gut and cut the fish properly, I was more interested in the quality of the work than the productivity at first. Once they would master the technique, we could think of increasing the pace of the processing line. So, we started with the equivalent of half a truck the first day, and the second half for the following day. In a normal plant, a full truck was processed in five hours in those days. I was expecting that our first half load would be done in eight hours at most. The reality came out quite differently. After two hours, the staff got physically tired and I could notice that moment when all the shoulders started to drop. After eight hours, many of the workers went back home because they were tired. We finished the first production day in thirteen hours! The second day was even worse with some people not showing up at all, and it took 23 hours! The situation looked lost. However, my sense of persistence made me refuse to give up so quickly. I re-planned the next round of harvests to be only a third of a truck per processing day. This was the magical number, and from there, our staff was able to work within normal hours, and get more productive, while producing the proper quality. Within two weeks after this, they were able to process a full truck in 9 hours! What a turn-around! As production volumes were increasing, we were able to justify for the purchase of machines to help speeding up the operation and by then we were able to process fish as quickly as any other regular plant.

As time went by, some of the locals showed capacities to take charge of more and more things, and even the original agreement was clearly that management activities had to be carried out by non-locals, we created several positions that they could fill successfully.

Yet, beyond the business case, the most valuable experience for me had been to see activity coming back in a community plagued by 80% unemployment before this project started. Getting work did not only give them money, but it helped them become healthier, with many of the employees recovering from diabetes. The most important of all was a boosted self-esteem, as they found a new purpose in their lives.

They felt successful, happy and fulfilled again!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Genchi genbutsu

October 16, 2009

This is an interesting article from Economist.com about the Japanese way of getting out of your office and about having a look at what is going on in the plant.

I like the part in which the author tries to compare the Japanese way and the American way. In my opinion, there is not much point in doing that. The best is to review what the strengths of both approaches are and build an even better system from there.

If you want to be an effective manager, you need to have a hands-on approach!


Are you living your dreams?

September 3, 2009

Dreaming your lifeFrom early childhood, we all have had our ideas and dreams about how life would be later. You know, when I grow up, I want to…
Yet, later in life, many people seem to have forgotten about these dreams or, worse, they have given up on them. This is sad, because there are not many things that can energize and motivate you as the pursuit of something very dear to you: being the person you always wanted to be.

Personally, I have been blessed with supportive and open-minded parents. They always encouraged me to pursue what I really wanted to do, if that was indeed good and important for me. The fact that they also taught me boundaries made such encouragements even more stimulating: if they supported me, I knew that it was because what I was aiming at was worth it. Consciously going after something meaningful is one of the most motivating things I can think of.

This has allowed me to be aware of my personality and of my possibilities at a young age, which made it possible for me to decide much of how my life would be like. Like everyone else, there have been bumps on the road once in a while, but knowing what I wanted always helped keep the course, and that has brought me lots of satisfaction and the privilege of living quite a few of my childhood’s dreams.
As I grew a little less young, I also discovered that dreaming is a work in progress. It is nice to pursue your childhood’s dreams, but sometimes, circumstances change, or the dreams appear to not be as realistic or sensible as they seemed first, and we left them aside. That is not really a problem as long as we keep the ability to keep envisioning who we want to be. With age comes more experience, more self-awareness and this is why it is never too late to think of what we want to be later. This process has nothing to do with any mid-life crisis, as that is something else, which is not about dreaming about the future; it is the mourning of the past.

I have been lucky to live most of my youth’s dreams and it has brought me to where I am today: a happy and fulfilled man who wants to make it possible for others to experience the same. It has made me able to look at my life in a dynamic manner and constantly think of how and in what I can grow further, and the ideas keep coming.

Who you want to be is the mix of what you love to do, what you do best, what your values are, and of where and with whom you want to make this happen.

The worst thing to do to oneself being not to try at all, and regret it for the rest of one’s life, the question that you must ask yourself is: Are you living your dreams?
If not, what happened then? More importantly, what are you going to do about it? Can you think of better objectives today, thanks to a better knowledge of yourself? What is keeping you from trying, and how can you overcome such hurdles? It is only by trying over and over again that one succeeds.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The importance of a cohesive team

August 10, 2009

Helping each other creates cohesion and successIn sports, everybody knows the importance of having a group of talented people who can play together harmoniously for the interest of the group. Not only must the team members be good at their specialty, but they also must have the understanding of the other players’ needs and skills, so that they can create for them opportunities to score. Moreover, everybody understands in sports the crucial role of the coach to create the proper interaction to achieve success. Terms as goals, help and support are common.

In business, having such cohesive teams, although always mentioned as very important, tends in many cases to be suboptimal. Many companies perform below what they should and could perform, simply because the interconnection and the fostering of the relationships are very often neglected. It almost looks like everyone sticks to their job description, on which by the way the nature of the interaction with colleagues is not even mentioned. Recruiting people and telling them what they have to do without telling them with whom and how to achieve the goals together will simply not deliver good results. When you take a look at reward systems, you will see that it generally never include collective goals, except the very general profit. Most of the time, bonuses are based on individual performance indicators that usually ignore the performance indicators of your direct colleagues.

Sport or business, the principles are the sameSo, how to achieve superior performance and build cohesive teams across departments? Actually, it is rather simple, at least in theory. Just copy what they do in sports. They draw charts about the strategy to reach the goal and beat the opponent. They review it together, and everybody gets to hear what their specific role is going to be. They will have to pay attention to what the adversary’s moves are and they will develop alternative strategies to deal with them. Everyone in the team knows their function, and most importantly, they know what their fellow team members will do for them and what they expect from them. Further, the coach is present on the sidelines and is very vocal giving instructions at once all the time as the game develops. Unfortunately, such a presence and such a hands-on support are often missing in business, because the coach is in a meeting.

Of course, running a business is not quite like playing the main event game, but they are simple ways to create that sense of support and quick reaction to changing situations and applying alternative plans. One of the most effective approaches to create cohesive teams in business is to develop the supplier-customer partnership at all levels of your organization (see our presentation about this subject). Everyone must know what the colleagues needs are and must communicate what their own needs are as well. This shortens discussions as there is clarity created beforehand and it enhances a sense of anticipation by all participants, as they will recognize what to supply their team members with in a timely manner. Last, but not least, creating and sustaining cohesive teams requires a strong hands-on leadership (read Presence: the prerequisite for leadership).

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The Life Plan will help you increase personal fulfillment

August 4, 2009

Your level of happiness or fulfillment is generally a direct consequence of how much you live your life and live in an environment that matches your values.

Here at The Happy Future Group, we have developed our Life Plan program (see the presentation under “Personal Programs“) to help you identify how balanced your life and your values are, and from there we help you build your own specific action list.

The process is simple. To identify your values, you will confront your own findings with some of your friends’ assessment of what truly drives you. Involving trusted friends to participate makes this process more fun and more rewarding. It also avoids this search to feel like a questioning, and at the same time, it will give you a much more objective feedback. After all, every person is who they really are, but also whom they show and who others think they are. By reducing the discrepancy between these three apparently different persons, your level of happiness will naturally increase.

By assessing how much fulfillment the different parts of your life match your core values, you will get your own “fulfillment index”. From that index and its analysis, it will become rather easy and obvious what actions you will need to take to increase your level of fulfillment.

The philosophy of the action list is all about incremental improvement. Consider your current life as being the ground zero. Each action when completed will help you live more to your values, and therefore you will achieve progress one step at a time. The timelines are the ones you feel comfortable with. All you need is to fully commit to the process. Should you “soften” a bit, we will help you remember what you promised yourself to achieve.

All you need to complete this process to success is to have the willingness to make it work, to be yourself and to spend the necessary time and energy.

To be happy, you do not need to go up the mountain to find yourself. It is all here and now, inside and around you!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The Happy Customer

July 18, 2009

The Happy Customer will give you more businessCustomers are essential for a business. Therefore, keeping the customer satisfied and happy is critical for you as a supplier. So, what does make a happy customer? Is it just about saying “yes” to all their requests? Although many salespeople seem to think that saying “yes” is the answer, the reality is quite different. Customers understand and accept “no” for an answer when they realize that they can have a better deal than “yes”.

Quite often, I have heard statements such as “we exceed our customers’ expectations” or “customer first” and I have seen that they are rather ineffective, and in some cases counterproductive, because they neither create true loyalty nor establish a respectful relationship. To me, such statements are just hollow marketing slogans that rarely serve the customer or the supplier’s business for that matter.

To make a happy customer, it does not take all that much, but there is a combination of areas that need to be covered properly.

Before even claiming that you will exceed the customer’s expectations, you need to identify and understand what the customer really wants and needs and why. To achieve this, there is this simple, yet highly effective technique that, unfortunately, many salespeople seem to ignore: LISTEN!

To me, listening is the easiest thing in the world: all you have to do is keep quiet and let the customer speak. Just moderate the conversation by asking a few relevant questions, and take notes! Another important part of listening is that it shows that you respect your customer’s knowledge of his business and of yours to some extent. Too many salespeople fail a sale because they annoy the buyer by pretending that they know everything better.

Another area that is critical to make the customer happy is to never any promise that you cannot keep. Saying yes and not delivering is probably the most effective way of destroying trust and credibility. Since they are already difficult to establish the first time, trying to gain them back is an even harder task. If in doubt, you do not have to say “no”, but tell the customer that you will do your due diligence and get back to him as soon as possible. Since this is a promise, do not forget to indeed do the thorough follow-up, unless you wish to lose your credibility. If you cannot promise this, then you must ask yourself if you really should be a businessperson at all.

If you want to establish a long-term relationship, which is what everybody claims, you also must make sure that your service or product is actually adding value to your customer. By asking and listening, you will find out where the customer has a need for added value, and you must demonstrate clearly to him/her that you indeed can help him/her build a stronger business.

Also, never forget that solid relationships can last only if there is mutual respect. You must show this to your customer, and always negotiate in a give and take approach. The best way to earn respect is to be honest and tell the truth. Saying “yes” only works for a while until the day you disappoint the customer. In my sales career, the best compliment I have had came from Marks & Spencer. My contact there told me that what they liked about our company was that, unlike many of their other suppliers, we dared to say “no”, explain why and come with a workable solution. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Last, but not least, always remember that the customer is the one who pays for your salary, so serve him well and in a way that also supports your business. You also must not forget that to have your salary paid, your business must be profitable, so do not forget to make the customer pay a fair price to you for all the great service you deliver him as listed above!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The confusion between perfection and excellence

July 2, 2009

Always betterWhen hiring people, I have heard many times their claiming to be perfectionists, either as one of their top three qualities or one of their top three “weaknesses”. Actually, it has always sounded to me like everyone wants things to be “perfect” all the time.
On the other hand, I very rarely have heard anyone mentioning the word “excellence”. This is strange, because many of the “perfectionists” are not really looking for perfection, but they simply want to do an excellent job.
So, what is the difference between the two terms? Actually, it is very simple. Since nobody can define what perfection exactly means, perfection cannot be attained, and therefore should not be set as a goal. On the contrary, excellence, because it is a dynamic and relative concept can be translated rather easily into performance objectives that can be quantified.
Perfection is the quest of an abstract absolute, while excellence is the desire to constantly improve. Therefore, the so-called perfectionists can be split into two groups: the bitter idealists and the driven achievers.
Members of the first group are easy to identify, as they are never satisfied and always have to criticize or blame something or someone for the according-to-them unsatisfying performance. What is also remarkable is that they never seem to make mistakes and they are in never the cause for any problem. They tend to have a negative attitude and they never are happy.
Members of the second group are quite different. They, too, are difficult to satisfy, not so much because performance is below expectations, but because they see ways of doing better or of having been able to do better. Their attitude is generally positive and they are always ready to go again to improve things. Their main motivation is to do beat the previous record and certainly to always beat the competitors. They also do not waste their time blaming, justifying or criticizing, and if they realize that they performance is not good, they will feel mortified and they will take action themselves to correct the situation and meet their goals. Their drive and their knowledge that tomorrow is the other day when they will do better keeps them optimistic, happy and stimulating.
So, if you want superior performance, choose your group! Be enthusiastic, shake things, never give and deliver the goods! Do not focus on why things went wrong, bring solutions and fix the problems!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.