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How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

Certified Petra Coach Rob Simons draws upon his 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, brand expert and business coach. Rob founded PixelWorks Corporation in 1993 to serve the interactive advertising industry and in 1996 he founded Toolbox Studios, Inc., one of the most respected branded content marketing firms in Texas. Rob sold Toolbox Studios in 2015 to focus exclusively on business coaching, which includes certification as a Gazelles International Four Decisions™ coach. An active member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), Rob is currently a “Master” EO Strategy Summit Facilitator and an EO Accelerator Instructor. In 2007, the San Antonio Business Journal named him one of San Antonio’s “40 Under 40.”

Business News

How to conduct a proper informational interview

(CAREER) Informational interviews comprise a technique in which you ask an employer or current employee to explain the details of their job to you. Try doing this before you transition into your next occupation!

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At some point in your career, you may ask for someone’s time to do an informational interview — a process in which a job-seeker asks questions about a field, company, or position in hopes of receiving information which will inform both their decision to go into the field and their responses to the specific job’s actual interview. Since the power dynamic in an informational interview can be confusing, here are a few tips on how to conduct one. Not how to obtain one, but how to conduct one once both parties agree to connect.

The process of an informational interview typically starts with finding a person who works in your desired field (and/or location if you have a specific company in mind) and setting up a time during which you can ask them a few questions about things like their job responsibilities, salary, prerequisites, and so on. Once you’ve set up a time to meet in person (or via Skype or phone), you can proceed with putting together a list of questions.

Naturally, you should understand the circumstances under which asking for an informational interview is appropriate before requesting one. Your goal in an informational review should be to ask questions and listen to the answers, NOT pitch yourself as a potential hire. Ever. Nobody appreciates having their time wasted, and playing on your contact’s generosity as a way into their company is a sure way for your name to end up on their blacklist.

Once you’ve set up an informational interview, you should start the conversation by asking your contact what their typical day is like. This is doubly effective: your contact will most likely welcome the opportunity to discuss their daily goings-on, and you’ll be privy to an inside glance at their perspective on things like job responsibilities, daily activities, and other positive aspects of their position.

They’ll also probably detail some drawbacks to the position — things which usually aren’t explained in job postings — so you’ll have the opportunity to make a well-informed decision vis-à-vis the rigors of the job before diving head-first into the hiring process.

After your contact finishes walking you through their day, you can begin asking specific questions. However, unless they’ve been unusually brief in their description of their duties, your best course of action is probably to ask them follow-up questions about things they’ve already mentioned rather than asking targeted questions you wrote without context. This will both indicate that you were listening and allow them to expand upon information they’ve already explained, ensuring you’ll receive well-rounded responses.

You should save the most specific questions (e.g., the most easily answered ones) for the end of the interview. For example, if you want to know what a typical salary for someone in your contact’s position is or you’re wondering about vacation time, ask after you’ve wrapped up the bulk of the interview. This will prevent you from wasting the initial moments of the interview with technical content, and it may also keep the contact from assuming a strictly material motive on your part. And be willing to ask “what does someone with your job title typically earn in [city]?” instead of their specific take-home salary which might not be reflective of the norm (plus, it’s rude, and akin to asking someone their weight).

This is also a good time to ask for general advice regarding breaking into the field, though you may want to avoid this step if you feel like your contact isn’t comfortable discussing such a topic or if you’re intending to apply as someone with experience.

Of course, you won’t always be able to meet with your preferred contact directly, especially if they work in a dynamic field (e.g., emergency services) or have a security clearance which negates their ability to answer the bulk of your questions. If this happens, you have a couple of back-up options:

1. Send an email with a list of questions to the contact, or send them your phone number with a wide-open calling schedule. This is useful if your contact has a random or on-call schedule.

2. Ask your contact if there is someone else you could connect with (it could even be their assistant).

3. Speak to the company’s HR branch to see if you can request a company-specific job requirement print-out or link. These will usually be more particular than the industry requirements. But don’t ask for something you can find yourself on the company’s Careers page online.

Nothing beats an in-person interview over a cup of coffee, but — again — wasting someone’s time isn’t a good way to receive useful information about the position in which you’re interested.

Before transitioning to your next position or career field, consider conducting an informational interview. You’ll be amazed at the amount of insider information you can glean from simply listening to someone discuss their day in detail.

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Business News

Even Myers-Briggs creators say not to use the test in the workplace

(BUSINESS) The Myers-Briggs test is fascinating, no question, but it should never be used to screen candidates.

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Personality tests are some of the most popular posts on social media. At least once every day, I see “What Sauce Are You?” or “What Disney Princess Are You?” on my Facebook feed. Millions of people take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test each year, a more professional personality test. When you take the MBTI, you’re presented with a personality type, based on four characteristics, extrovert-introvert (E/I); sensing -intuition (S/N); thinking-feeling (T-F); and judging – perceiving (J/P).

Many organizations use the MBTI in the workplace to group people into teams or to select candidates for employment. After all, wouldn’t you want an extrovert over an introvert for a sales position? But using the MBTI to make serious business decisions may not be a good idea. Here’s why.

It’s unethical to use the MBTI in certain cases.

According to the creators of the MBTI, “It is unethical and in many cases illegal to require job applicants to take the Indicator if the results will be used to screen out applicants. The administrator should not counsel a person to, or away from, a particular career, personal relationship or activity based solely upon type information.”

Personality type does not imply competence or preference.

The creators of MBTI also state this in their ethical position on the personality test. I am an introvert. I will always be an introvert. But I just found out that some of my colleagues believe I am an extrovert. I can adapt to a social or business situation to get the job done. If a job used the MBTI to place me on a team, they may see that I don’t always behave like an introvert. Similarly, a job may overlook me for a position based on my MBTI type. Either way, it’s kind of unfair.

How can you use the MBTI?

The MBTI can be beneficial to help people understand their own tendencies. I remember one thing from the test, a question about whether you base your decisions on how they impact others. Years ago, I would have answered that totally in the positive. I always considered others in making my decisions, whether I should or shouldn’t have. Today, I would answer that question much differently. My understanding of boundaries is much better.

Your MBTI type can be a great communication starter, especially in teams. But it shouldn’t typecast you into a particular position on the team. Employers should not be using the MBTI to pigeonhole their employees.

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Business News

How to talk your boss into letting you work from home

(BUSINESS NEWS) Remote working is increasingly more common here are some tips on how to ask your boss for flexibility.

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You ain’t gotta go to work, work, work

To some people, “working remotely” sounds like a code word for sitting around in your PJs watching Netflix all day.

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But many professionals, managers and otherwise, recognize the value of the flexibility and independence that comes with working from home occasionally.

Pros of remote work

Depending on your role, your commute, and your personal life, benefits of working from home could include:
Reallocating commute time into productivity. 45 minutes each way means an hour and a half of wasted time – and you’re probably already tired by the time you get to work.
Uninterrupted periods of focused work. Coworkers are a wonderful resource for collaboration, and even friendship, but even the most awesome people can be annoying when you really, really, really need to focus.
Energizing quiet time. Introverts often underestimate how much they mentally need this, and everyone can use a reset once in a while.
More time to spend with kids/spouse/friends. Again, you can save time on your commute, and often you can rearrange your schedule to work a few hours after the kids have gone to bed/the movie is over/etc.

If you’ve already made that list of benefits in your head a thousand times while knocking your head against your office desk, a work arrangement that includes remote work days is definitely something you should try, if your organization and your manager will agree to it.

What’s between you and your home office?

But for many potential remote workers, getting the boss onboard seems like an unsurmountable barrier, and they may have even made the request in the past but been denied. This article is designed to help all those interested in remote work successfully navigate that daunting process.

Before we get into the details of potential concerns your boss may have, you should establish a clear reason (or reasons) why you’d like to transition to a schedule that includes working from home.

If you can’t articulate this fundamental point, your boss will be much more likely to suspect that your motives are less than pure. Both personal and professional reasons are totally valid, but being totally open is the only way to set yourself up for success.

The game plan

With these motivations in mind, develop a proposal for your boss that focuses on how working from home will benefit your organization, not you. Your boss knows that you’re asking for this flexibility for yourself, but a happier and more productive you is way better for the company than a miserable, exhausted you.

Your proposal should include a schedule or plan, and you should probably start slow with the work from home days.

If your goal is to work from home two days a week, suggest spending one day at home every two weeks for a set period, like two or three months, so that your boss will have a built in trial period to agree to.

A couple of pro tips: aside from ensuring that you’re in the office on important regular meeting days, you should avoid Friday as your work from home day to be sure it doesn’t look like you’re after three day weekends. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are ideal, because they’re in the middle of the week, and you may often have a lot of tasks and projects coming to a head on these days that you’ll need to focus on for completion.

You also need to go out of your way to make sure your boss understands that your flexible schedule would work both ways; that is, even if you’re scheduled to work from home this Wednesday, you’ll come into the office for an important meeting or check in.

Go the extra mile without being asked and your boss will have no reason to worry about flexibility.

Finally, the best way to prove the value of remote work is to actually work better remotely. That means you’re in regular contact with your team and your boss, whether you’re asking questions or just sending status updates on your projects a couple of times a day.

Over-communicating is important here.

It also means accomplishing a little more than you might at the office, or digging a little deeper. If you finish something early, ask coworkers over chat or phone if they could use your help for an hour. Make yourself available, just as you would in the office, and no one will be left wondering what you do all day.

A dedicated workspace in your home can do wonders for your productivity – it’s hard for anyone to do hard, concentrated work on their sofa with a lap desk.

Let your boss know it worked

As the end of the established trial period approaches, it would be prudent to present your boss with a summary of your remote accomplishments over the past few months.

If you’re sending regular updates, this should be easy to determine.

And no matter how sure you are that you’ll love working remotely, you should be mindful of any loneliness or feelings of isolation, and address them by staying in contact with coworker friends over chat, or scheduling lunches with them once in awhile, especially if you work from home the majority of the time.

Try again

If, after careful preparation and thoughtful presentation, your boss still isn’t having it, don’t be afraid to ask again in a few months. And in the meantime, you could bolster your case by taking a day or two of unscheduled time off and just working from home unasked.

If you can show your boss what the company gets out of it, they’ll be hard pressed to say no.

#Remote

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