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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

Top 15 jobs that will see hiring growth in 2020

(BUSINESS NEWS) LinkedIn releases the 2020 Emerging Jobs Reports which looks at trends and growth. A lot of changes are happening, especially in tech.

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While many are hanging their stockings by the chimney with care, we’re digging into the end-of-year data that runs rampant at this time of year – and we love it. Such data has been released from LinkedIn in the form of its 2020 Emerging Jobs Report.

LinkedIn explains this report as: “The Emerging Jobs analysis is based on all LinkedIn members with a public profile that have held a full-time position within the U.S. during the past five years. Once the talent pool has been identified, we then calculate the share of hiring and Compound Annual Growth Rate for each occupation between 2015 and 2019 to identify the roles with the largest rate of hiring growth. These become our Emerging Jobs.”

The report finds that trends for U.S. jobs in 2020 will see data and artificial intelligence continue to grow as time marches on. Additionally, data science is booming and is starting to replace legacy roles.

The trends also state that increased insurance for mental health is driving up demands for behavioral health professionals. Lastly, the report finds that it’s never a bad time to be an engineer.
As for overall industry trends, it was found that online learning is here to stay while more smart cars are coming our way. Also, the future of tech will rely heavily on people skills.

Location trends found that secondary cities have the jobs (like Austin, hollaaaa!) and tech is taking over Washington D.C. And, as pointed out in many of my articles this year, remote work will continue to become more and more mainstream.

The report then listed the top 15 emerging jobs in the U.S. These include:

1. Artificial Intelligence Specialist (74% annual growth)
2. Robotics Engineer (40% annual growth)
3. Data Scientist (37% annual growth)
4. Full Stack Engineer (35% annual growth)
5. Site Reliability Engineer (34% annual growth)
6. Customer Success Specialist (34% annual growth)
7. Sales Development Representative (34% annual growth)
8. Data Engineer (33% annual growth)
9. Behavioral Health Technician (32% annual growth)
10. Cybersecurity Specialist (30% annual growth)
11. Back End Developer (30% annual growth)
12. Chief Revenue Officer (28% annual growth)
13. Cloud Engineer (27% annual growth)
14. JavaScript Developer (25% annual growth)
15. Product Owner (24% annual growth)

When looking at how your company is growing, it is worthwhile to look at how the world around you is expanding, and if you’re job hunting, this list shows job titles that are quickly getting more competitive!

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Business News

Unicorn goes extinct – is the scooter movement in trouble?

(BUSINESS NEWS) The scooter war may be coming to an end with many companies, like Unicorn, closing their doors and refusing to fulfill orders and/or refund customers.

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Scooters, scooters, scooters – it seems like that’s all us city-dwellers have heard about these past 3 years.

Since the inception of rental scooters in Santa Monica in 2017, more and more companies have thrown their hats into the ring, resulting in intense competition. Through this brand rivalry, many of the scooter-centric companies have gone bust, including the most recent shut-down, Unicorn.

Unicorn is a newer brand of electric scooters, under the brand name Unicorn Rides. The supposed up-and-coming scooter company was created by well-known tech CEO, Nick Evans, the maker of the ever-popular tracking device, Tile.

Unicorn was meant to be a product that wowed customers, with special bells and whistles not seen before with other scooter brands. The company boasted a unique, rugged and waterproof battery, enhanced motor output for riding through hilly areas, an integrated smartphone app, and even extra storage for grocery shopping and other errands.

But when Unicorn sent a very worrisome email to a large portion of its customers last week (350 paid-up, un-served customers), it quickly became clear that the company wasn’t going to live up to the hype. In fact, it was obvious that the company wouldn’t live any longer at all.

The gist of the email included an announcement that the company would be shutting down, strictly due to finances. Apparently, the company spent the majority of it’s money on Google and Facebook ads, as well as loan repayments which, they explained, resulted in their inability to fulfill existing orders or refund anyone who had already purchased the $699 device – a huge blow to customers.

In the email, Evans stated that they actually could have continued to press forward with production and fulfillment, and that it may have been enough to fund the business, but they ended up opting against this route as a lack of sales could have resulted in future customer upsets.

In the same email, Evans went on to more deeply explain their money trouble: “Unfortunately, the cost of the ads were just too expensive to build a sustainable business. And as the weather continued to get colder throughout the US and more scooters from other companies came on to the market, it became harder and harder to sell Unicorns, leading to a higher cost for ads and fewer customers.”

This explanation isn’t leaving a better taste in their customers’ mouths though. Buyers like Rebecca Buchholtz are very unhappy, and rightfully so. Buchholtz told The Verge “I am upset he basically robbed everyone of his customers and is closing without delivering any scooters.”

It’s important to mention that Unicorn did not go the typical funding route for its product, either. Instead of just using angel investors and investment firms, Unicorn chose to go a different route – scooter pre-orders. Crowd-funding through pre-orers is not a completely unheard of avenue, though. Unagi Scooters, for example, successfully funded its first campaign for its new scooter (appropriately named Unagi) on Kickstater in 2018, raising over $242K. The main difference here is that Unicorn’s “pre-order” was not through a platform such as Kickstarter, which actually protects buyers from incidents like this.

In his email, Evans alludes that they’re still trying to refund (at least partially) their customers, but he also specifically said that it “looks unlikely”. Their website is still working, but pages like their shipping update and pre-order cancelation pages, which still show up in Google’s search results, are now dead links, resulting in 404 errors. This makes for a pretty clear statement on what’s to happen with the company’s existing customers.

unicorn 404

But it’s not over yet! If you are an affected customer of Unicorn’s, don’t fret. Most banks have fraud-protection and buyer-protection, so if you pre-ordered using a credit or debit card, we recommend contacting your bank.

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Business News

Court green lights demoting an employee for physical disabilities

(BUSINESS NEWS) Court rules the Americans with Disability Act doesn’t fully cover employees – but is the law actually open to some interpretation?

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Wrongful termination is a hot topic these days, especially in relation to employees with disabilities. It’s commonly thought that if you have a disability, you’re safe and that no one can fire you for simply being disabled. But did you know that’s actually a myth?

When ex-Sheriffs Deputy Brigid Ford injured herself on the job, she was faced with the hard truth about the law surrounding disabilities.

Ford, who worked 12 years as a Sheriff’s Deputy, was injured when a car ran a red light and ran into her patrol car, smashing her hand. This resulted in constant pain and an inability to use her right hand. She spent the next few months working in alternative, lighter-duty areas of the department. But even after a year, she was unable to return to her initial post.

Because of this, the Sheriff’s department offered her 3 options:

1. She could move to a civilian job, with a cut in pay. This would include any associated accommodations she may need.

2. She could resign.

3. If she didn’t choose either of the above, they claimed she could be terminated.

Ford ended up choosing a demotion, and then elected to sue the department for violating the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). At the end of these proceedings, the court found that the demotion was reasonable.

But is this really the standard application for the law?

Although there are many myths associated with the ADA, the law clearly states that in order to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee, you must go through an “interactive process”, which means there must be some back and forth to accommodate the employee.

In Ford’s case, she was unable to continue her initial job as she was not provided with all the accommodations she requested and therefore, only had enough accommodations to continue with a civilian job.

What’s strange about this situation is that she was provided with a few in-depth provisions that would meet her needs, such as training for her supervisors, extra breaks when needed, so she could deal with her pain, and a more ergonomic work station. However, when she requested a voice-activated software for her computer, which would limit her need to use her right hand, she was denied.

The court stated that if there had been a lateral position available, with no decrease in pay, and Ford was qualified for the job, the ADA would have protected Ford a bit better, favoring this option over demotion.

Nevertheless, with the rise of documented disabilities in America, the lines the ADA draws for employees and employers-alike continue to seem blurred. Just like many other laws, the act seems to be open to some interpretation, but at the end of the day, when something like this is brought to the court system, American citizens are truly at the mercy of our court’s Judges and how they translate the laws.

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