Thursday, 31 October 2013

Contracts: 3 "large print" points

It shows that I'm not a Lawyer, but I have to admit that as I've aged the importance of Contracts to me has risen. Whether Tom Waits, Amos 'n' Andy or Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen coined the phrase:

"The large print giveth and the small print taketh away"

I have work colleagues who have had reason to thank their small print, or blame it... to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. When things go wrong, it pays to have thought ahead and captured in the contract the correct disposition of the result.

Reviewing contracts, your own and others', requires a crystal clear understanding of your purpose in contracting, and sufficient experience in reading and negotiating contracts of a particular type. That experience may come in-house, or from external legal advice. I say of that "particular type" because I recently reviewed a contract outside of my normal comfort zone, and my lack of established reference points was obvious to me. So my learning points are to make sure that:
  • You and anyone advising you is clear on your purpose in contracting
  • You have or apply sufficient experience of the type of contract you will be signing
  • You and any advisors have thought through what might go wrong and how you would want it dealt with if it does.
Happy signing!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Bandwidth tax and Checklists

Two excellent books I would recommend are Scarcity: Why having too little means so much and The Checklist Manifesto.

In Scarcity, the authors have written an excellent and thought provoking book, founded in the effect that scarcity has on how we behave and even our intelligence and ability to cope, The "tax on Bandwidth" conclusion, drawn from the research and evidence in the book supports my own observations, both personally and of clients. The strategies proposed in the book, and tested in some environments to overcome the impact of Scarcity and the tax are intuitively satisfying and a challenge to all of us to apply correctly rather than label behaviours as poor and dismiss them.

The Checklist Manifesto tackles with great detail (the primarily surgical examples are explicit), a topic that appears bound to be dry as dust, but really isn't. As an avowed believer in checklists, this book raised my understanding of what the good design of them looks like and the measurable impact that they can have in key situations. It also tackles some of my concerns about them such as the perception that it hinders creativity (it shouldn't), and the dangers of getting the level of detail wrong (OCD tendencies and lack of user involvement can be dangerous here). The importance of testing, review and modification of a new checklist along with tailoring to local situations was also highlighted by comparing common Surgery checklists in "1st" v "3rd" world Operating Theatres.

Enjoy and apply! 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Guerrilla Change

In recent posts, I have remarked on the response of large corporates to initiate change programs on a global scale; rolling out world-wide implementation plans. There are good, bad and (sometimes the worst), indifferent programs.

A good program can give training in new skills, access to executives to get new projects moving that wouldn't have seen light of day otherwise and secondment opportunities. They also provide more communication from on high, maybe with little relevance to the people on the ground adding the value.

There is an alternative to that: Guerrilla Change and, from my point of view, Guerrilla consulting. Here the change and the support is local, fixed on local strategies to overcome change or develop new business aims. The hall mark of many of these changes are that the audience recognise the problem, have lived with it for years, or have been telling their bosses for many quarters. Guerrilla change doesn't always get the support of higher executives. They may be too far removed to see the need or the opportunity. Successful campaigns here have many side benefits: the belief that we can make change, experience in new skills, creation of unexpected leaders and experts.

What do you need to get the bananas out for where you are?

Monday, 3 June 2013

Help at your Elbow

A couple of weeks ago I was attending The 2013 National Manufacturing Debate at Cranfield University. One of the speakers used the phrase "at your elbow", and it created a very visible image of helping someone at their desk, their work centre, at their screen. A bit like helping your son or daughter with their Maths revision or learning to read.

Workshops and training and coaching sessions can be excellent, but we have to remember that there are times when we have to roll up our sleeves and place ourself at someone's elbow to give them the help they need. 1:1 input doesn't resonate with efficient working patterns, but where would we be if we never had that experience when we were stumbling with our Green sticker readers?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013


In the previous blog we likened top down corporate initiatives as either Virus or Vaccine. (see Corporate Initiative: Vaccine or Virus)

Incoming is how a Site leadership or Senior Management should treat these initiatives.
For each of them as they start to appear on the horizon, what do we do to respond? Does it meet a missing element in our own capability that we should harness as quickly and whole-heartedly as possible? Is it a training programme that cuts across one of our own, will it lead to confusion in our teams? In that case can we tailor it to ensure that it dovetails into our existing processes, can it be packaged as an enhancement, rather than “here comes another initiative…. what happened to the last one?” comments.

Alternatively is it a new, unproven piece of work? Do you want to be the first implementation? If the resourcing is high on the first roll out you might be a winner. However do you want your people and processes to be the pilot, the sandbox?

Is the timing completely wrong for your site, can you push the roll out back with plausible reasons? Is the incoming a reason to address some SG&A support?

So as they appear, you and your team have a number of responses to consider. I mentioned above “appear on the horizon”. You and your team need to be tuned into what is likely to be rolling out from corporate HQ. Look out for new functional appointments, corporate announcements. The earlier you can spot them, the greater your reaction time. A responsibility you have is providing air cover for your people, managing the incoming initiatives.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Corporate Initiative: Virus or Vaccine

For global giant companies, full of corporate structures with VPs, how do you initiate and prove global change? 
There you are, the Global VP of ??????????? (Insert Compliance, Talent Management, Ethics, Continuous Improvement, Sourcing.... etc). Your boss the CEO wants a significant reduction in costs/increase in performance of your chosen field across all Geographies. How do you do it?

Many take the route of launching a global initiative. Elements might include:
  • A single contracted in service (recruitment, lean six sigma)
  • A set of standardised methods, PowerPoint slides
  • Regional appointees to manage the process through
Such an initiative is then "Rolled out" across the business onto the divisions and units that are delivering the business. Cynics might say "Rolled over".

So a healthy but hard-pressed body (the business) is faced with the initiative. Now would you liken it to a Vaccine, described as:

  • "A mixture that is given to help stimulate the body's own immune system to produce antibodies to fight a certain disease"
Or a Virus:

  • "the causative agent of an infectious disease"
Of course the metrics of success can be highly visible, such as training courses run, projects completed, savings made at the Corporate P and L level. However the benefits can be harder to nail down and recognise at the local level.

So taking a challenge and making it into an initiative may not always be the best route... Will it be the equivalent of a corporate Vaccine, strengthening internal processes, adding to resilience, fighting off competition, or more of a Virus, creating a sapping debilitating disease that weakens the organs? 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Urgent v Important in Operations

Operations is the most difficult environment in which to balance the Important v the Urgent. The cries of customers are near and vibrant, the pull of the shipping date insistent and the financial sword of Damocles swinging ever lower. The urgent just has to get done; the implications of failure are so visible and so immediate.

The Important on the other hand can wait a while, but the implications slide up to you. You can wave pieces of paper at it, promise plans, projects, to do’s, next week. Of course the Importants are just that, they include:

  • Compliance, both to internal and external standards
  • Personnel issues, reviews and appraisals
  • Procedures being updated and reviewed
  • Checking non critical documents

Eventually these are the tasks that can put you out of business. So it isn’t just a customer order that is missed but everyone’s pay packet.

Solutions to this include herculean efforts, Time management courses, blocked out time and I am afraid to say in some cases fraud.

A management team that understands and can balance the urgent and the important is a sight to behold. Find them, nurture them and reward them, especially for doing the non-urgent things.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Assessing the people in your organisation: Three Boxes

A simple method that I have used with a number of clients is the three-box system. The provenance of this comes I think from Goldratt. Note this isn’t to be used for changing your structure; it’s about an easy way to assess your people and their roles.

Write out the structure under you at least two layers deep. For each person and each role in those layers assign them into one of three vertical boxes (looking like a box kite):
  • Box 1 They are ready for a move upwards or onto another challenge, and they have made the people under them ready for them to move elsewhere.
  • Box 2 They are the right person in the right role at the moment.
  • Box 3 They are not the right person in the right role at the moment.

So you end up with a simple picture of those layers. There are a number of things you can use this picture for and a number of broad conclusions that can be reached, e.g.:

  • All Box 1’s. Excellent at the moment, but they will need stretching. Look for business growth, personal development, secondments, and promotions. Your risk here is that they may look elsewhere if you don’t execute these stretches.
  • All Box 2’s. Good except that no one is ready for that next step up. If you are looking to move on yourself, or introduce significant change/growth to your organisation then a prevalence of Box 2’s will be limiting.
  • All Box 3’s. Problems. You don’t have the right team.

 More subtly you can look to shuffle people based on the boxes. If you move a Box 1 person out for a new role/growth etc, who can take their place from their peer group or from below?

What is your plan to coach, support, teach or change the role of a Box 3 person? Can they make the grade, and if so where? Who else could do it (Current Box 1 people)? How do you develop your box 2 people? Is it about their own performance, or about them developing their own team to be ready?

In an ideal world a mixture of Box 1’s and 2’s, without too many 3’s is your goal. Box 1 people will always move on, as good people are hard to find and hold onto… unless you plan ahead and harness them to real business opportunities.

Enjoy the boxing!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

What to do in recovery/review

So what might we do during the recovery/review period (see previous post)?

For individuals it might include:

            Re-assessing how we store and retrieve important information
            Update our list of contacts, sources
            Sign up for training, follow a few tutorials on a complex spreadsheet operation
            Find out a bit more about how another department or part of the industry works

For a Team leader:

            Carry out some cross training
            Revise some procedures that were found wanting
            Re-visit existing supplier relationships, maybe look at alternatives
            Look at your tools and equipment (software or hardware) and skills at use
For a business leader:

            Was that the sort of work we want to be doing?
            If yes, how could we do it more productively next time?
            What is the succession planning like now on reflection
            How could I use that work to build a new offering?

And lots more… let me know yours and I’ll post them.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Improvement comes from the recovery

Those that know me know that I am a persistent but slow runner. Over 25 years of training and competing over distances up to the Marathon has given me the excuse to read some training and coaching manuals. One of the principles behind training is that better performance is delivered by the repetition of "train and recover" cycles. Small cycles such as train hard one day, easy the next and larger cycles such as train hard in the winter cross country season then rest before spring track training.

Just training without recovery is dangerous because without rest and recovery you are prone to injury. Of course all rest and you descend into couch potato life!

Apply this to our working world:

Working hard as an individual or in a team to deliver a project, meet a major deadline or complete a significant change programme would all count as training. (You could argue that this is competing, but the analogy still works).

We test our skills, procedures, our equipment and ourselves; we test our suppliers. After that we need to reflect, allow ourselves to review what has worked and not worked in order to make changes for the next one. Without that review we may not recover or improve efficiently. If you manage a team, it can seem imperative to rush onto the next thing, but reflection needn’t be time consuming. You may have had experience of “Project Review” tasks being shelved… but don’t fall into the trap of it yourself!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Is anyone playing horsey with your Supply Chain?

With recent sorry stories in the UK and European media about adulterated beef containing Horsemeat, we return to the theme of people in the Supply Chain (see "People make Supply Chains" in this blog).

Do you trust your Suppliers?  If you don't then you have a problem, but first of all what do I expect from a trustworthy supplier? First on the list is that they send you what they have promised. I also expect honesty from them when they have problems affecting that supply. Does that mean they should tell me about every little twist and turn in their business or with their suppliers? No.

What you pay a supplier for is to manage those twists and turns, to solve their own problems. If you get involved then you might as well ask for a discount! However there is a fine line in solving your own problems and being up front with your customer when you have a serious supply issue.

In the last few weeks one if my clients has had to deal with one of their Suppliers that isn't delivering for them. I was involved, and my biggest problem was that I didn 't trust what they told us, the honesty had gone!

The Pharma industry has instituted Vendor Assurance, site audits and certificates to confirm supply identity. This is good and necessary, like self-inspections and keeping good fences with neighbours. But if you look in the eye of your supplier and don't trust them, that's the time to check for the Horse DNA!

Monday, 4 February 2013

The enabling No!

No is a powerful word to be used in the enabling of people and organisations.
No, don't start that Project, concentrate on this one.
No don't pursue three vendors, work on the best two.
No we won't... Etc

It takes a strong leader to say no and focus your people's resources on a smaller number of projects or tasks. The easier, lower risk option is to take 'em all on, covering all the bases. That puts the pressure on them, increasing the chances of problems and mistakes.

Do you know enough, understand the risks to take the brave decision to say no and bear that risk to enable your people to be successful?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Project Scheduling

Projects running late are a recurrent theme in the press and in folklore. They can be late for many reasons, and I don’t wish to belittle technical complications, cutting edge development, unforeseen problems, but…

The best way I know of finishing on time is to start on time. How can we judge when we should start? A simple rule is that we should start “as late as necessary, then as early as possible”.

Late as necessary makes us think about waiting till we have the right information ready, preceding tasks complete, the environment or circumstances suitable.

As early a possible reminds us that it is only when we really start a job that we find out how easy or hard it is, what might be required, what the problems are. Starting early gives us more time to sort all of that out. When we hit issues we can always try and throw money and resources at it, but we can only with difficulty add more time (overtime, long shifts, weekend working).