Company Culture-Part One.


“Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

-Herb Kelleher, Chairman, Southwest Airlines

“Nice work, guys. Excellent. Good team effort all around. Go us.”

-Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, Iron Man 3 (movie)

There’s a great deal of information available today on the topic of company culture.  Experts are popping up with a load of advice, do’s and don’ts, how to’s and what not to do, and lots of insights and examples to share.

You might already have this topic mastered.  If so – congratulations – and don’t feel obligated to read on.  If you’re like me, however, and you take an interest in what others have experienced and what they have to share, please continue.

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several companies here in Silicon Valley since beginning my career in Operations nearly 30 years ago (yeeowwch- that long?  Really?)….in the mid 1980’s I joined my first start-up company (kind of before “start-ups” was a thing), and received a first class education in business growth, basic economics and most importantly, the art of working with others.

Company or “corporate” culture has been defined as “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.” (excerpt from Investopedia).

In my experience, I’ve found that a company’s culture can directly influence the company’s success, employee participation and retention, and external marketing and awareness of both their products and their organization.  The company’s reputation is often directly tied to the company’s culture as well.  And a thriving, positive and engaging culture can even attract a higher level of talented team members.

Having made such a bold and yet obvious statement about company culture, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what a company culture is not as well.  The goal is simply to share my view on the topic.  In no particular order:

  • Company culture isn’t something that can be bought.  I know there will be those who disagree, but come on people, you cannot expect that simply providing treats, great coffee or even full-time chefs (been there, done that) who provide meals to your employees will earn a great company culture.  It’s much more than that.
  • Company culture isn’t defined by one individual.  As much as I have come to appreciate working alongside some great human resource people and business leaders, corporate CEOs and small start-up company presidents, they cannot be expected to single-handedly shape and direct the corporate culture.  By its very nature, culture is formed by groups of people.  Remember the saying – “it takes a village”?  Very true when it comes to company culture.
  • Company culture isn’t developed in a vacuum (at least, not a good, positive and engaging culture).  Great company cultures are grown over time, they are cultivated, they are fed, and they are managed.  It requires active participation by those interested in such a topic.  There needs to be a conscientious effort applied.
  • Company culture isn’t a “cure all” for whatever ailment your business currently suffers from.  This might seem obvious but I’ve experienced this first hand in more than one environment- the erroneous view that “if we could improve our company culture, we would improve the bottom line to our business”.   It just doesn’t work that way in the real world.  While a great culture can enhance and strengthen the business through motivating its members towards greatness, it should never be viewed as a solution to systemic business issues.  There’s no guarantee with respect to this idea.  Business is still- well- “business” at the end of the day so to speak- the rules around revenue growth, marketing spend and profit margins still apply.

Well- it’s a good start. Part 2 of this discourse will include a closer look into what a company culture is, what it can do, and how to affect it and promote it in a positive fashion, so stay tuned.  For now, give some thought to your role, your influence,  in your company’s culture.  Thanks for reading this short prose- onward!

You Be You – I’ll Be Me.

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime (at least, for some it would be).  I was offered a role with the world’s largest social media company, working in a special business unit within the company, to be a part of a team that is building a suite of products that one day soon are going to be available and truly amazing to all.

I took their offer, and on my first day of employment found myself on a plane headed to Hong Kong to meet with other members of my global team.  It was a real head spinner, and the trip was only a week.  Week number two was spent on campus in Menlo Park, getting acquainted with more of the team and acclimated to the product, the product plans and the current status, partnerships and challenges.  For the next three months, there were meetings, trips, lots of planning and strategy sessions, cross functional discussions with key partnerships, lots of legal documents to review, rewrite and refine, and defining of yet-to-be-created processes.  All good stuff, working alongside some very bright, energetic and talented people.  And then I decided to leave the company.

Why?  Why walk away from something this spectacular?  This could have easily been the pinnacle of my career.  It was the largest employer I’ve ever worked for- in a very desirable work environment- surrounded by intelligent, motivated and enthusiastic coworkers- so what’s wrong with that?

Probably the best way I could phrase my response to these questions would be to answer with something simple- “it wasn’t right for me”.  Here’s the thing- to use an analogy, let’s talk about watches.  Yes, wrist watches.

Brands such as Rolex, Breitling, or Patek Philippe,  are known for their craftsmanship, and they are known throughout the world for making some of the finest and most expensive timepieces on the planet.  If I were in the market, and decided to buy a watch (I have too many watches as it is)- would I buy a Rolex?  A Breitling?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Suppose I did- knowing me, I’d probably not wear it.  It just wouldn’t be me.  Nothing wrong with the watch- it just wouldn’t suit my needs.  It wouldn’t feel right for me personally.   And I’m okay with that.

Same thing is true here as well.  Being a part of a mega company is a great opportunity for the right person.  The work could be rewarding, there’s a spirit of high energy all around, and the perks- chefs cook meals for you throughout the day (free), there’s a fully stocked “microkitchen” in every building with everything imaginable in it (free again), there are even free vending machines that dispense keyboards, mice, smart phone cables, power cords, ear buds, whatever you need- and on the main campus, it’s literally Disney-like in it’s layout and food and services offerings.  A couple of my older kids would probably love to work here.  We even had our own version of a free Uber-like service, where a car would pick you up at your building lobby and take you over to another building on campus whenever needed.  I could go on and on, but you get it.

So what’s my deal?  I‘m a true start-up guy at heart.  I’m underway now with another great opportunity with a small company that’s just starting to get off the ground and needs someone like me, with my experience and background, to help them grow and scale and get to the next levels of success in their particular industry.  I’ve been fortunate to work in several different industries, which, as it turns out, provides me with a great platform to help lots of different companies with their strategy, their partnerships and leverage my own network to help move them towards success.  I love what I do, and I enjoy the sense of reward and camaraderie that comes with working with start-up companies.  I’ve been fortunate in Silicon Valley, to have been a part of several successful teams and companies, all of which are still thriving here in northern California and abroad.  The “social media mega company” was a good experience for me, as it taught me more about myself and my values.  Although it didn’t work out as anticipated, I’m sure great things are ahead for the team I was fortunate to have been a part of – even briefly.  I’m anticipating great things next year as they get closer to launch with their new products (some very cool things in the works).

For me, I’ll continue to cultivate my passion for Operations and Supply Chain excellence, working closely with my new team- and injecting my experiences, my skill set and my personality into our business plans and future goals- we have some lofty ambitions here for the months ahead!


My wife loves animals. So do I, but for her, it’s an even bigger commitment. Our current household includes two dogs, five Himalayan cats, four more foster kittens, and two parakeet birds. We’re also feeding a flock of hummingbirds that consider our backyard to be their home. On any given day, home can literally be a zoo.

I’ve been observing one of our family pets lately. We’ve had Jazmine (pictured left) for the last 10 years or so. She was a rescue from the local shelter. One day my wife and stepson decided to go looking for a dog to care for, and Jazmine came into our lives.

Jazmine is a typical “Blue Heeler”, a Queensland Cattle dog (likely a slight mix, given her size). She’s a little bigger than most blue heelers, with a slender but strong build, but her markings and personality are heeler all the way. We all love her dearly, and as family pets go, she’s been the best ever.

I brought Jazzy to the office a few weeks ago, and she was well-behaved. In doing so, I started thinking about Jazmine, her character qualities, and how they relate to work life. You see, Jazmine would be an excellent employee. Here’s why

  1. Jazmine always makes it to work.  She shows up, rain or shine- she is consistent and reliable in her attendance.  As Woody Allen is quoted as having said, Showing up is 80 percent of life.’  Her particular breed is considered to be in the working dog group (forgive me if I’m not completely accurate with my terminology here), that is, she’s basically wired to be busy, and thrives on active participation and getting things done.  I’ve watched her use her herding instincts to even round-up cats or other animals (even people) in the backyard when playing.  She is always up for participation.  Great employees are like that.  They understand the importance of participation in the workplace and communicate their commitment consistently by being there.  Even when you’re a member of a distributed team (in a previous role I had team members in California, Minnesota and Arizona) you still show up.  People know you’re around, available and involved.
  2. Jazmine understands her role and does it fully.  Noise in the backyard at 2 am?  She’s on it- out into the darkness she’ll go, fearlessly, to check it out.  Someone at the door we don’t know?  She’ll wander up to the door, at the ready, and generally can even let us know before we open the door whether or not we know the person on the other side (her tail and her facial expressions are tremendous communication tools).  Did you know that cattle dogs are fiercely loyal to their family?   Great employees tend to focus on their role first and foremost, and consciously pursue completion of their duties with a passion that shows they have some skin in the game”.
  3. Jazmine has great listening and learning skills.  She’s a smart pet, and knows several words we use around the home and what they mean for her.  “Do you want to go for a walk”? elicits an immediate lunge with two large front paws on your chest. “Treat”?  Yeah, you get the picture- eyes focused on you and she parks right in front of the shelf where they reside.  On and on.   Look at those ears- how could she not hear you?  Right?   The same is true for great team members- they typically have a similar character quality, that of great listening skills.  And more than just listening, the ability to interpret what is being communicated as well.  This cannot be over emphasized.  Too many leaders attempt to hire employees and build their teams with those that are already fully skilled at the requirements, when often what is really needed are those that have the ability to learn quickly, that display an aptitude for their role.
  4. Jazmine is generally optimistic in her role.  She is typically cheerful and happy- she has a mellow disposition and demeanor that is drama free.  We all have the capacity to have a bad day every now and then- but great team members are consistently positive in their outlook.  Don’t misunderstand me- I’m not talking about being blindly gullible in all situations.  Jazmine won’t run for a ball if you try to fake a throw.  She’s brighter than that.  But generally speaking, great employees throw themselves into their work fully, and they believe in their products, their team and their shared vision.  And that’s a great quality to have.
  5.   Jazmine understands the importance of forgiveness.  She doesn’t hold a grudge.  She moves on.  Yeah, you left her locked out on the back porch last night because you stayed up too late, binge watching season 2 of Prison Break and forgot to let her in (not that I’ve ever done that, mind you).  Great team members are ready to do the same (no, not stay on your back porch).  They are able to rise above petty behaviors, take a step back and look at the bigger picture to understand a different point of view,  and yes, even when wronged they can accept apologies and move past whatever conflict or issue has just occurred.

I could go on, but for now I’ll stop with these five qualities.  Time for some introspection– do you show up?  Are you the type of employee who is fully engaged in your role?  How are your listening skills and aptitude for learning something new?  Optimistic in your approach? And willing to forgive and move forward with others?  These are but a partial list of ingredients needed for being both a great employee and a member of any team.

What’s in the Box?

Tis the season to be shipping- thought I’d go ahead and repost a blog from two years ago- as we turn our thoughts towards gift giving (and receiving)- how’s your customer’s “out of the box” experience?


Question-Mark-out-of-Box-1024x1000How’s your OOBA these days?  “Good question…what is it?”  OOBA is an acronym for “out of box audit”.  It involves a final pass that checks for quality, all components required in the product are present, correct firmware is loaded (if this is part of the product in question), the product has been packaged correctly and everything is in place, accounted for, and ready to provide your customer the best possible experience upon receipt.  Generally, this FQA (Final Quality Audit) is owned by your Quality group, or by Operations, or perhaps even some combination of both teams.  The purpose of this exercise is to help insure that the product works correctly, looks great (not good–great), and everything necessary for a successful customer experience has been done.

People who work in Operations are familiar with this terminology, and probably more so for those who have worked in companies that produce consumer…

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shakespeare..THAT IS THE QUESTION.  Where do you stand on using technology as a regular part of your everyday life?  This was the topic that dropped into my mind recently as I found myself in the throws of setting up my wife’s shiny new iPhone 7.  Granted, there is a fair amount of technology all around us that we interact with on a daily basis, without choice, because it has been adopted within our society.  Things like sensors for the traffic and metering lights, or perhaps the computer that controls your vehicle’s critical systems, are taken for granted, but it wasn’t that long ago that there were many fewer of these everyday items in our lives.  Coffee makers have gone high tech, as have refrigerators and other home appliances- heck, even my front door unlocks when I arrive home in the evening, just for me.

With the explosion of the IoT (Internet of Things) growth,  the so-called “connected world” is getting more and more connected every day.  But is this necessarily a good thing?  Is it what you want for your life?  I cannot answer this question for you personally- I can only relate my own experiences and share with you what I’ve come to understand and appreciate on this topic.

I believe the general answer to both of the questions raised above is “yes”.  Yes, advancements in technology that can make us safer on the roads, or in our homes, can help us with our health, educate us by providing us with better and wider knowledge, can assist our aging society with a comfortable, independent and safe living environment, or provide services ranging from in home hospice care to a quick meal (a la Door Dash, a favorite in our home)–are good things that make our lives a little easier and more comfortable and enjoyable (hey, I’m the guy that does the dishes in my home, so a delivered meal is a good thing- trust me).

However, given the advancements in our technological capability today, we must address the question of whether we truly want this in our lives.  Just because something can be done through technology- it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) automatically become something that IS done through technology.  Here’s an example for you to consider.

I work in Silicon Valley in northern CA., and where my office is located, I actually sit in the middle of an area where the Google self-driving cars are regularly tested.  I see them all the time, around me, next to me, in front and behind, cute little white roly-poly bug looking vehicles just puttering along. They have a “driver” present, not driving, but monitoring the car’s behaviors, with a hand on a control of some kind, presumably to wrestle the control away from the tech if necessary.  That’s fine.  And the thought behind the technology that spawns these vehicles is simply to be able to provide transportation to those that might otherwise have limited access to a vehicle or mass transit for various reasons.  That- and that by providing and growing this technology (at least as it has been mentioned to me), the need for “too many vehicles” on the road (think- pollution and over-crowding), or even for vehicle ownership will be lessened or even perhaps one day no longer needed.  But-and here’s the question- is that what I want for my life?  I’m a “car guy”- I love restoring older trucks (I currently drive a 1968 Ford truck when not on my Harley)- you won’t likely ever see me in a roly-poly car- ever.Ever.Ever. I’m okay with driving myself in my truck- eventually I won’t be able to, and I’ll cross that bridge when necessary, but today, I enjoy the driving experience.  But that’s me, not you- I get it.  Even one day when I’m not driving around as much, I’ll still want to have my own truck, my motorcycle, my RV, whatever- it’s a part of who I am.  But such things may not be as important to you.

It’s important to weigh the benefits and costs associated with all technology.  Earlier, I mentioned my wife and her new iPhone 7.  She upgraded (she uses her phone more than her computer now) primarily to get the upgraded camera in the new phone.  My wife loves to take pictures of everything from her pets to her flowers to the fins and rear taillights of classic cars (an ongoing project that will one day become a book)-so having the best camera on her phone, readily available when inspiration hits her- yeah, I get that.  For me, it’s not needed, but for her, it’s a great thing.  Technology by itself is just technology- nothing more.  If it’s important to you and you can improve your life, and receive benefits from the technology (or even just enjoyment), that’s a good thing.  Have at it.  And, if it’s not for you- that’s okay too.  To tech, or not to tech?  That’s an easy question to answer- it all depends on you!

It’s All about Attitude

attitudesmileySo much of what we experience in life cannot be controlled.  We have so many things that happen to us, and often circumstances that are completely outside of our ability to predict or persuade.  Life comes down to one simple “game changer” – attitude.

I went to lunch the other day, just to get out of the office, out from underneath the fluorescent lights, and to take a break from my work routines.  I hopped on my Electra Glide, cranked up the CCR, and I ended up at one of my favorite eating spots, a nearby Chipotle restaurant.  Their food is generally fresh, always with a consistent flavor and inexpensive, and their service (it’s pretty casual) is quick and reliable.  Then there was this one employee.

This guy was great– I observed him, a Chipotle employee, as he hustled between tables, picking up after others, wiping down surfaces and throwing away trash.  He was careful to work around those at lunch, making sure none of us were impacted by his movements.  He was polite- asking each of us there how our day was going, how we liked the food, and whether or not there was anything else we needed.  I was impressed by his attitude and his sincerity.

Here was a guy, I’m guessing in his early 20’s, working hard, working smart and working with a positive attitude.  He wasn’t complaining about his job, or his pay, or his hours.  He wasn’t necessarily giddy, but he was upbeat, personable and friendly- all great qualities, and qualities that are often no where near an hourly employee at a fast food establishment-it’s a tough, thankless job (a couple of my kids have had similar jobs, as did I during my college days-making sandwiches at the local Hickory Farms in Lynchburg, VA.).  As I departed, the guy saw me leaving (he was wiping down tables outside) and told me to have a great day- and thanked me for stopping in.  What? A thank you for eating there at Chipotle?  I couldn’t believe it!

The whole lunch experience was valuable to me- yes, I was hungry too, and Chipotle took care of that for me, but more than just the food- the insight I received from watching this guy was tremendous and really, for me, a good swift kick in my backside…  So much of life is all about our attitude.

Listen, there’s no way for you to change what you cannot control- that’s a universal truism we can all relate to.  The only thing we can do is continually dial up our attitude-when times get tough, crank up the positivity and focus on solutions.  When customers complain, address their need, and dialog with them (and listen, really listen), and win them over.  Something needs to get fixed “now” at work- roll up your sleeves, build a solution and get it done.  Stay positive, be thankful, look forward and not behind-make a difference with all that you do, and by all means, help others around you to do the same, and you’ll experience amazing results.  Thanks Chipotle guy- for sharing your attitude!

All About the 3PL


A quick glance within Wikipedia, searching on the acronym “3PL”, will show you this brief description:

“Third-party logistics (abbreviated 3PL, or sometimes TPL) in logistics and supply chain management is a company’s use of third party businesses to outsource elements of the company’s distribution and fulfillment services.”

Recently I went through the process of identifying and selecting a 3PL partner to become our company’s main conduit for the launch of our first round of products here in the U.S. market.  The process was on a shortened time table, particularly given the imminent timing of our launch and the fact that our products were already well into their initial production cycle.

There are many different criteria that can be used when determining which 3PL to engage for your company’s fulfillment operations.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here’s the “stuff” I used to determine our particular selection.  I encourage you to consider the items mentioned below.  Every one of them could be expanded at much greater length, but for the purpose of keeping this article reasonably short, I will be brief.

  1. Start Locally. This works if you happen to be in northern California (definitely options in this part of the world), but hopefully if your business is near any type of metropolitan area, you’ll have some potential choices available to you close at hand.  Why?  Well, for me, with new products, in a new market, with a (relatively) new business venture, I wanted to “hedge the bet a little” for success and keep this part of the operation within reach-literally.  If there’s a problem, I don’t want to necessarily have to jump on a plane for half a day or more to get there “in person” (see my previous post entitled “Face (to Face) Time”.   Start locally if you can- it just makes sense.  Even later on, if the business scales to a point where a global organization is needed (one with multiple sites to service multiple regions), there will still be a need for a local enterprise, just to give you some bandwidth on special projects or segments of your business.  If you can cultivate this first, it can only help you later.
  2. Solicit Input.  Don’t go it alone!  There are lots of smart people around you, lots of opinions and experience that you should draw upon when determining which 3PL to partner with.  I asked for inputs from those around me, and two of my colleagues, both of whom I trust and respect, offered some great working relationships from previous gigs that were helpful in the search process.  Be somewhat selective about where you get your recommendations from- and if you do, this can pay off later on.
  3. State the Obvious.  When speaking with a potential 3PL, you need to be able to articulate exactly what it is you’ll need them to do for you.  They aren’t mind readers, and no two companies have exactly the same needs.  Sit down with them, walk them through your basic business plan, and discuss the particulars around what is needed. If they are sharp, they’ll not only listen, they’ll offer some insights in response that you might be able to benefit from.  Know what it is that needs to happen, and be able to share it with them in a way they can understand.  Also, be prepared to be rejected by the 3PL.  This happened to me as well- I had one company on our short list actually tell me that they weren’t interested in our business until we were closer to an annual revenue of at least a few million in sales.  We’re a start up- with a great product line up- and a large parent company- but not yet in the U.S. market.  Oh well- I guess this particular 3PL just didn’t need the business.
  4. Spend Effort.  Don’t be lazy– this kind of stuff doesn’t just happen on its own.  You’ll have to put forth some effort to really weigh a 3PL’s capabilities, since it isn’t always obvious.  For me, it meant jumping in the car a few times and heading out to various locations throughout the Bay area.  On at least one of those visits, I was able to grab the boss and bring him along for the ride- which can be a good thing- he gets to see the process first hand, and you get a supporter to your efforts.  And when you conduct a site visit, ask yourself if what you are seeing is also how you’d run the place.  If it’s not how you’d do things, that may be a red flag.
  5. Seriously- How Much?  There’s a place for weighing the quoted costs.  It’s okay to be a little price sensitive-after all, it’s not just business, it’s your business- so treat it that way.  Costs are an important component of the decision process.  Don’t pay more than you should, and don’t be so cheap that your customers suffer, either.  There’s a definite balance to be achieved when it comes to costs and “comparison-shopping”.  Be ready to agree to pricing for those things that matter most to your business and your customers.

Hopefully these points can give you some sense of direction when it comes to selecting a 3PL for your business.  In the end, you’ll want to team up with an organization that mirrors your needs with their capabilities, shares your vision, and desires to truly be a part of your success!




Face (to Face) Time

Jetson imageI’ve had the benefit of living through some glorious times, in terms of technology.  And I freely admit that I am a bit of of a techie nerd (it’s a good thing) when it comes to trying new things–I’ve never shied away from exploration of the “latest and greatest” in the world of technology.

I remember back to my childhood, and the first microwave oven my parents brought home.  It was huge, had large dials on the front, and had a definite humming noise when in operation.  Unlike most of my family members, I relished the chance to use it and cook the “heck” out of anything that need to be heated.  I can also recall the first time my family had cable television, our first VHS tape player, and hours spent playing Pong (the original upright video arcade game, as well as the cool, black and silver home unit with the built-in large dials, which my parents still have tucked away for me in their attic–what is it about dials?)…later, during one of my brief stints working for my father’s printing company, I remember convincing (arguing?) him into purchasing his first ever fax (“facsimile”- love that word) machine for his business, and why it was important to have one–true story.

I’ve always enjoyed getting to know technology and how to use it.  Of course, in more recent history, we’ve become accustomed to much better (maybe?) technology, right in our hands, with our smart phones and tablets.  One of the apps, Apple’s “FaceTime”, with its ability to allow the user to have video enabled calls between each other, is such an example.

Recently, I found myself, along with a colleague, on a quick trip to El Paso, Texas, to visit with one of our key partners that assists our company with the management and distribution of our products.  It’s a relatively new relationship, borne out of necessity at the start of this calendar year, and we wanted to tour the facility and meet with our account person and his company president.  We had an opportunity to view our inventory, look briefly at their processes, and discuss future business requirements.  More importantly, though, in my mind, was the need for real, in-person “face time”.

Having a discussion, or meeting, directly with those involved in any particular aspect of your business is key to successful communication.  Video calls, emails, text, even telephone calls, cannot substitute what I refer to as “the intangible nature of being present“.  The value of such activity cannot be measured.

If you simply don’t agree with me on this point, so be it. But before you dismiss my statement entirely, consider these aspects of direct communication and it’s impact:

  1.  Direct, personal communication conveys an element of importance to the parties involved.  Our time is limited in this incredibly fast paced world today, and anyone that carves out a piece of their schedule to do this activity effectively states “this is important stuff”.
  2. Some elements of communication cannot be conveyed by emoticons.  Hopefully I’m not offending my millennium generation coworkers with that statement, but it’s true.  Body language, tone inflection, visible facial expressions, etc.- all small things that together can assist in good, clear communication.  You can’t do that through a text message or email. It’s just not the same thing.
  3. There’s a human aspect to real, face-to-face time.  You get to know the people better, and at the end of the proverbial day, with all our discussion about process, system integration, big data analytics, blah, blah, blah- it’s still about people.  Don’t lose sight of that, please.  Technology can and should provide us with lots of great and insightful tools to improve our lives and our businesses, but it’s the people behind those tools that really move us forward.
  4. You learn new ideas and information by meeting in person with someone.  There’s a three dimensional aspect to this type of communication and sharing of information that doesn’t always happen when using the two dimensional tech as a replacement.  I’m not sure how to fully describe this other than to say that being in communication with another individual or team, “in person” opens up a larger, more creative flow of information–new ideas come about, people key on each others thoughts in the moment, there’s a synergy (sorry, but I had to use that word) that truly occurs.

Before you run off to a business trip, consider your goals, consider your timing, consider your budget and consider the impact to your schedule (or that of your team), but by all means, please consider making full use of in-person communication when possible and practical to do so.  Putting effort into our level of communication, our investment in those around us, will help to yield tremendous results for us both personally and professionally.



Regarding the Anatomy of Operational Excellence

shutterstock_138565244The Anatomy Of Operational Excellence





Operational excellence enables an enterprise and its leadership to continuously improve all areas of performance, including decision-making, ongoing investment, profitability, customer and partner services and human resources capabilities. Operationally excellent enterprises possess the processes and structures—or the “intangible assets”—that give them the visibility, control, tools, and management practices necessary to drive greater operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Consider the following three examples:

Potential Failure: British multinational defense, security and aerospace behemoth BAE Systems could be jeopardizing its operational excellence with a proposed merger that would threaten a key market. BAE’s biggest shareholder, fund manager Invesco Perpetual, warns that plans to merge with EADS, Europe’s largest arms manufacturer and the maker of Airbus, makes no strategic sense for BAE. The deal with EADS, which is controlled by France and Germany, would hamper BAE’s manufacturer’s access to the very profitable market for U.S. military contracts, according to Invesco, which owns about 13.3% of BAE, which generates more than 40% of its revenue in the U.S.

Return to Excellence: American multinational automotive General Motors bounced back to profitability in 2011, two years after emerging from a government-backed Chapter 11 reorganization and a year after making one of the world’s biggest initial public offerings. Now GM is making a strategic decision to add 1,500 software and data management jobs at its tech center in Warren, Mich., as part of an sweeping effort to in-source 90% of its tech work. A month ago, GM opened a similar center in Austin, Texas, with plans to hire 500 workers. GM’s focus on building a new age of automotive innovation could further improve its operational excellence.

Ongoing Excellence: Oil supermajor Chevron is engaged in every aspect of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industries, and relies on core strategies across the enterprise. The company works with suppliers across the globe as a part of its ‘Chevron Way’ philosophy, which has helped it grow annual net income to nearly $27 billion on revenue of $253.7 billion in 2011, making it one of the world’s largest corporations by revenue. More significantly, from an investor’s perspective, Chevron had $41 billion in cash from operating activities in the bank at the beginning of 2012. There’s speculation that Chevron may go on a buying spree with that cash, and it’s essential the giant makes the best choices to maintain the same commitment to excellence even if it scoops up an inferior smaller company.

Looking Back to a Single Pin

Operational excellence had its genesis in manufacturing dating back to the pre-Industrial Revolution. In his 1776 magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, economist and philosopher Adam Smith was among the first great thinkers to define this now widely used concept. Smith famously described a small pin factory where 10 workers, each specializing in a different aspect of the job, could produce over 48,000 pins a day. Left to make a pin on his own, each of these workers might not have manufactured a single one in a day, and certainly not more than 20. The division of labor immensely increased the productivity of each worker. It’s still true today that assigning different roles and responsibilities across an enterprise enables scale, lowers costs and leads to greater operational efficiencies.

Delivering continuous improvement in the marketplace among competitors and customers requires enterprises to identify, understand and create the capabilities, behaviors and focuses necessary for repeatable, continuous and measurable operational improvement.

Roadmap for Operational Excellence Journey

Being operationally excellent requires a focus on management capabilities to develop and promulgate standards, coordinate decision-making, optimize service delivery and to manage the workforce. Orchestrating these capabilities requires a unification of cross- functional management disciplines. These capabilities can be organized around the following core characteristics:

1. Visualize Key Operational Processes. Identify the key operational processes, including those that create value, growth or innovation as well as those that consume the most resources, time and assets. Develop visual operating models that show linkages both inside the enterprise as well as outside, to customers, suppliers and partners.

2. Design Workflow and Predefined Responses. Model the workflow for each key process, identifying the actions, resources and workers required for each step. Then define a standard response to handle large variations in workflow volume outputs or inputs.

3. Develop Metrics and Gauges. Establish measures for normal workflow and develop systems or methods that report workflow volume outside the normal ranges. Ensure that workflow reports are received by the stakeholders responsible for each operation.

4. Operate Functionally, Measure Systemically. The functional operating manager responsible for workflow, using the predefined responses, operates the workflow by making any changes necessary to adapt to changing volume, inputs or outputs. Functional managers interact with upstream and downstream operating mangers to ensure optimal end-to-end performance.

5. Drive Continuous Improvement. As operating experience grows, make adjustments to the workflow design, predefined responses and performance measures, to continuously improve overall system performance.

If business agility enables rapid adjustments to effect change, and sustained innovation allows an organization to stay ahead of the competition and market dynamics, then operational excellence is the epitome of fiscal discipline, maximizing the use of resources and the assurance of revenue sustainability and, ultimately, profitability.

Managing Operational Risks

To manage most business operations, enterprises must cultivate a culture of risk management that is vigilant in its pursuit and disciplined in its execution.

Today’s businesses are learning hard lessons about operational risk: BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, naked credit default swaps and more than $63 billion in failed U.S. technology projects, are but a few of the high- profile cases that demonstrate the perils of failed risk management and poor operational execution. Each of these disasters and debacles caused billions of dollars in value destruction, yet each of them happened on the watch of skilled risk managers who appeared to do their jobs properly. Each had compliance systems, regulators and oversight mechanisms expressly designed to mitigate risk. So what went wrong?

In two words: systemic failure. Systemic operational risk originates in the complex interactions among the components that constitute a system. An individual component can function flawlessly while the overall system experiences a massive failure, or the system functions as an impact multiplier, magnifying the effect of a single component failure.

Managing systemic risk requires a culture of operational risk management that extends beyond the individual components to the edges, seams and overall system behavior. Mature risk cultures are characterized by a set of essential management practices that ensure the framework of the enterprise functions at a consistently high level. These include the following:

Step 1: Identify the risks. Operational risk identification is the process of identifying of sources of risk from all directions, internal and external. Risk identification is an inherently creative process, and as such, it requires the collaboration of diverse minds and different perspectives that represent all constituencies.

Step 2: Establish a control system. Risk mitigation is an analytical process that devises a control system to mitigate each identified risk. Control systems range widely. They can be designed to respond to a risk event, to reengineer the process to eliminate or transfer the risk, or to detect the risk early, before it can cause significant damage.

Step 3: Test, test, and test again. Control systems require compliance to be effective, and testing simulates risk events and the control-system response. Test results are fed back into improved and more effective control systems; they also serve to identify new sources of risk, each of which requires a corresponding control system.

As our knowledge economy expands and global interconnections increase, complexity grows exponentially. Business leaders and operating managers must proactively manage complexity by constructing control systems that not only function in complex environments, but also adapt and evolve along with them.

(Original article by FAISAL HOQUE)

Founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Newest book “Survive to Thrive – 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, And Leaders” (Motivational Press, 2015).


Elements of Supplier Quality–Part 1

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.01.03 PMYou can find a great deal of information available on the topic of supplier quality.  I’ve previously written a short piece on the ownership of quality within an organization (“Who Owns Quality?”, August, 2014), but for this short post I’d like to focus specifically on supplier quality.  However, I will likely not cover the topic in the manner you’d expect for someone with twenty years of experience in Silicon Valley.  Why do the same old thing, right?

For example, I could discuss the need for metrics, for a systematic approach to measuring supplier quality through standards and regular performance reviews, scorecards and corrective actions, etc., but for me, as much as there is certainly a place for such discussion, I’d prefer to approach the topic from a different perspective:  simple, common characteristics.  I want to summarize those characteristics that I believe are often present in a great supplier relationship.  As you read through these, think about your own supply chain, your participants in that supply chain, and whether these on my list are consistently present with your current suppliers.

Let’s dive right in–

  1. Great suppliers have integrity.  You’d think this would be obvious, but it isn’t always the case, and you are foolish to assume it to be true.  Dishonesty still still surfaces from time to time in today’s business world, and it’s always been around, all the way back to when the first business deals were done (whenever that was).  Integrity is one of those necessary qualities if you truly want a high level of quality to be present in your supply chain.  We all need suppliers to not only do what they say they will do, but be careful not to over-commit as well.  And, in the rare instance something doesn’t happen as planned or committed, to take ownership for their part in both the problem and the solution.  True integrity means your supplier has given reasonably careful thought to what they can and cannot do for you and communicates exactly this information in a clear and honest fashion, which brings me to my second characteristic.
  2. Great suppliers are great communicators.  They communicate.  Period.  As a customer, you don’t need to spend time tracking down the story, or the status, because they have communicated exactly what is happening with your parts, your service or your shipments.  Not only is the information accurate, it is timely, it is clear and it is intelligent.  A great supplier goes out of their way to make sure you are informed and will do this generally in a proactive fashion.  This sounds like a basic concept, I know, but it’s still surprising to me that there are businesses out there that simply do not communicate well with their customers.
  3. Great suppliers know their limits and focus on what they do best.  My dad taught me this one firsthand.  He owned a small but extremely successful commercial printing business here in Silicon Valley that lasted more than 30 years (not bad for a kid from North Carolina with a young wife and four kids to raise, and nothing more than a high school education–but more on that story another time).  He was always very careful to only accept jobs that he knew his crew and his expertise could handle well.  If he didn’t have the resources, or the ability, he didn’t take the work.  He would always remind me (I worked for him through part of my college and early adult life) how important it was not to try to do something that you were most likely to fail at.  Having said that, he slowly grew the capabilities of his business proportionately to the growth of his customer base and their demands. But he was always very careful to focus on producing the highest quality printed goods possible, so much so that he took pride in delivering much of the work to the customers himself.  It gave him great satisfaction when his customers loved the work he did for them.  And, as he held a high standard of quality with his business, it flourished and did well financially.
  4. Great suppliers share in your vision.  They “get” what you’re trying to achieve.  To be fair, sometimes we do a lousy job of explaining exactly what we’re trying to do.  But assuming that you’re doing your part in the relationship (I hope so), a great supplier understands and shares in your quest.  They want you to succeed, not only for the business aspect of what it does for them financially, but because they believe in what you’re trying to do.  They become a partner, and take a genuine interest in helping you and your team to succeed.
  5. Great suppliers provide you with constructive feedback.  Let’s face it, we screw up sometimes as a customer.  We don’t always know exactly what we want (or more often, how many we need), but a great supplier learns enough about your business to provide feedback and often will grow your knowledge in a useful fashion by what they share with you.  I’ve had the benefit of this type of relationship for much of my own career, and some of the best supply chain relationships have involved working with experts in their respective fields, who took the time to teach and impart useful information so that I could do a better job both for my company as well as for myself professionally.

I’m going to stop with these five for now- there are no doubt many more elements of supplier quality that could be discussed and I’ll touch on a few more in one of my future posts.  Give some thought to your supply chain through the “lens” of these characteristics and ask yourself if your supply chain reflects these consistently.  If not, it may be time for a change.  If so, continue to cultivate your relationships with those suppliers, and for the longer term, you’ll be glad that you have them on your team.