This is a follow up to the post made in March of 2020 about leading through an existential threat after several business contacts asked us how we are making it through the interesting times of 2021.
Leading a company in the past 20 months has been interesting to say the least. Existential threats from a pandemic, government actions from unqualified and unelected appointed individuals that threaten business continuity, wasted energy from social causes, lack of objectivity in new reporting, and useless political rhetoric make it difficult to keep your eyes on the prize of creating value for your stakeholders.
How have we been successful? It has been through a constant management and fluid development of our ongoing business goals which we keep organized into four buckets we named vision, volume, velocity, and value. We call this our “Quattro V Formula” and it keeps us on track while remaining agile and responsive to customers needs and keeps us moving the chains on short term and long term projects that improve the business.
I’ll break these buckets down for you and give you examples of how we use these buckets with the hope it sparks some new ideas or validates some plans you have been working on or need to get working on.
Vision is about the things we want to be remembered for. Essentially what would you want your tombstones to say and it does not have to be just one thing. Our current goals under our vision bucket include providing the highest quality on time all the time (ISO), being the go to shop for customers that value expertise and experience, being a leader in local manufacturing thought leadership, being agile, responsive and available to customers, and being an organization of continuous improvements and learning.
This should not be confused with your potential mission statement. I often see vision and mission interchanged, somewhat overlapping, and usually way too fluffy to be useful. To us, the mission statements are the who, what, when, where and how you are executing on activities and the goals that will earn you to your vision.
For instance, on our vision goal of being agile, responsive, and available to customers, we build a project center, integrated and new quoting software with a customer friendly interface and keep customers informed about project progress with real time production data from our ERP system. Make no mistake, we still mess a few things up and there are a few things that we say no to, but we are transparent about the solution and quicker to say no to business that does not fit us with at least an introduction to a different shop that might be able to service them.
On being a leader in local manufacturing thought leadership, I sit on the advisory panel for the UAA program at MATC, my production engineer is on the board of MATC for the apprentice program, we sponsor tables at industry events for speakers on topics of economics, leadership, automation, and strategy to invite customer to, and meet with our strategic vendors regularly to understand how we can work smarter together for shared growth.
The goals in our volume bucket are focused on growth. These are the activities that lead to increased opportunities, strengthen relationships in the market, and increase sales new and existing customer sales. We are a classic job shop that services over twelve industries where business cycles and market trends lead to an ever changing top 25 accounts and work mix so we need to keep talking to people about what they do and how we can help. It is the equivalent of a shark needing to keep moving for oxygen to flow through their gills.
As an example in this bucket, we have a goal of talking reaching out to 10 new customers, 10 existing customers, and 10 strategic partners on a weekly basis. We also have a goal of meeting with three prospects about new business, three customers about more business, and three meetings where we are introducing two people that do not know each other but we know they should be doing business together. We have a goal of $100K in orders and $100K in shipments weekly which means we need to be quoting around $500K per week. We also have a goal of turning quotes around in 24 hours for level one and two parts and three days on more complex projects. Current supply chain responsiveness keeps this last mentioned goal interesting interesting to achieve which is why we have swapped out over a dozen vendors in the past twelve months.
Our velocity goals are focused on accelerating production and shipments to the customer. Time is the one things we can not create more of but we can sure try to use less of it. These goals can be the purchasing of better tooling for faster material removal, designing fixtures to increase spindle time and minimize set up time, recruiting to help find more talented direct employees, outsourcing certain services that other partners can do faster and better, and even using our own truck for delivery and acquisition of materials and services so we do not have to wait for our vendors to deliver.
Your number one priority in a business leadership role is to create and increase value for all of the stakeholders around you. Stakeholders can be employees, customers, investors, vendors, other businesses in your industry association, causes you sponsor or advise, and even the community that your business operates in.
Increasing wages, donating to the local high school’s robotic team, mentoring students in the trades, increasing net profits for the investors, painting a mural on the side of your industrial building that faces a bike trail, adding moisture collectors to your machine centers for better air quality, upgrading inside lighting to LED, paying employees for Christmas Eve as a holiday, hosting a customer appreciation party, and even improving internal communications are all great examples of increasing value.
But don’t confuse the success of the activity of creating value with the actual results of the activity. Value needs to be tangible and measurable to be meaningful. Sending your management team to an industry seminar or leadership training is meaningless if there are no improvements to operations or better performance measured in your operations and financial leading indicators. Increasing wages just increases expenses unless it is tied to performance and improves value to customers and thus the business.
Our latest undertaking is to control our ever rising health care expenses that every company suffers. There is no value in cost shifting, carving out benefits, switching carriers, or simply discontinuing a program offering just because it is minimally used. Sure there are some short term cost savings to the income statement but you have taken away value to the employees. Instead, we have decided to maintain the plan design we have, but are requiring the participants in the plan to qualify for their deductible reimbursement by seeing to their preventative wellness check ups in the previous plan year and register for a third party counseling services that helps our plan members become better consumers of their own healthcare. With this tactic, we are offering our employees the opportunity to identify and navigate health risks earlier for a better quality of life and we are looking to minimize the catastrophic claims and unnecessary hospital visits that torpedo the out of pocket expenses and plan costs to the company profits.
Another successful win in value creation was realized through a labor efficiency bonus that not only increases the employee take home pay, but gives us 110% utilization of direct production hours through multi-tasking and pro-active scheduling of jobs through the shop floor. Every employee wants more money and every company wants more production from them. By giving the employees the chance to achieve the bonus and the ability to measure it and make it transparent internally, we have raised the income per employee over 20% in the past six months with the same FTE head count.
After years of missing delivery deadlines because of poor scheduling and not ordering material effectively, we found a new ERP package that has our late orders down to 5% and provides us with the business intelligence we need to target better business based on contribution and reports our financials to the investors much quicker. This little undertaking did cause some headaches but the result has been a 300% increase in operating profit in a sales year that was down -5%.
Transforming the dull grey north wall of our industrial building that faces the local bike path with a mural that depicts the history of manufacturing in our community is next. Not only is the project in line with the DNR objectives for the bike path but it also helps tell people who we are, what we do, showcases the business impact we make in the community and helps the DNR since we know maintain the area around the bike path as their budgets for maintenance have been decreased.
What additional value are you building for your stakeholders? Is it meaningful and can the results be measured so your activities to get there are worth the time and efforts?
I work from a list of to do’s and to don’ts and a fluid plan that is driven by the prioritization within the four bucket of goals. This list gets some items checked off quickly and the list is fluid in nature based on what I can control, what I can delegate, and what I can make an impact on. I have learned that some projects have a mind of their own and certain timelines for success can be stretched depending on how many people are involved and the responsiveness of other parties.
This list is organized into three categories as well. The first is the to do’s that must to get done or something is going to eat my family. Of course my family is not going to be eaten but the metaphor should show how important these tasks are. The next level are the tasks that I need to do because someone else is depending on in. The third is the list of things I want to do and are more of the nice to do tasks rather than the necessary tasks previously listed. Must do, need to do, want to do. The want to do’s never get attention unless the other two categories are done or have as much progress as possible made on them.
Everyone knows that no plan survives first contact and we know that what can blow up will blow up as an organization but how we react is 95% of the solution. Developing the goals and creating your to do list at least provides you with a plan to go back to once the fires are out. What’s the saying about failing to plan is planning to fail and if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there?
I would enjoy hearing how you have navigated the past 18 months and what you have done to come out stronger. Please feel free to reach out, drop a useful comment, or stop by the shop when you have time.