Archive for February 2010

Unreasonable Leaders

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. George Bernard Shaw; Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 – 1950)

Leaders don’t blend in. Leaders push the edges and make changes. Progress is made because those changes are usually the right ones. The best leaders combine bold action with accuracy. They are right enough of the time that they move an organization forward in a good direction.

It is helpful to be able to adapt to the world around you. It is a survival skill in the natural world and certainly in the business world. So the dilemma is how to adapt to a new company or a new job without losing your portion of unreasonableness. Here are my tricks:

  1. Keep reading. Read anything that expands your perspective.
  2. Network. Talk to mentors.
  3. Write down audacious goals for the organization.
  4. Pull back from the job periodically. Don’t get so focused on the job that you stop comparing and contrasting.
  5. Listen to people. Usually the best ideas are out there already. They just need a champion.
  6. Describe your unreasonable vision to your team but leave out the  word “unreasonable”.
  7. Reflect on progress. Celebrate success with enthusiasm and acknowledge mistakes without apology.

Unreasonable leaders take risks and move outside of what is comfortable because they see a different state of play. They don’t accept what is perhaps good enough to some. Leaders can be blamed for the organizational discomfort that change brings. However, in the long run the uncomfortable memories fade when success is claimed.

Olympic Lessons in Leadership

Ski Jumping is an Olympic game that requires an athlete to launch into the air and fly. Form is important. Wind is important. The approach to launch is important. But what makes the leader is what is in his head. Interesting.

The commentators for this game talked about the belief and confidence that radiated from the athlete. That, they presumed, is what caused them to jump or fly further. Can what is in our heads cause us to remain aloft longer? Can a mere thought overcome gravity? Apparently so because yesterday Switzerland’s Simon Amman outperformed his peers and landed 144 meters out, beating the next competitor by 7 meters. And he flew with a focus and calm that was palpable.

Business leadership follows similar rules.  Confidence and focus is indeed an indicator of success. Form, skill and experience are critical building blocks but great leaders keep their minds in control. There are techniques to use: Prayer, meditation, exercise, practice, coaching. Whatever the technique, a great leader needs to have a calm mind and a focus on the goal that can be observed by others.

There is no Women’s Ski Jumping event at the Olympics even though Lindsey Van holds the record — among both men and women — for the longest jump off of Whistler, B.C.’s normal ski jump, built for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Perhaps the leadership analogy continues here. Women have been held back from competition in Olympic and business competition over the decades. While the Olympic rules are still holding women back, business has opened up to allow women to demonstrate their leadership capabilities. However, the number of women in CEO spots is still disproportionately low.  As of 2009 there were only 12 women CEO’s in the Fortune 500.

Confidence and focus are needed to drive women to the top of organizations. It is a mind game. The other building blocks are there. There is nothing to keep women from flying the furthest in a company. We have what it takes.

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Cost versus Value

I recently took a trip to Ireland. No Blarney, I had the trip of a lifetime. Prior to leaving I spent hours looking for the best deals for flights, hotels, tours. I saved thousands of dollars by doing this. TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity…used them all. However, in the midst of enjoying good stuff for cheap I made an error that cost me. I picked the cheap hotel for an extended hotel stay in Cork and discovered that it was NOT the hotel I had in mind. We moved to the lower rent district and suffered with a lumpy bed and frayed carpet and lousy food in the pub downstairs. (The Guinness was fine though!) What I missed was the value proposition. Money was saved but value suffered. The consequence was that we wasted money on food, had to pay for internet and drank a lot more to overcome our disappointment.

Cost savings should be a rigorous process in business. The success I’ve had is a direct result of objective comparison, meticulous analysis and aggressive negotiation. But there is one more critical part of successful cost savings. Calculating the value along with the cost is the not so secret ingredient. Can you relayout for fewer PCB layers? Can you use a thinner gauge of aluminum? Do we need the higher quality memory if the SW in your product will test for errors and retire out pages? Does the customer really value a stainless steel enclosure? Asking questions about the value of components and processes and pushing for the right level of value is the first step toward controlling cost. Competitive data and knowledge of best practices should be used to drive decisions.

A handful of skill is better than a bagful of gold. An Irish Saying….

Skill in cost management coupled with value engineering is worth two bags of gold.  An Alstott Saying….

Push the Inventory to the Edges

Inventory should held either in a raw form or in a fast transformation form. Ideally, it should not be held in the middle. When designing a material flow, an operations team should focus on customer service level agreements to determine how quickly an order needs to be fulfilled. If customer satisfaction and/or competition is driving you to have a leadtime less than a full build cycle then the team should design a final transformation process that uses a building block approach to transform material to a finished form. Lean technology can be used to pull that material through the final assembly and test process based on customer demand.

On the other “edge”, inventory should be held in its rawest form with the intention of  launching the material into the supply chain only when it is needed or pulled to a building block kanban. There are exceptions to this if the material transformation process is so long that the cost of holding enough building blocks at the other “edge” is prohibitive. If there is an interim state that can be negotiated with the end supplier to shorten leadtimes, that should be considered but the risk and the cost of that transformed material should be weighed and then monitored.

All of the material on a bill of material should be examined for leadtime, risk and cost. Where that material is held should be purposefully determined. If an external contract manufacturer is used, the inventory design or supply chain design should be part of the contract negotiation. It is not acceptable for a CM to simply drive across a bill of material without regard to leadtime, cost  and risk.

Inventory should be the proxy measure for the health of a supply chain. The inventory levels throughout the supply chain should be considered, not just what is within the four walls. Clever design of material flow can give you both flexibility and cost control.

East of Eden

I’ve struggled with the story of Cain and Abel. God rejects Cains gift and accepts Abel’s. Why? No reason is stated. Maybe it is unimportant. The reaction to the Father’s rejection is the story. Cain kills Abel. God then throws Cain out of Eden BUT saves him. He marks Cain for protection. He tells Cain that “thou mayest rule over sin”. At least that is the translation I choose to go with. It gives man a choice. Steinbeck says in East of Eden that the choice “makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

Is that not the story for all of us? We can choose how we react. Yes, we are dealt some difficult circumstances. Yes, we have made mistakes. But how we choose to move forward is in our control.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Turn, turn, turn….
(rewritten from my Oracle ERP newsletter written in the spring; applies to today’s situation as well!)

I like to ski. I’m an intermediate skier. I can handle steep stuff. I can handle moguls. Steep and moguls…not so good! In order to improve I’ve been skiing with a friend who is better than me. She insisted that the snow was soft so KT-22 at Squaw wouldn’t be so bad. It was awful. The hard part about a steep, bumpy run is that I feel out of control. I can’t see stuff coming with enough time to think it through. So I freeze and end up zig-zagging from one side of the run to the other. It takes a lot longer to get down when you do that! The way to do it is to grit your teeth and turn, turn, turn. React to what you see. Stay loose. If you fall, get back up and just keep going. Um, yeah. Not so easy.

Sun is now on a steep, fast, mogul-filled slope. Stuff is coming up fast. We can’t see what is around the next bump. The guy in front just wiped out and we need to avoid him. There are crunchy, icy patches and we heard rumors that they might close the whole darn mountain soon. We plan and we prepare. Then we react to reality as it hits. We turn, turn, turn and focus on the work at hand. It is unnerving but it is thrilling.  I know that it is difficult right now to stay focused on the tasks at hand. It is easy to get distracted by the events around us. We need to remind each other that the most efficient path to successful synergy is to keep attacking the work right in front of us. The bumps are getting a little higher now but Sun is a gold medal group! We will meet at the bottom for a nice hot drink by the fire.

Don’t wish me happiness – I don’t expect to be happy…it’s gotten beyond that somehow.  Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor – I will need them all.
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh  Author, pilot, mother, wife of Charles

Aspiring To Be!

I want to be like Yan Pascal Tortelier! Who? Yan was the guest conductor at the San Francisco Symphony a few weeks ago. My husband, Ted and I had seats upfront so I could see his every move. The man was brilliant. He became the music. At the same time he connected with the musicians. He smiled. He winked. He jumped. He moved to the music.  I was totally pulled into what was going on and think that if someone had handed me an instrument I could have played it based on his lead. Ted finally told me to stop moving around so much because I was jiggling the seats in our row! This man led with passion and owned the moment. He pulled the symphony together and the audience came right along.

At this crossroads we each need to lead with this kind of passion and enthusiasm. We all lead something.  Do what you are doing with passion and a sense of mission. Go at it like it means everything. The preparation, the content, the enthusiasm pulls in others. Acknowledge the good work people are doing around you. Help others find their way. Consider how to create value even if it is without reward. As we each move through difficult times we need to keep encouraging one another and passionately pursuing the best. As others observe us I want them to be drawn right into what we are doing because we are brilliant.

A strong passion for any object will ensure success, for the desire of the end will point out the means.
Henry Hazlitt
American Philosopher