Transformation is a Tactical-Strategic Combo

 I joined the company at a tumultuous time. The bad economy of 2009 caused this business to literally stop incoming shipments of product because inventory was building up. Ah, but then the customers came back and getting back to full speed was a long and painful process. Our major partner had closed down lines and they were slow to hire and ramp up their material flow. In the words of my sales counterpart, “you get me anything and I can sell it.” Problem defined.

To add insult to injury our contract manufacturing partner had a performance meltdown prior to my arrival. They were unpredictable in their delivery because of shortages and quality glitches. The cause of much of this was pull-ins within long leadtimes, in some cases as long as 24 weeks. Changing that was part of the eventual fix. But it shouldn’t have been a crap shoot when we were going to get product.

The staff working on the issues was scattered and unfocused. The prior administration was focused on future strategy which wasn’t all bad but the boat was sinking while the captain was plotting a course to the Bahamas.There was no future here without some short term triage accompanied by some systemic changes.

When an organization or situation calls for a dramatic overhaul the answer is a combination of tactical and strategic work to be done simultaneously. Here are some combo pointers:

  • Fix the immediate holes in the process with attention to detail but engage with suppliers and partners at a high level to set expectations for future change.
  • Measure ferociously to track progress while determining what success looks like. Make your goals public and celebrate as they are met.
  • Focus personnel in a laser-like way. Take the unessential off the of table. Assess the team’s abilities to execute but also determine what longer term action is needed. New talent infusion? Coaching for current staff? Often there is a need to reorganize to better match the work with the available talent.
  • Identify the root causes by engaging with partners, suppliers, staff, management and peers. Ask why five times. Don’t assume that the simple answers are the right ones. Often the real root cause is more engrained in the organizational behavior. Consider what the long term vision should be for the organization and incorporate the fixes into the future state. Don’t do that alone. Use the brains of the team.
  • Celebrate the success along the way. It is worth saying again. Say thank you to people as things transform. Pull away from the daily progress to make sure that the end state is a true transformation. Don’t stop at good enough.

The end of the transformation journey described at the start ended with a contract manufacturing partner rated the highest of all in the business, full product availability (apparently the sales organization couldn’t actually sell everything that they got) and an organization filled with strong, empowered employees. Systemic changes included a new SAP planning module, a metrics dashboard with weekly reviews and a 30% reduction in leadtimes.

A good leader leads people, not transformation. Change is hard for organizations because it feels like an uncontrollable outside force. Make it an inside force by harnessing the energy of your team.

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

—John F. Kennedy

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