Tag archives: Leadership

Lean, cost cutting and my two laptops

An IT Consultant told me “Lean is about cost cutting and we do need some of the back ups that are mission critical. As such, IT people can’t use LEAN.”

A common misconception is that LEAN is about cost cutting. Cost savings is a result of LEAN processes. LEAN is not about cost cutting without a thought to the processes. LEAN doesn’t advocate cutting costs on essential processes.

LEAN is all about efficiency. LEAN achieves this via engagement of people and a clear process that they can apply to become efficient. As a result of an engaged workforce, a clear process of measurement and business communication, costs will reduce.

LEAN is therefore not about cost cutting until an organization is reduced to ‘skin and bones”. In fact, LEAN advocates adequate backups. In Failure Mode Effect Analysis, the team analyze the following factors:-

1. Severity of a potential breakdown. How bad is the effect of a potential breakdown.

2. Detection – how easy is it to detect a potential breakdown.

3. Frequency of occurrence – how often the breakdown has occurred in the past.

Based on the three factors above, the team will be able to identify mission critical equipment that needs backups. Conducting this analysis led me to keep two laptops. The severity ranked 10, detection 5 and frequency 1. Multiplying the 3 gave a score of 50. We do keep all important data backed up both on a hard drive and also on a cloud.

LEAN is about efficiency and LEAN has backups to ensure that efficiency isn’t affected. When my laptop crashed (although infrequent) without any warning, I was very grateful for the backup laptop and was able to continue work immediately. The concept of LEAN, while predominantly used in manufacturing is applicable to any industry, including IT.


Leadership Lessons from the Front Line – Go to the Gemba

Reading about leadership in the books is very different from going down to the front line and implementing leadership in a factory. For one, it’s hot, dusty and dirty.I’d like to share some of this so perhaps you don’t have to get hot, dusty or dirty (at least not for the moment).

A key lesson in most LEAN textbooks is “go to the gemba” or go to the front line. Implementing this practice has taught me three key lessons:-

  1. People are inherently good. They want to do “the right thing”. No one wakes up with bad intentions and a desire to cheat.
  2. Going to down (“turun padang”) and support the front line ask questions (instead of critiquing) helps achieve business results.
  3. Leaders shouldn’t make assumptions until they spend some time on the front line.

Case Study

One of the plant managers I work with was very frustrated with his lab team. He told me that they weren’t making their targets and their work was late. Over lunch, he mentioned that he would issue a warning letter if they didn’t start working. I asked him to hold on and in line with LEAN, let’s have a look at how they work. We agreed to spend the afternoon at their workplace and observing them and asking questions.

We spent the afternoon at the lab. We asked the team how things were. We asked them to show us their processes and how they worked. Spending the afternoon with them was beneficial as it helped reinforce the following messages:-

  1. The leaders care about you and your team.
  2. The leaders are there to support you and your team.
  3. If you don’t meet your targets, we are there to help make your job easier so we can all meet our targets.

We saw their processes. The testing process involved writing results into 4 logbooks, using a calculator to input the results into another logbook and then logging the final results into a computer that constantly hung.

The process was a case study for waste. The logbooks happened to be all over the lab which meant there was waste of motion. With multiple data entry points, it was no wonder that there were frequent errors. The slow computer caused delay and frustration among the team. It was not surprising that the team didn’t meet their deadlines.

Key lesson No 1.

None of the lab team had the intention of not meeting their deadlines. They all wanted to do good work. They were very frustrated that they couldn’t do good work. People all want work well – you just have to find a way to help them work better.

Key lesson No 2.

Go to the front line. Ask questions. The questions are more powerful than giving the answers.  Our questions included the following:-

  1. Is this process efficient?
  2. What do you need to make it more efficient?
  3. How can we support you to help you meet your deadlines?
  4. What suggestions would you have to help your work?

These coaching style questions helped get the lab team to think. They also helped put the ownership of the processes with the lab team. In a lot of cases, companies will hire productivity consultants who will write new Standard Operating Policies. These thick books will rarely be read and kept in the management library in mint condition. The SOPs will not be implemented as no one reads them nor do they feel ownership of the processes.

Key lesson No 3

Not making any assumptions is essential before you go down to the front line.By withholding judgment of the team, and keeping an open mind, the plant manager was able to delve into the root cause of the issue with the cooperation of the team.

The benefits of making the team re look at their own processes are as follows:-

  1. The team work on this process every day. No one knows the process better – certainly not a consultant and definitely not a manager.
  2. By getting the team to improve the process they take ownership for this. The issue of non-compliance doesn’t arise as they worked on this process. They certainly wouldn’t rewrite a process that they couldn’t follow.
  3. The team also feel greater ownership and sense of engagement within the organization. By implementing ideas from the front line, people feel recognized. This increases employee engagement.

Instead of issuing the warning letters to the team, the plant manager now had a better understanding of the team. By helping the team, he had increased the trust and respect the team had for him. This resulted in :-

1. An engaged team. The lab team are now giving 1 improvement idea per person/month vs 1 improvement idea per team/month. This shows a measurable increase in engagement as well as ownership of the business.

2. Better business results. The lab was now able to meet their on time goal for a whole month.

3. This has translated into better business performance and better results for the organization.

As a leader, keeping the three key lessons at the top of mind when working with your teams will help you drive sustainable performance with your teams. It will also lead to a better culture which in turn leads to greater profits. For further details on how your company can develop a culture of ownership, please call us on 03 6201 4355.

We don’t “train”. We help shape the company culture to drive business results. Continuously.

When we started this business 8 years ago, we called the organization a training company. We sold training solutions. We went through the HR team. Now we don’t want to call what we do training.

It doesn’t happen in 1,2 or even 5 days. It’s more than that. It’s an integrated approach. It’s engaging the hearts of the people to make them want to come to work. It’s also engaging them to use processes for continuous improvement. It’s about driving the front line that add value. It’s looking beyond the balance sheet/profit and loss to the organization’s psychological capital.It’s about coaching people to help drive performance because they want to NOT because they are told to.

We now work with Competitive Dynamics International to help make organizations world class and great places to work – where the employees wake up and want to go to work.

Some of the questions to assess your organization include the following:-
1. Do you have a 98% on time attendance for your team?
2. Does every one of your employees contribute one innovation per person per month?
3. Does everyone in the organization clearly know their role and why it is important to the organisation/society as a whole or do they just come to work for the pay check?
4. Does everyone measure and manage their team’s performance in terms of Quality, Speed and Cost?

Most of our clients start off answering no to most of the above. We work to engage the whole organization to help everyone say yes to these questions. The time take ranges from 3 months to 12 months.

So we don’t call it training. It’s changing culture. It’s making organisations world class and great places to work. It’s our reason to go to work.

Deal with it!

Mr Yam is an example of a person who learned how to deal with adversity. This is a short video of how he overcame blindness in 2008. He now not only leads a full life but has also returned to the golf course.

Interview with Astro Awani

This is an excerpt of a recent TV interview on Astro Awani where we discuss the fact that the teambuilding training rarely results in a positive return on investment. It’s a snappy 6 minute clip.

Honesty and Integrity

On my recent trip to Jakarta, I was pleasantly surprised by the actions of a taxi driver. Before my trip, I had heard horror stories about corruption in Indonesia. The country is after all number .. On transparency international’s ranking.

When I gave my taxi driver a rp100,000 note (around 10usd), the driver told me he didn’t have any change. I was his first hire at 7am. The fare was rp25000 (around usd2.50). When he informed me he would drop the change off at my hotel, I thought it would be extremely unlikely. I figured this would be a very generous involuntary ‘tip’.

Imagine my surprise that evening when the hotel front desk called me to let me know that the taxi driver had left rp75,000 at the front desk.

This act of honesty and integrity is very refreshing, more so in light of the fact that much of the population subsist on a daily wage of around rp50,000. Some digging with the Bluebird and Silverbird taxi drivers revealed some interesting facts.

1. The position of taxi driver in the Bluebird group is often oversubscribed many times overs.

2. The taxi drivers are paid based on commission and a fixed basic.

3. The company takes complaints seriously and acts swiftly to deal with errant drivers.

Key takeaways:-

1. There are honest people everywhere – never pre judge just because to the surrounding circumstances.

2. Honesty and Integrity can be trained and maintained by the processes of an organization – reward and recognition structure.

A leadership lesson

Over the recent holiday I had a bit of time to think back about my first job. I was a pupil in chambers. In a law firm, the hierarchy begins with the senior partner (also known as God within the law firm), junior partners, senior lawyers, junior lawyers, chief clerks, secretaries, clerks, office boys, tea lady and then the cleaning ladies. Oh, and after the tea lady comes the pupil in chambers!

I had made an error on a particular file that could have been disastrous. My partner in charge, after sorting out the mess made, called the client. I was in front of him when he said these words “An error has been made on the file. Please don’t blame my young colleague. It was my fault and I take full responsibility.”

I worked with him for four years. He was a demanding boss who pushed me really hard. But knowing that he had my back made it easier for me to focus on my work. He took full responsibility for any errors. most managers can learn from this. If you screw up, own up. Take responsibility. You will gain the respect and trust of your team.

As an entrepreneur and father of 2, I now try to make sure that I not only live this value, but also try to instill it in the people around me.

Eid Mubarak

Food lined up prior to the breaking of the fast

Food lined up prior to the breaking of the fast

For 2009, we decided to host a small buka puasa for the children of Chow Kit at Rumah Nur Salaam. With the current economic climate, the numbers of children who need food is steadily increasing. The numbers have steadily increased from 60 children in 2007 to around 140 children in 2009.

The issues with the children are quite numerous. Tunku Razaleigh Hamzah in his blog post Chow Kit described the issues very well;

“Here, in Chow Kit, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, less than a kilometre from the Twin Towers and a stone’s thrown from PWTC, life is cheap, drug users shoot up in the back alleys and children wander the streets hungry. Infants are bought and sold by syndicates, young children are supplied for prostitution and child-pornography. Hundreds of children are on the streets or homeless. They beg and hustle and sell themselves for sex. They are runaways or abandoned or neglected children, vulnerable to STD and HIV, to drug addiction and to rape and murder. Many among them have no registration papers. Although they may have been born to Malaysian parents they are “stateless” and therefore ineligible for free inoculation, medical education or education. They are abused and traded with impunity by criminals and corrupt officials because when they disappear it is without trace. They are nobody’s constituency.

Homeless children and street children in Malaysia number in the tens of thousands. They are in Chow Kit, but also in Dengkil, Jinjang, Pantai Dalam, Kepong, Selayang, Subang Jaya, Petaling Street and Pudu and in the bigger towns across the country. In Sabah and Sarawak, the problem of stateless children is acute.”

This year, we decided to sponsor the buka puasa instead of sending our clients gifts. In the spirit of Ramadhan, we invited our clients and friends to break fast with the children.

Friends waiting to break their fast

Friends waiting to break their fast

One of the issues raised by Dr Hartini Zainudin, consultant to Rumah Nur Salaam is that fund raising is often not that difficult during Ramadhan. It is the rest of the year where fund raising can be an issue. There is the need for sustainable funding for the shelter. After Ramadhan, we will be launching our Corporate Social Responsibility program. This program will start from January 15th 2010 from 230pm to 8pm. Each company is free to send their employees for this program (the minimum donation is RM1,000 and this is tax deductible). This course will be conducted by Juarez Salih Lowe and Abe Jacob to discuss sustainable development – in particular, what companies can do to help the shelter. The net profits from this course will go to Rumah Nur Salaam.

Why do this course? Our clients have wanted to start programs on corporate social responsibility.

What’s different about this course? Participants will look at the poverty just minutes from KLCC and talk to the aid workers to find out the issues firsthand. They will also have a facilitator brief them on what they can do over the long term for the shelter and what their company can do. The net profits from this course do not go to the training provider but instead go to the shelter. The participants will be sponsoring dinner for the children for that evening.

Should the take up rate be successful, this program will help generate a monthly income for the shelter. There could also be revenue from the companies that come to the course and decide to continue to contribute (e.g. banks involved in micro finance that gives sex workers an alternative income, hotels helping by building a cafe and hiring street kids).

We will keep you posted on upcoming dates for this program. In the meantime, Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to our Muslim friends! May everyone enjoy a great break and safe travels.

Going home

Going home

Talk at Malaysian Industrial Development Authority “Improvement Towards Excellence” – sharing the story of juarezlowe corporate training

I was recently invited to give a talk to the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority for the MIDA Innovation Day 2009 themed “Improvement Towards Excellence”.  This was a forum attended by around 200 Directors and Assistant Directors from MIDA. The other panel speakers were Dr. Irfan Khairi and Dato’ Aziz Bakar.

Dato’ Aziz Bakar shared his experiences setting up Air Asia from the very beginning. None of the founding team members had direct industry experience. They would probably not have got a job working in an airline. As such, they had no problems learning from an expert who spent a month with them learning about low cost carriers. They also pressed ahead despite the many challenges that they faced from Sars to H1N1.

When we look at successful companies, we find that a positive mindset is key to success. They also have to face challenges positively and learn from mistakes.

Irfan shared his stories of how he made a million ringgit within 3 years of setting up his internet business. Some of the key points he talked about were:-

1. Focus. The larger your market, the more niche your product should be.

2. Passion. If you have passion, then work becomes something that you enjoy. Working on what you are passionate about makes long hours go by easier.

The following is an excerpt from my talk.

“We need to have our focus, niche and unique selling proposition. When I developed juarezlowe Corporate training, we looked at three things to ensure our business success :-

1. Customer focus. Our customers feedback was that training was too theoretical and many people had problems applying it to their job. There was also a large divide between classroom theory and the real world. Understanding the customer needs enabled us to develop our product. We still continously seek customer feedback to determine future trends in our market.

2. Product focus. Listening to the customer, our product (training solutions) was based on world class methodologies adapted to the local environment. For example, most Western books on body language will tell you that crossed arms are a sign of negativity and being closed off. In this room, almost half the people here have crossed arms. This is due to the air conditioning vent rather than a sign of negativity. All theory needs to be tested in the cultural environment. In addition, our programs are interactive training programs with professional trainers. Our trainers were people who had actual industry experience and were not just theorists. The interactivity aids learning and retention and most importantly, application post training.

3. Process focus. Our processes need to facilitate constant innovation and improvement. We review our material quarterly to make sure that we keep up with the latest developments in the field. When we receive a training assignment, we spend time talking to the line managers to ensure that the role plays are customized to deal with the issues at hand.

Our primary focus is in the soft skills areas of negotiation, leadership and branding/marketing. Using the triumvirate above, we were able to grow our client base that now includes Petronas, Maybank, TM, Johnson & Johnson, International Development Institute, Banking Academy of Vietnam, Bank Islam, MasKargo, Hilton and Kuwait Finance House.

How can MIDA could apply this triumvirate in their day to day operations?

1. Customer focus – the investor is now going to be more focused in Asia for growth. Malaysia therefore has to compete with its other Asian neighbours as a site for foreign direct investment. The investor will also look at facilitative government which aids investment, infrastructure and workforce. In Singapore, the longest period of time I spent in a government office was 15 minutes. The government has incentives to bring in skilled workers and facilitates foreign direct investment. The infrastructure is also first class with a very efficient public transportation system. Due to the education system, there is no shortage of an educated workforce. Can we say the same of Malaysia?

2. Processes. When companies talk about innovation, they frequently omit to put in processes to support innovation. In Air Asia, they have a flat organization structure so anyone can pass ideas or feedback to the top. The question that you need to ask yourself and your company is how easy is it to suggest and implement a new idea? Do ideas have to go through a lot of red tape prior to implementation?

3. Product. Mida’s product is its people. Look to your left and to right. That is the product. It is up to you to make sure that you perform to exceed customer expectations.

Implementation of the triumvirate of customer, product and product focus are the hallmarks of successful companies worldwide. I wish MIDA all the best on its road towards excellence. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.”

Recruiting the private sector for civil service jobs

The Malaysian Insider recently reported that Najib wanted to bring in professionals to work in the civil service. Some of the criticism was that a lot of GLC executives relied on government sector contracts and were not performers in their own right. Another major issue is that the civil service has traditionally stood for lifetime employment. It was also one of the pillars of the Malay rights, with over 80% Malays in the civil service. The other 4 pillars were UMNO, the Royal Malaysian Police, the Armed Forces and the sultanate.

This brings us to the question of reforming the civil service. With a huge cost of RM41 billion, the only option to reform and increase efficiency would involve the following changes:-
1) Large scale retrenchment. Cutting salaries is not an option with the low salaries of the civil service. What is clear is that our civil service is clearly bloated with non-performers who believe that they have “a job for life”. Removing deadwood would be a very sensitive move, with potential political backlash. To deal with this, the government could implement retraining programs for the retrenched workers. Civil servants who don’t meet the standards set should be let go. Singapore has effectively done away with the job for life and non-performing civil servants get sacked. Implementation of retrenchment could be done via the group which would be more palatable given the communal nature of Malaysians. This was successfully implemented using A
ppreciative Inquiry with the Santa Ana Star Casino to downsize employees.
2) Pay for performance. The civil service clearly needs to implement a performance based remuneration system with objective measures. What they need is to have low basic pay but high performance bonuses for achieving clear benchmarks e.g. number of passports processed per day. This structure needs to be put in place at every level of the organization. Due to the Malaysian group mentality, what may be successful would be a group/team Key Performance Indicator.
3) Process changes. Most successful corporations today use a lean management structure. The civil service needs to rid itself of its hierarchical structure and adopt a lean management. This will aid process efficiency. Also, the civil servants should be empowered at each level to speed up decision making. All the processes currently in place will have to be studied to ensure that support the goal of the new and reformed civil service.
4) Leadership. This project would require a leader who is culturally aware, emotionally intelligent and with a tremendous amount of self resolve. He would need to divide his time into:-
a) developing the vision,
b) defining key strategies to achieve the vision
c) communicating the vision (rallying the troops)
His team would need to translate the vision of the new civil service down to every level – from the head to the tea lady. Every person in the organization should believe in the vision, find it meaningful and know what he/she has to do to help the organization achieve the vision. He may want to take a leaf out of Carlos Ghosn’s efforts in transforming Nissan.
5) Training. Each individual needs to know how to behave in the new way and this will require a combination of training and coaching.

While the intentions of bringing in private sector professionals may have been noble, it would also require the 5 steps laid out above. As with most businesses or transformation programs, the implementation is key. Private sector professionals alone will not guarantee a new civil service.