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2020 Hindsight: 5 Lean Tips to Help Organizations Succeed in a Changing World

As businesses restart operations, safety is being prioritized more than ever before.

The gradual lifting of lockdowns has introduced an evolving set of safety measures that may remain in place for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has impacted every business and individual, as evidenced by work-from-home models and redesigning operations to, unfortunately, in some instances, permanent closures.

Staying afloat will require a thoughtful and flexible approach to how products and services can be delivered while meeting the changing needs of customers, employees, and society at large. In this article, we will look at five basic lean principles organizations can adapt, along with examples of how local businesses across industries have managed to survive and thrive. Whether you are preparing to reopen or are reading this piece post-pandemically, these timeless tips will help ensure your processes continue delivering value, even when the unexpected happens.

The five, evergreen Lean principles that follow are based on:

  • Understanding what value means to your customer
  • Designing processes that flow products and services smoothly to your customer
  • Standardizing work and process cues to ensure consistency
  • Fostering an improvement culture where employees feel safe to share ideas
  • Minimizing waste

In this article, I am going to take a deeper dive into these five principles and show how several very different companies (a manufacturer, a healthcare firm, a recruiting and staffing firm, and a beauty salon) have leveraged them for success in the new normal.

1. Understand the Customer’s Value

Clarify the needs and expectations of your customers and adjust accordingly.

  • Ask yourself: What creates value for my customers? If customer expectations have changed, respond by offering new or modified products and services.
  • In a health crisis, place customer safety first. Use non-verbal signals where possible.
  • Help stakeholders transition and adapt to the “new normal” after a major business interruption. Whichever way “normal” ends up being defined, reflect on how you can help people embrace changes and maintain a positive experience for your customers.

Shortly after COVID-19 hit, San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind and Vision Impaired, a private, non-profit organization in Texas, received a surge in demand for military uniforms. Mike Gilliam, Lighthouse’s CEO and President, kept up with demand while pivoting part of his operations to produce reusable cloth masks for the community, in partnership with Southwest Research Institute and Jon Hart Design. To further combat the shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE), Lighthouse invested $2.5 million into a PPE Store to distribute various types of PPE to individuals and organizations. Rehabilitation services for the elderly blind were adjusted to a virtual format.

Florence Medical Group, a Texas healthcare company with headquarters in San Antonio, responded to community needs with a new line of services to help Texas employers reopen safely. Brigitta Glick, CEO and Founder of both Florence Medical Group and Provenir Healthcare, explained, “From screening and tracing to return-to-work post-exposure plans, our new services are delivered by trained healthcare clinicians with our medical board’s oversight.” To meet the needs of its recruitment and staffing customers, Provenir Healthcare now offers virtual services, such as interviewing candidates, as many office personnel, clinicians, and physicians had been furloughed.

Terri Rehkopf, owner of Ippodaro, an all-natural, full-service salon in San Antonio, Texas, used the lockdown imposed on non-essential businesses to rethink operations altogether. Terri recalls, “Before reopening, we communicated frequently with our guests across social media platforms and created live videos to explain the changes in our processes. We didn’t rush into it because we wanted to make sure our team was trained, and our guests understood our safety procedures.“

2. Design Safe Flow

Design the flow of people and processes so that value arrives at your customers expediently and safely. 

  • Analyze the flow of your operations to remove interruptions and keep people safe. (Note: Since reopening guidelines and safety measures may vary by location and industry, it is advised to remain up to date with federal, state, local level, and industry-specific resources.)
  • Make sure that proper process flow is obvious with nonverbal cues and physical barriers. (5S and the spaghetti chart are helpful tools for designing process flow).
  • Determine how to level load demand during periods of fluctuation

Lighthouse has set up a safe production system to accommodate social distancing and hygiene recommendations for manufacturers. With roughly 150 employees, most of whom are vision-impaired, process cues need to be both visual and obvious to the touch. Taped markings serve as tactile indicators for team members to know where to sit and stand throughout the facility (usage of white canes to feel for surroundings is a common practice). To serve employees’ needs, the Lighthouse raised wages by $2 per hour, tripled the number of lunches and breaks, implemented flexible shifts, and provided free daycare for all team members, if needed.

At Ippodaro, guest seating at the entrance has been removed, and ample signage and physical barriers help promote the safe flow of people throughout the salon. Guests and workers are also provided face masks and shields.

Provenir has shifted much of its operations to a remote workforce. Partitions have been added to their previously open-office layout to maintain distancing when employees return to the office. Going forward they plan to not have the entire company in the office at the same time.

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3. Standardize the Work

 Design every job or task with safety in mind.

  • Keep standards simple, easy to remember, and up to date.
  • Train with the entire customer and worker experience in mind (A great example of a training tool, the Training Within Industry (TWI) method, used on handwashing can be seen here)
  • Monitor the process to assess adherence to standards.
  • Exhibit careresiliency, empathy, and a clear message of purposeful work to strengthen employee trust and engagement.

“The Lighthouse is a family with very little turnover – and not congregating goes against their everyday learned behavior,” Mike Gilliam commented, while emphasizing the need to make process changes obvious. Non-verbal process cues are placed at the point of use, so that safe practices are second nature. Contrasting colors and textures differentiate pathways and areas of the facility and hand sanitizing stations are positioned within the line of sight.

With the shift to working remotely, Provenir has had to rely on video conferencing more than ever to refresh existing employees and onboard and train new workers. Brigitta Glick reflects, “Communication has been the key to our success, and this has been reinforced with our remoteness. We realize the importance of over-communication, specific and clear communication, group/team communication, and one-on-one communication. It has been critical to be very actively engaged in video conferencing to pick up on body language to ensure feelings are addressed.”

Lighthouse, Provenir, and Ippodaro have all implemented pre-entry temperature checks as part of their standard operations, in addition to clear practices for cleaning, social distancing, break schedules, and hygiene standards.

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4. Encourage Problem Solving, Learning and Improvement

Foster a problem-solving culture that puts the individual at the heart of the improvement activity.

  • Be available and visit workers frequently, to show respect and support them in problem-solving.
  • Use visual management to distinguish normal from abnormal conditions
  • Listen to front-line staff and encourage them to suggest improvements. Ensure transparent communication (both internal and external) and set clear expectations.

The development of return-to-the-office strategies at Provenir was a team effort focusing on the staff’s comfort and concerns. “We were already a family-friendly company with flexible hours, work-from-home options, and on-site childcare, and this experience has greatly encouraged this philosophy,” Brigitta stated.

Terri Rehkopf also brainstormed with her staff at Ippodaro about practices and procedures to use before reopening. She involved her staff to ensure understanding and buy-in into the what, the how, and the why behind new safety measures.

The San Antonio Lighthouse workforce has been highly engaged in the COVID adjustments, due to a culture that breeds the sharing of new ideas. When the business scaled up PPE production, the “Zorro Mask Team” made up of sewing operators, engineers, and supervisors rose to the challenge. Mike Gilliam added, “Our culture is one of constant executive visibility and accessibility—one of the reasons we walk the production floor at least twice a day—talking to front line team members and listening to their ideas—everything from playing upbeat, faith-based music to kick-off every day to get people’s minds off of the negative vibes the virus has created, to placing tactile tape on the lunchroom tables, so our blind employees could feel where not to sit, to encouraging us to include temporary employees in any bonus payout. When it comes to enhancing the production lines with ideas, that’s commonplace in our operation.” Lighthouse’s culture is further supported through monthly morale-building events and contests and cross-functional working sessions held yearly to gather input on how to make the Lighthouse a better place to work.

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5. Minimize Waste

  • Look for waste across your organization to enable staff to make quality and safety decisions.
  • Ask yourself how people and resources can meet demand with minimal leftover.
  • Find ways to reduce the complexity of work, products, and services.

Removing waste to minimize costs is intentionally placed last, as Lean thinkers believe financial success is achieved through providing value to customers and caring for your staff.

Lighthouse’s startup of PPE production was done using existing people and capabilities, repurposing underutilized production lines.

By dramatically increasing work from home flexibility, Provenir has proven it can operate successfully in a remote fashion, allowing the company to reduce its office footprint and associated expenses by half.

By researching the actual consumption rate of supplies, the team at Ippodaro reduced excess inventory costs and shifted mindsets by asking questions like, “What is the demand? Do we really need overstock on this product?”

Parting Words

When asked what advice they would give other businesses looking to reopen, here is how our local businesses responded:

Brigitta Glick (Provenir Healthcare and Florence Medical Group):

“Have a plan. Understand the recommendations and requirements to run operations safely. We have the benefit of our medical board advising us on re-opening strategies and understanding CDC guidelines as well as helping us procure PPE. Every organization operates differently, and it is critical to have a plan that works specifically for each employers’ unique needs.”

Terri Rehkopf (Ippodaro):

“Take precautions to make sure your team is all on the same page and show your new processes to your guests across communication platforms. This will help build trust and your guests will appreciate the time you are taking to ensure they are safe. Plan for a rainy day, especially if a shutdown happens again in the winter months.”

Mike Gilliam (Lighthouse):

“Over-communicate your plans and the supporting reasoning with all team members—and get input and buy-in from your Senior Team before implementing. Consistency, understanding, and buy-in are key. Also, do it gradually and conservatively. The end of June is a fair target for some semblance of normalcy. Those who attempt to rush it will meet with skepticism and concern.”

Ultimately, a sustainable operating model is needed. To prepare for the unexpected and adjust to the ever-changing world, rethink value in the eyes of your customer, review and improve your processes, take care of your people, and envision what you want your organization to look like in the future. Review your strategy and devise a new plan to execute it.

To the reader: This article was written in June of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, after the US economy started lifting lockdown restrictions. Since then, circumstances may have changed. As reopening guidelines and safety measures may vary by location and industry, with many being moving target, it is advised to remain up to date with federal, state, local, and industry-specific resources.

Click here to download a PDF of the below infographical summary of this article.

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#leanthinking #business #leadership #lean #leansixsigma #continuousimprovement

9 Things You Need to Know About Surviving an Acquisition

Surprise. Fear. Anxiety. These are just some of the feelings you may experience after learning your company is going through a merger or acquisition. The company culture, processes, and policies that you are accustomed to (and in some cases, you may have built) are about to undergo some major changes.

Images of the “large, inefficient corporate company” stereotype start looming in your mind (remember Office Space and The Office?). Bureaucratic red tape, protocols, “TPS Reports.” Will my colleagues be laid off? Will I? What will it take to keep my job and come out ahead at the new company?

As time goes on, some of those emotions evolve to ambivalence, frustration, and stress. That nebulous cloud lingering over your head may also be accompanied by a drop in motivation and productivity.

How do you cope? First, remember that you’re not alone. Many people have survived these situations, in some cases, numerous times. The good news is that there are things you can do, and mindsets you can adopt, that will help you accept change and start thriving again in your new environment.

The Science of Certainty

Science has proven that the brain actually craves certainty in a similar way to how we crave food, and it avoids uncertainty as if it’s pain or a threat to our lives. A lack of certainty about the future triggers an automatic alert response in the nervous system. Once the brain notices something is awry, the ability to focus is compromised. This explains why we inherently avoid uncertainty and why change and ambiguity are so difficult for us in the first place. 

So that nice map you likely drew of what things were like in the old regime has changed, and as you struggle to create a new map with missing parts, you’re not as comfortable as before. What’s important here is that although there is a physiological reason explaining why we want to remain in our comfort zone, exploring new ways of doing things might actually be better for us.

4 Ways Change Can be Good for Us

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus had it right – The only constant in life is change.

Being acquired involves new behaviors and ways of doing things, which can be difficult and overwhelming. Adjusting your attitude and focusing on the opportunities that change brings about can help alleviate stress and tension.

  1. Breaks the monotony. While we may lobby for things to remain the way they are, the reality is that we would all be bored out of our minds if nothing changed! Going through an acquisition can become like working for an entirely new company – allowing you to switch up routines, gain fresh perspectives, and form new relationships.
  2. You are pushed out of your comfort zone. When you’re stretched beyond your comfort level, your assumptions are challenged and your opinions and mindset are tested. Just like stressing a muscle builds physical strength, overcoming difficult changes builds character, confidence and mental toughness. This helps you deal with the inevitability of future changes you’ll experience throughout your career and life.
  3. Change expands your skills and horizons. Change promotes the development of new skills and expands one’s horizons. Mergers and acquisitions often involve learning and honing of new skills and processes, and the establishment of best practices. Exposure to new people, cultures, places, and things can also change your outlook and perspective in a positive way. In the end, everyone is better off with a more diverse, talented, and well-rounded workforce.
  4. Promotes innovation. Success does not last forever, and what worked yesterday may not be the best strategy for tomorrow. As the quality guru, Edwards Deming put it, “Survival is not mandatory.” In order to stay relevant in the marketplace, organizations need to continuously adapt to change and promote innovation and creative thinking to stay ahead of the curve.

5 Helpful Tips to Thrive in Your New Environment

  1. Stay positive. Be supportive and engaging and avoid criticism. Keep an upbeat attitude and radiate enthusiasm. Build a reputation that inspires people to want to work with you.
  2. Be patient. Integration is a slow process. While you may have a laundry list of unanswered questions, be assured that you, your boss, and your boss’s boss are likely all in the same boat, and that clarity will improve with time.
  3. Perform a skills gap assessment on yourself. Are there any areas in your skill set that could be strengthened? Now is the time to close that gap. Every company has pain points. Demonstrating your value through your unique skill set to alleviate those pain points will put you at an advantage for the opportunities a merger may give rise to.
  4. Be flexible and proactive. Do your research early on to get an idea of the new company’s culture. Stay engaged, pitch in, and offer assistance. Check your emotions at the door, and be receptive to fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. Participate where possible on integration projects to help lay the foundation for how things will be done going forward. Those who can open their minds to change and devise new strategies to tackle challenges are often the most valuable people to an organization.
  5. Focus on what is in your control. While the decision to merge was outside of your control, your attitude and performance are completely within your control and will have the greatest impact on your success in the newly formed company. Focus on putting your best foot forward.

The big takeaways that I’d love to leave you with: The next time you find yourself worrying about an impending change in your career or life, put a positive spin on it. Discover the silver lining and you’ll be happier and more fulfilled. Being patient and optimistic, focusing on what’s in your control, and continuing to do the best work possible will put you in the greatest position for success. Do as Heraclitus would – go with the flow. Enjoy the ride, as wild as it may be.

Drink From This Cup: 6 Proven Nuggets of Advice You Need to Succeed This Year

A friend once told me sometimes it takes the right person in the right context, saying something in just the right way, to adjust the lens through which you view the world and inspire you to change for the better. An acquaintance of this independent, business owner friend of mine visited her office one day and brought her teenage son. While the three of them were talking, the son blatantly engaged with his cell phone. My friend said to him, “Put your damn phone away now! Don’t you realize how F%&$’ing rude it is to play on your phone during a conversation?” All expletives aside, it took this direct and abrupt confrontation, from a complete stranger, to cause a behavior change in this young man while prior efforts from his parents failed.

If you’re a self-improvement aficionado like me, you’ve probably heard your share of the “maxims and truths” below. But let’s be realistic – how much of the content you read, videos you watched, podcasts you listened to, have you actually applied to your life? A lot of it was initially in one ear and out the other for me too. Over the years, I’ve started to internalize some of this material and put it into practice. The summary below is my handpicked advice gleaned from written texts, audios, videos, and conversations of highly influential authors, CEOs, athletes, acquaintances, and friends that are at the top of their game. I am sharing the parts that have most impacted my life and career, so that I can save you time, energy, and needless agony. I will have achieved my goal for this article if at least one of the following tenets leaves a positive imprint on you this year.

1. Connect to Your Mission or Purpose

Become aware of a mission that you are devoted to that is larger than yourself. This awareness will help propel you forward in anything that you do. Some people call this “your sentence.” Entire books have been written on the very subject of defining your life’s mission, and several free online worksheets are available. However, if you can honestly answer the following questions, you’re far along into crafting your sentence.

Who am I? Why am I here? What do I do and why do I do it? Who am I here for? 

Many circumstances in life are entirely outside of your control. Regarding your mission, you are in control of the meaning you give to it, which transcends anything you do.

A purpose is a means to an end. Your mission or purpose serves as the fuel needed to endure life’s challenges and disappointments. Regardless of what happens in your work, always remember that your organization is also a means to an end, that is broader than the bottom line.

2. Bring Your Best Self Daily

Throw yourself into your work wholeheartedly, and in all matters, have unrelenting enthusiasm.

It’s so easy to compare yourself to others. If you get caught up in this, you can lose yourself and start chasing unrealistic ideals. It’s far more achievable to focus on becoming a better version of your current self. You have a unique set of skills, strengths, and experiences that positively define you, and which can be built upon to achieve great things through your mission. What is in your control is the ability to put forth your best effort and infuse energy into every situation that you encounter. Doing so will indeed set you apart, help ensure career success, cause others to gravitate toward you, and help you flourish.

3. Focus on Personal Growth – Learn Daily, Be Patient, Open your Mind, and Surprise Yourself

  • Learn Daily. Be a lifelong student. Having an impressive college degree or set of certifications doesn’t exempt you from continuous learning. Make it a habit to learn something new every day, even if it’s one new word in the language of your choosing, a history lesson, or pondering a classical work of art. On a yearly basis, learn and improve skills that add value to your professional career.
  • Open your Mind. Sometimes, silence really is golden. Educate yourself on both sides of a story or controversy before articulating an opinion. Be willing to listen to someone that is more proficient than you at something, internalize it and don’t take it personally. Try new ways of doing things, even if you don’t initially agree, as long as it won’t negatively affect anyone and it doesn’t conflict with your values.
  • Surprise Yourself. Throw yourself into uncomfortable and awkward situations to stretch yourself, test your limits and confront your fears. You may find that you like those things. Do the job on your to-do list that you dread first. The odds are that this is what you needed to do most, and you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Be Patient. Benjamin Disraeli said, “The secret to success is being ready for an opportunity when it presents itself.” Until then, pay your dues. In your career, if you have the discipline and perseverance to put in the work, you will eventually see an ROI through opportunities that come to you. Realize this may not happen how you expect or according to your timeline.

4. Figure Out How You Reset

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, ask:

Am I presenting my best self?

If not, ask why, and figure out how to reset in a way that works for you.

A 10-minute walk outside for some fresh air can be incredibly helpful. Step away, breathe, and “reboot” to gain clarity. With a clear mind, take a look at your calendar and commitments and figure out what can be changed to improve the situation.

Which one or two balls that I’m juggling can I set down so I can free up my time?

Of course, you want to do this in a way that is respectful of the stakeholders of those tasks or projects (family, coworkers, boss, etc.). If explained sincerely, they will almost always understand and help you re-prioritize in a non-guilt-laden way. The respect that you gave will likely be reciprocated to you later on.

Going forward, leave open a free day each week, to allow for contingencies and for yourself to get caught up in your life. And frequently scan your workload, so that you can prevent this feeling from happening again.

5. Adopt a Positive Mindset

When things don’t go your way, ask:

What’s great about this situation that I do not see right now?

That can be hard to do when overcome with disappointment after you were rejected or betrayed, went bankrupt, failed a class, lost a race, passed over for a promotion, or missed a launch date.

You’ve heard the phrase, “positivity begets positivity.” Well, empowering questions elicit empowering answers. Bring forth a moment from your past when you failed at something that was important to you. How would you have answered the following questions?

(A) How did I screw up this badly? (Negative outlook)

(B) What did I learn from this mess? (Positive outlook)

Question A focuses on the past and what you did wrong, and answering it could trigger negative, self-deprecating statements, and self-doubt, while Question B is more forward thinking and suggests continuous improvement and personal growth. The latter question also encourages the virtue of humility and the chance to share your experience with others.

Optimism is contagious, and it can quickly spread to others. For example, by asking a simple, empowering question, you can instantly transform negative, complaining talk in your office into constructive, solution-oriented discussions, which will then start to positively change the workplace environment.

6. Surround Yourself with Inspiring, Creative, and On-Purpose People

There’s the familiar adage,

“You are the average of the five people you spend time with the most.”

Surround yourself with people who align with your values, lift you up, and accept you for who you are, but who also challenge you, provide a different perspective, and are not afraid to tell you the truth.

Figure out who deserves your energy.

Find a mentor or someone you admire (living or departed), and start to emulate critical behaviors and characteristics and practice their advice or writings. Conversely, find a gentle way to let go of the toxic people that are bringing you down.

Bringing it All Together

In closing, this is what has resonated with me and has worked in my life and career condensed and filtered just for you to digest in under six minutes, sparing you the countless hours and struggles I endured before appreciating these tips.

What helpful principles, maxims or truths would you add to this list?