Category Archives: Product/Service Reviews

How Yelling at Your Employees Brings Better Results

How Yelling at Your Employees Brings Better ResultsLet’s pretend you manage Chuck. He’s a fairly good employee most of the time, but occasionally, he really messes up. Whenever this happens, you bring him into your office and yell at him for a bit. Chuck’s next assignment is much better. You’ve done your job as his manager. It’s not fun to yell at people, but someone has to do it.

Or do they?

Yes, it’s true – when Chuck does an unusually bad job, and you yell at him, his performance will almost always improve. What’s equally true, however, is that Chuck’s improvement has very little to do with your shouting. Instead, it has everything to do with random variation and statistics.

Being in supply chain and operations, I have a healthy respect for statistics. Much of the Toyota Production Systems (TPS), lean, Six Sigma, and quality improvement tools are a direct result of applying statistics and the scientific method to production. However, what I haven’t thought of much before is how those same principles of random variation apply to office coworkers just as much as to assembly lines.

What started me thinking about this was a great book I just finished called The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. In it, he tells the story of Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. Mlodinow writes:

In the mid-1960s, Kahneman, then a junior psychology professor at Hebrew University, agreed to perform a rather unexciting chore: lecturing a group of Israeli air force flight instructors on the conventional wisdom of behavior modification and its application to the psychology of flight training. Kahneman drove home the point that rewarding positive behavior works but punishing mistakes does not. One of his students interrupted, voicing an opinion that would lead Kahneman to an epiphany and guide his research for decades.

“I’ve often praised people warmly for beautifully executed maneuvers, and the next time they always do worse,” the flight instructor said. “And I’ve screamed at people for badly executed maneuvers, and by and large the next time they improve. Don’t tell me that reward works and punishment doesn’t work. My experience contradicts it.”

What Kahneman realized, however, is that while the yelling preceded improvement, it did not cause the improvement.

The pilots in training were all slowly improving, but you wouldn’t be able to see that improvement from one maneuver to the next. Instead, their performance was a random variation around an average skill level that was rising over months. When one maneuver was unusually bad, it was just random variation. The same held true for the exceptionally good performances – random variation around the true average skill of the training pilots.

The name of this statistical principle is regressions toward the mean. Whenever an observed results is far from the average, the next result will likely be much closer toward the average. Observations tend to gather around the average in a bell shaped curve.

This principle is widely used in production quality. We calculate upper and lower control limits on a process and expect random variation to occur. It’s only after several repeated outlying events that we intervene and investigate. If processes are within their limits, we just leave them alone. Even if several measurements are below average, we have faith that the next measurements will be higher.

Process Control Chart

Realizing that this principle holds true with humans as well is powerful. All of us will have random good and bad performances simply as a result of random variation. The majority of our performance will regress toward our true average skill level without any outside influence.

So next time Chuck has an outlying bad performance, you could yell at him, and he’ll do better the next time.

You could also watch online cat videos together – the improvement will still occur.

Why not save your lungs some stress?

 

[Image Source]

One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

Wouldn’t it be awesome if a Microsoft Excel formula could automatically pull tracking information for shipments sent via UPS, FedEx, USPS, YRC, and other major carriers? Well – you can. Jimmy Pena from ShipTrackAddin.com has created a great Excel add-in that does just that. Best of all, it’s free (although the author does accept donations if it helps save you time and effort in tracking shipments).

How it Works

After a quick download and an easy install of the add-in, your Excel will have a new formula called ShipTrack. Then, you just use the ShipTrack formula in your spreadsheet just as you would use a SUM formula. For example, I would type the following into a cell:

=ShipTrack(301571615207567,”FedEx”)

After a second of grabbing the information from the FedEx servers, the cell would return this value:

Delivered Monday, January 13, 2014 at 5:53 PM at signed by MMORRALIS FEDEXGROUND

It’s as easy as that. If you have a long list of tracking numbers, you can just copy the formula down and it will populate them all instantly.

You can also use references in the formula, so the following would work just as well:

ShipTrack2

ShipTrack1

Carriers Included in ShipTrack

Perhaps the best part about the ShipTrack formula add-in is the long list of carriers it covers. The current version, 4.3.1, supports the following carriers:

Carriers Included in the ShipTrack Formula
  • A1 Express
  • A-1 International
  • Blue Dart
  • CEVA Logistics
  • CMA-CGM
  • Conway Freight
  • DHL
  • DHL Global Forwarding
  • Expeditors
  • FedEx
  • Lasership
  • New England Motor Freight
  • Old Dominion
  • Ontrac
  • Pegasus Logistics Group
  • Purolator
  • R+L Carriers
  • Rworld Couriers
  • Safmarine
  • SAIA LTL Freight
  • TCIXPS
  • TNT
  • United Parcel Service (including LTL)
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • YRC Freight
  • YRC Regional (including New Penn, Holland, Reddaway)

Carriers are also being added regularly, so check the site to see if a specific carrier is in the works to be added.

Download the ShipTrack Add-in for Free

You can learn more and download the ShipTrack add-in over at ShipTrackAddin.com.

Stop Throwing Away What You Learn

Throwing Away What you Learn

My wife and I have a running joke about asking certain types of questions. She will ask me something like “Do you know when Easter is this year?” In an ironic tone, I’ll reply, “if only there was a global electronic network of information that you could access from your phone that would answer that question.” She’ll roll her eyes at me, lightly punch me in the arm, and then pull out her phone and ask Google her question. Wikipedia usually has the answer, and our conversation moves on. Rest assured though that my wife takes great pleasure answering the same way when I ask similar questions that the Internet easily answers.

Even though that question is sarcastic for general questions, it holds real meaning for questions in a small business. “Where do I find the form to request time off?” “Where is our procedure for creating an invoice through EDI?” “What are Walmart’s shipping requirements?” To all these, I reply, “If only there was a company-wide, easily accessible, and searchable resource that would answer that question.” From that idea came our company’s wiki.

Background on Wikis

A wiki is collection of information that can be edited by most or all users of the program. Wikipedia is the best-known example, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit or add information to. Creating a similar, living encyclopedia of information for our business has been incredibly helpful. Being able to add procedures, forms, and other information to a location where any employee can quickly access them allows us to share knowledge and train others better.

A wiki is a powerful tool in sharing knowledge across the company. Rather than needing to explain every procedure, employees trying something new can first search the wiki to see if a documented process can show them what to do. This is especially useful if someone is out of the office for vacation. The wiki empowers others to cover for others whose processes are documented on the wiki – and employees can enjoy their vacation time without phone calls asking for help from work.

How a Wiki can Help Business

The reason a wiki is different from just a bunch of text documents somewhere on a hard drive is accessibility and editability. A wiki indexes information so that you can search and easily find what you need. Finding the “Time Off Request” form is so much easier to find through a search bar than digging through folders in Windows Explorer or asking HR for the form’s location.

Company Wiki Search

Second, a wiki’s true power comes in the ability to edit and update information. When Walmart changes a shipping requirement, I can go to the Walmart page, press the edit button, type the new requirement, and then hit save. The pages are so easy to edit that despite their busy schedules, my team is able to find time to document common procedures. Wikis allow for the ease of sharing information, so that knowledge of processes is not locked away in the minds of individual employees. Without such sharing, we are essentially throwing away all acquired knowledge each time someone is away from the office (temporarily or permanently).

Wikis are also great to help accomplish work that is not performed regularly. For example, every six months or so, our ERP system needs to be reinstalled on a certain machine because of a problem on that machine. The first time, it took several days for me to figure out how to do the install because of the machine’s unique setup. After figuring it out, I jotted some quick notes on the procedure and posted them on a wiki page under the IT section. Six months later, after I had long forgotten what I had done to fix the issue, the machine started erroring again – the signal to reinstall. This time, I jumped on the wiki and searched for the document. My notes popped up as the first result and the machine was as good as new 15 minutes later.

Wiki Options for Small Business to Consider

Company intranets and wikis are nothing new– but many businesses have yet to implement one. Fortunately, adding a company wiki is easy and affordable (there are many great, free options). Here are a few options to consider.

Confluence by Atlassian – $10+

Confluence LogoThis is the system my company uses. It’s not free, but for 10 users, it’s only $10. I like it because it’s very easy to use, has extensive documentation and tutorials on how to use it, and you can edit the theme to make it look more attractive. The last point isn’t important to me, but it helped get executive sign off to work on it (looks and appealing design are important at my company).

Confluence

MediaWiki – Free

Media WikiIf you use Wikipedia frequently, then you’ll feel right at home with MediaWiki. MediaWiki is what Wikipedia is based on. It’s free and very popular, which means there’s a strong community and many tutorials to help you easily install and run it.

MediaWiki

MediaWiki Sysadmin Hub (Installation Instructions)

Tiki Wiki – Free

Tiki Wiki LogoIf MediaWiki doesn’t have quite enough features that you’re looking for, then check out Tiki Wiki. For me, I didn’t want to be overwhelmed and miss my goal of company documentation, but you may want to take your wiki to the next level. Tiki Wiki boasts a very long list of features including the following:

  • Themes, newsletters, banners, and blogs
  • Shopping carts, payment, membership, and accounting tools
  • Friends, surveys, polls, chats, and other social networking
  • Issue tracking and other IT Help Desk tools
  • Spreadsheet, slideshow, drawing, and other office applications
  • Quizzes, webinar integration, and other e-learning tools
  • Many other additional features

Tiki Wiki

Tiki Wiki Installation Guide

WikkaWiki – Free

wikka_logoIf you’d rather go the other direction and want something more lightweight and simple, then check out WikkaWiki. It is designed to be much easier and straight-forward.

WikkaWiki

WikkaWiki Installation Guide

Dokuwiki – Free

Doku Wiki LogoFinally, Dokuwiki is a great option for company documentation because that’s what it’s built for. It requires no back-end database and can efficiently fulfill the documentation needs of a small company.

DokuWiki

DokuWiki Installation Guide

If you have an IT person that wants to do in-depth comparisons and look at even more options, then check out WikiMatrix. There, you can compare dozens of Wiki options and find one to fit your expertise and needs.

A Couple Factors to Consider

With all company tools, it’s important to consider the side-effects and consequences of using it. Here are some things you’ll want to consider before rolling the wiki out to the whole company.

Internal or external – do you want your wiki accessible from any internet connection or only while on your company’s local network? If you want it accessible from anywhere, then you’ll need to put some security login procedures in place to keep the world out of your company’s procedures.

Users and permissions – should everyone in the company access everything? If not, then you’ll need to edit user permissions and groups.

Moderation – will anyone be responsible to moderate and monitor the wiki’s usage? If you have a larger organization, then you may need someone to keep everything somewhat neat and organized.

File storage – we often upload Word and Excel documents to our wiki so everyone can access the latest version of a file. However, since our wiki stores the file within its programming, the program can become quite large as many files are added. Will you upload files to your wiki or just add links to the file’s location on your network?

Use more than text – as explained in my article [article about visual explanations], visuals are often much more helpful than just text. Be sure to include screenshots, pictures, or even video tutorials to make your procedures easier to learn.

Although your wiki may be sparse at first, be diligent in your implementation and building a company resource. We installed ours just 18 months ago, and my teammates and I now rely on it multiple times each day. It’s allowed us to do more and maintain corporate learning as some employees have moved on. Best of all, it empowers everyone in the organization to learn and effectively do more each day.

What does your company use to share its knowledge? Could a Wiki help you stop throwing knowledge away?

How to Win Friends and Influence People in Your Supply Chain

 

How ti Win Friends and Influence People in the Supply Chain

Even though supply chains are becoming more automated, people still play a critical role in successful interactions and product flow. This is especially true for most small businesses. Relationships and conversations matter much more to small businesses because they don’t have the power of Walmart or Apple to rely on novel-length contracts and impersonal automation. Instead, phone calls, personal visits, special favors, and constant cooperation are what keep small companies alive and their products flowing. So it makes sense that the ability to win friends and influence people in your supply chain is a powerful skill that is needed to help your company survive and flourish.

I recently finished listening to the business classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People (HTWF&IP), by Dale Carnegie. Although originally published over 75 years ago, it’s still a consistent bestseller because it’s simply a great book. The lessons are timeless and apply directly to everyday life in along the supply chain. I’d like to share a few simple examples of how I’ve seen the book’s suggestions directly help me solve problems with vendors, customers, and fellow team members.

Always Make the Other Person Feel Important

“There is one all-important law of human conduct. If we obey that law, we shall almost never get into trouble. In fact, that law, if obeyed, will bring us countless friends and constant happiness. But the very instant we break the law, we shall get into endless trouble. The law is this: Always make the other person feel important.”

“Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

― Dale Carnegie, HTWF&IP

The strongest takeaway I gained from the book is that making others feel important can help solve most conflicts. The key, however, is to do so in a sincere way. Never use flattery or give undeserved phrase. However, by recognizing the important roles that others play – and seeing problems from their perspective, you can give them the due respect and honor that you would like to be given if you were in their place. Often problems vanish as soon as the other person feels acknowledged and respected.

I’ll first share an embarrassing example I’ve realized about myself. My company often gets last-minute rush orders that fall outside our normal fulfillment time. We have a standard lead time, but sometimes to win the sale, our salespeople must promise delivery in a much shorter period than our standard. When those orders are thrown at me, and I’m ordered to make it happen, I find myself reluctant to do so. However, when someone approaches me kindly, acknowledges how busy my team is, and asks me to please consider making an exception this one time, my attitude is completely different. I feel important and thus do everything I can to make sure the order succeeds. Of course, I recognize that I need to work on helping all orders succeed equally, but you can see how powerful an extra 30 seconds of conversation can be.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Utilizing the same principal, I recently helped schedule a delivery appointment with a key customer even though we thought it couldn’t be done. Our warehouse supervisor had called for an appointment at the end of the month, and because the customer was fully booked, the customer said we couldn’t deliver until several days later. Our CEO wanted us very much to deliver within the month, so I called back. I talked with the same receiving clerk for a few minutes. I acknowledged how busy he was and listened for a minute about everything he had going on. I praised him that he’d be willing to handle that much on a Friday. After just a minute of getting to know him a little more, I explained that our order was very small, just a few cases, and he would be doing us a great favor if we could sneak it in between his many other important shipments. He said it wouldn’t be a problem – and we delivered that afternoon. Not only did the order get delivered on time, but I now have a friend at our customer’s warehouse that I look forward to talking with again.

Make others feel important – and do so sincerely.

Continuous Improvement through Continuous Praise

“Let us praise even the slightest improvement. That inspires the other person to keep on improving.”

― Dale Carnegie, HTWF&IP

Enabling others to improve is one of the most rewarding and effective methods of improving your company and supply chain. Through improving and encouraging the job skills, creativity, and problem solving abilities of others, your entire network will benefit from more engaged players and improved processes. In fact, a key tenant of the Toyota Production System is to encourage improvement through the creativity of every one of its employees and supply chain members. Imagine if Toyota managers were dictatorial, constantly shouting out commands and berating employees for mistakes. It’s not a stretch to predict that Toyota would be out of business if that’s how they managed their people.

Praise, in contrast, has an almost magical effect in motivating others to improve. Based on this principal, I’ve watch my company grow one of our key suppliers through targeted praise – and withholding the occasional frustrations.

When we first started producing one of our new products, we found a small firm of just a few people that was eager to work with us. Although eager, they often had quality control problems, delays, and incongruent processes that come from being a young company. I became frustrated many times, and recommended dropping them as a supplier – even though that meant they would likely go out of business.

Despite my recommendation, my wise manager counseled that we keep them on as a continued ally. My manager was careful to encourage them to improve:  he identified and focused on what they did right. When problems surfaced, we took a shared-problem approach and tried to solve the issues in a way that we and the supplier would bear responsibility together for improvement. We rewarded their progress with compliments and increased orders.

Because of the years of patience and encouragement, this supplier is now our miracle worker. We have other, more advanced suppliers. However, when we’re in a tight spot, no one can pull off an emergency order with next to no lead time like that small supplier we’ve grown. Because of this supplier’s expertise at short-notice orders, we’ve been able to catch many sales opportunities that we would have otherwise needed to pass up – or pay much more in expedited freight. I’ve witness how patience and praise can help a supplier grow to a point that boosts your bottom line when no one else can.

Avoid Arguments and Let Others Save Face

“If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.”

“Letting one save face! How important, how vitally important that is! And how few of us ever stop to think of it! We ride roughshod over the feelings of others, getting our own way, finding fault, issuing threats, criticizing a child or an employee in front of others, without even considering the hurt to the other person’s pride. Whereas a few minutes’ thought, a considerate word or two, a genuine understanding of the other person’s attitude, would go so far toward alleviating the sting!”

― Dale Carnegie, HTWF&IP

In the course of your interactions with customer and vendors, I guarantee that points of disagreement and contention will arise. Huge quality problems, incorrect freight counts, painful cycle counts, overdue orders, key stock outs, mountains of obsolete inventory, and…well, I’m sure you could add another 20 problems to the list. Indeed, problems are so common in the supply chain that I’ve heard supply chain management called problem management or fire management. But how do we fight fires while still thinking long-term? Indeed, supply chain success comes not only from solving the temporary problems, but creating long-term cooperation and synergy through strong relationships. Thus, we find ourselves in a precarious balance between the problems of today – “who’s responsible for fixing and paying for this?” – and long-term partnerships to improve the entire supply chain – “how can we improve information and product flow along the chain?”

Better defined, the risk we face is allowing the problem of the day to slow and destroy the progress made on long-term relationships. Even if someone is particularly difficult to work with, venting your frustrations and giving that person a piece of your mind could easily set back months or years of investment. Even if you’re completely right, avoiding argument – or letting your opponent gracefully retreat – may be the smartest move to make.

Certainly when money is involved, the process takes on higher stakes. In the interest of our companies, it certainly befits your and I to recover money that is rightfully ours. However, when arguments or disagreements become personal, bitter, and unrelated to the actual problem – these are fights to avoid.

When dealing with some of our Asian suppliers, this concept becomes especially important. Asian cultures treat conflict differently than other cultures. Saving face is much more important there than in the US or Europe – although we often fail to realize that it’s still quite important in any culture. When problems arise, if we are able to deflect the blame away from any specific person and instead focus on solutions, our suppliers are much more willing to work with us on solving the problem. For example, whenever I send an email to a supplier that dictates, “This was your fault. You need to either do this or pay a significant penalty,” nothing good ever comes from it. However, when I am able to approach the problem as the following, the problem is often rectified: “We noticed this problem. This is not good because our end consumers are not happy when this happens. What can we do to solve this problem?” Working together to solve a problem is always more productive and rewarding than pushing a punishment.

Final Thoughts

How to Win Friends and Influence people is a great reminder of how we should treat others. It brings together a lot of applicable advice on how to interact with people, and therefore becomes an excellent real-world resource that teaches just what the title professes.

I enjoy spreadsheets, databases, and technology, but relationships with people are more important than any automated email alert. Carnegie cites a study that explains how “even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human [interactions] and the ability to lead people.” I see it as no stretch to say that at least 85% of the success of your business in the supply chain is your ability to interact positively with others.

If you’ve already read Dale Carnegie’s book and would like another great read on improving human relations, then I recommend Leadership and Self-deception.

You Should Read This Book Every Year – A Review of It’s Not Luck by Eliyahu Goldratt

If Plato and Socrates enrolled in a top MBA school, they’d likely drop out and produce something similar to It’s Not Luck by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Written as a sequel to The Goal, It’s Not Luck uses an extended story approach to teach Goldratt’s problem-solving technique called the Thinking Process. Specifically, Goldratt shows how the Thinking Process can not only help sales and marketing revitalizing stalling businesses, but also help solve personal problems. The principles the book explores are so critical, that you should add this title to your list of books to revisit every year.

About It’s Not Luck

The book starts with a corporate board meeting in which a conglomerate decides to sell three of its companies, of which Alex Rogo, the main character, is in charge. Using the principles he learned from the Theory of Constraints, Rogo discovers unique ways to turn around each company quickly by dramatically increasing sales with no additional resources. He does this through mapping out the current reality of each company and then logically addressing the issues that keep them from truly solving their customers’ pains. An excellent summary of the problem solving method, called the Current Reality Tree, is available on a site by Jim Davis. What results from using this method is a logical formula for success. While not a prescriptive checklist, the answer is instead a set of principles general enough to carry far beyond the situations presented in the story.

Positive Impressions

This book is an enjoyable and motivating read because of its format, its broad application, and its evidence that success is not luck. Goldratt takes some rather complicated subjects and slowly spoons them out through a well-written story. While not quite Victor Hugo in symbolism, the story is engaging enough that you look forward to picking it up again. Particularly interesting is watching Alex Rogo apply the problem solving techniques to issues in his family life before applying them to business issues. Deciding whether to let his son borrow his car, helping his teenage daughter navigate boyfriend drama, and evaluating the purchase of a car to share with a friend are all canvases that Goldratt uses to paint the logic-tree method. Once introduced, the methods are much easier to follow later when they take on sales and marketing problems. The most positive takeaway is the assertion and evidence that success in business is not luck, but instead disciplined and creative problem solving that can be reproduced in nearly any industry.

Memorable Quotes

As concise snippets of wisdom, quotes have a powerful way of helping us remember important principles and lessons. Here are five quotes from It’s Not Luck that provide special wisdom.

“I can’t rely on [management] alone. And there is no point waiting for developments. I’ll have to find a way to influence them in the right direction.” p. 14

Often when we are not in charge, we rely on others to make tough choices and act. Equally often, however, we should act and make positive changes happen, even if it’s someone else’s responsibility.

“You’ll always find her busy, but never without time.” p. 58

Alex Rogo said this about his wife. She had embraced the problem-solving techniques espoused in the book and become a successful marriage counselor. This description exemplifies a constant life goal that many of us, myself included, strive to reach: busy, but always available.

“If you are constantly fire-fighting, you have the impression that you are surrounded by many, many problems.” “[But when] you follow the recipe, and you end up with a clear identification of the core problems.” p. 94-95

Referencing the problem solving techniques explained in the book, Goldratt captures the pain of constantly fighting fires. After careful analysis, we often realize that just a few root causes create most of the pain and emergencies we deal with each day. Using the 5 Whys is an excellent way to reach those problems. Incidentally, the Current Reality Tree method is closely related to the 5 Whys technique.

“It’s very important not to ignore these nasty reservations. Each one of them is a pearl, because if we do take them seriously, if we write each reservation as a logical Negative Branch, we can identify everything that can go wrong.” p.173

This quote ties precisely into another excellent quote, that problems are gold to be treasured. Without acknowledging and addressing problems, improvement relies solely on luck. Fortunately, the reverse is also true: addressing problems ensures improvement will occur.

“We didn’t have time for mistakes, so we had to spend extra time planning.” p. 265

Although I enjoy jumping into problems and live testing ideas, some extra time planning up front usually saves a large amount of pain later on. The old adage is often true – haste make waste.

Concluding Thoughts

The final pages elaborate and revise The Goal‘s key conclusion. The goal of a company isn’t just to make money. Rather, all companies have three basic goals:

  • “Make money now as well as in the future”
  • “Provide a secure and satisfying environment for employees now as well as in the future”
  • “Provide satisfaction to the market now as well as in the future”

Often, important decisions benefit only one or two of these goals. The key to building a great organization then is to find creative solutions that accomplish all three goals. Only then, can a company endure challenges and grow to thrive through them.

The business climate will only continue to grow more competitive and difficult to navigate. As supply chains grow and problems seem to multiply, It’s Not Luck reminds us in a powerful way that any challenge can be overcome. Whether you need to remember how to use the problem solving techniques explained in this book, or you just need to revisit examples of how to successfully jolt a company to triumph, It’s Not Luck is an excellent source of motivation and problem solving tools to review each year.

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