The Opinion Page
News and comments about the issues facing today's SCM and Inventory Management professionals.
I am currently writing an article for a business publication on the subject of sustainable development. It is truly a fascinating subject, punctuated with both the noblest of intentions and the worst of misinformation.
This morning at breakfast, I happened to mention my project to my two children. "What's sustainable development, Dad?" they asked. And my mind searched for a good example. It was sitting right in front of me. I asked the two of them if they could think of a business-related situation with which they were familiar.
My son manages a small paper route. He commented that newspapers are a good example of poor environmental stewardship. His rationale was that producing newspapers kills trees and consumes energy, in an era where many people are migrating to the internet as their primary source of newsworthy information. Fair comment. And yes, being an environmentally-conscious young person, I was pleased that he would think critically about a business that was actually signing his paycheck.
As President Obama would say, this was an excellent learning opportunity. I asked them if there were a positive side of the business. We looked at ways that we have tried to deliver our newspapers in an environmentally-friendly manner. We had lots of examples, including:
- he delivers the papers while walking, with a grocery buggy. I could drive him around his route, but we would burn fuel unnecessarily. As a side benefit, the family saves some gas money - maybe just a little bit each day, but over time the savings add up. Lesson 1: being green, and lean can save energy, money, and avoid pollution.
- we did an initial analysis of his customers when he started the paper route. We asked ourselves: does the customer have a mailbox? Do they have a covered porch that would protect the newspapers from the rain and snow? Using this initial analysis, were were guided in our use of materials, such as rubber bands and plastic sleeves. Rubber bands are really only needed to wrap papers to protect them from the wind. If the customer has a covered mailbox, my son simply carefully folds the paper and puts it in the mailbox. Plastic sleeves are really only needed if the weather is, or threatens to be, foul. So, he only sleeves the papers when the weather is poor, and he does not sleeve papers that are going to houses that have no porch protection. He creatively calls the three wrapping options "tortillas" (no rubber banding or sleeve necessary), "tacos" (when the paper needs a rubber band applied) and "taco deluxe" (papers requiring plastic sleeves in foul weather). Lesson 2: being lean and green can please consumers by catering to their unique needs, while reducing waste, saving materials costs, and protecting the environment.)
- he reacts quickly to customers who ask that they be removed from the route, or to those who want their deliveries suspended because they are planning a vacation. He never likes to lose a customer, and he does what he can to make the customers happy about his service, but sometimes customers tastes and needs change for reasons beyond his control. We stop such deliveries promptly to avoid delivering papers unnecessarily. For the family on vacation, it improves household security. He avoids delivering papers that are destined immediately for the trash bin. Changes are communicated quickly upstream to the front office, so that production can be adjusted. We don't waste time and energy delivering unwanted newspapers. Lesson 3: being lean and green avoids unnecessary production and logistics costs, improves public relations and can have beneficial side effects such as improved household security.
- he recycles any unusable scrap material, such as extra newspapers or flyers that cannot be re-used. Contributions to landfill are virtually zero. Lesson 4: Some scrap is inevitable. Try to eliminate it. But when it occurs, re-use it, or recycle it.
Finally, we dicussed the fact that while newspaper production does "kill trees", and we acknowledged that newsprint producers need to exercise great responsibility vis-a-vis the environment, there was no reason for him to feel guilty about being in the industry. It is still of great value, communicating vital information to thousands and millions of people, and acting as a great social catalyst for .
It was a great breakfast conversation. We could have gone on for an hour. And it taught me that lean thinking, and sustainable development, are valid philosophies regardless of the size of your enterprize. And I also learned that this is not rocket science. These principles can be understood, and applied by children.
The iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have endured theor fair share of troubles lately, not the least of which is the tyrranical rule of their current Commissioner, Mr. William Elliott.
From the outset, Mr. Elliott's appointment to head up the RCMP has been problematic. In today's Edmonton Sun newspaper, Pamela Roth writes:
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott says he doesn’t regret a controversial decision to carry a gun on a trip to Afghanistan last year.
Following his visit to the war-torn country in April 2010, a photograph of Elliott — a civilian commissioner — wearing an RCMP uniform and carrying a holstered gun appeared in the mission’s newsletter.
The photograph raised questions among rank-and-file officers about whether Elliott had the proper qualifications to carry the weapon, and eventually led to a formal complaint being launched.
Elliott, who was in Edmonton on Thursday, said he was carrying the gun for personal protection and had some training before he went on the mission.
“People think I should have been trained to the same standards as our men and women who are on the streets of Canada arresting people and doing law enforcement. That’s not what I was doing in Afghanistan,” said Elliott. “I have no regrets to make the decision that I took.”
The Harper government announced last week that Elliott will step down this summer as the RCMP’s first civilian commissioner.
Elliott has been ruffling feathers since he was appointed in 2007, forcing the government to launch an internal human resources review of his management of the force.
This little incident pales in comparison to his behaviour vis-a-vis his own employees during his tenure as commisioner. It seems that he was the consummate "office bully." He regularly berated, humiliated, and otherwise yelled at his underlings, showing a total lack of interpersonal skills. The situation became so bad, that on February 8, 2011, it was the subject of a hearing with the Public Safety Committee of Canada's House of Commons.
At the hearing, Elliott was accused of causing the morale of the RCMP to sink to an "all time low" because of his abusive leadership style.
Deputy Commissioner Raf Souccar, along with former assistant commissioner Mike McDonell led was was effectively a revolt against Elliott last summer. It shook the RCMP to its core. Elliott has announced that he will resign effective July 2011. Presumably he will be replaced by an RCMP insider.
And now I come to the point of this entry.
The comments from Raf Souccar were fascinating, and aligned directly with the Ten Toxins of Strategic Planning that I revealed in my blog entry just previous to this one.
Souccar testified before the Commons committee that he had spoken to Elliott about his behaviour, and found that he (Elliott) either could not, or would not change." "Members wanted to come forward with complaints," said Souccar, "but they were fearful that they would either lose their jobs, or that they would be moved out of their current positions."
"I have to tell you that I had so many people complain to me about Bill Elliott's disrespectful behaviour that my very position required me to act. I was a member of the Senior Executive Committee, and I could no longer point a finger of blame at the senior executives for inaction, because I was one,. Mr. Chairman, I took my position very seriously and could not stand by and watch while two of our very core values, Respect, and Compassion, be nothing more than words hanging on a wall in our buildings across Canada."
Bravo, Mr. Souccar. We would all be well served by more senior executives who share your sense of courage and integrity.
As for the monster called Bill Elliott? No doubt he will secure a lucrative and meaningless position somewhere in the civil service. The private sector, however, should be ashamed that it breeds and rewards brutality such as his.
This is a follow up to my article "High Impact Strategic Planning" also published in the Durham Business Times, February 2011 edition. Ten Toxins emphasizes certain issues that work to impair the development of a high quality Strategic Plan:
Do not confuse short-term tactics with strategic objectives. While less spectacular than tactical victories, a long-term view is necessary to win the war.
Core values must be lived every day by everyone. A leader who ignores core values will develop employees who view ethics as mere distractions. Truly believe your Mission.
The Silver Bullet:
Strategy should not be designed around the notion of having, or finding one magical solution that will resolve all the firm’s problems. Solutions are multidimensional.
We live in a world of change, innovation and fleeting fashion. Ensure that your products and services are not designed to meet obsolete demand. Strategy looks forward. Stay current. Remain aware of your products’ life cycles.
All jobs must relate to the strategic plan. Keep constrained resources, including the work force, focused on the plan. By tying performance metrics to strategic objectives, management keeps attention directed at the appropriate goals.
A culture of fear in an organization will prohibit the free flow of information. Encourage employees to provide constructive feedback, without the potential for recrimination.
Beware of exhausting all of your resources fighting tactical battles. Be realistically aware of constraints that face your enterprise. Ensure that you are able to obtain sufficient resources to achieve your strategic goals. If not, modify the objectives.
Not Working the Plan:
A plan will not inspire while gathering dust on the shelf. Communicate it, live it, revisit it, and revise it. Put your work front and centre in your firm.
Complex strategies are difficult to communicate and dilute intent. Employees will be reluctant to embrace them. Craft three to five strategic objectives. Elegant simplicity is the key.
Use straightforward, impactful language. Ensure that the intent of each word or phrase is clear. Remember the SMART acronym.
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.