The Opinion Page
News and comments about the issues facing today's SCM and Inventory Management professionals.
For the past numbers of weeks, we have been on a journey of discovery of the thoughts, observations, and solutions about challenges in the fields of Quality Management and Supply Chain Management, as articulated by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Practical applications of his theories have been discussed, and the enduring nature of his works have been revealed. Dr. Deming was truly one of the rare and brilliant visionaries of the 20th Century. Again, I credit Mary Walton and her book titled "The Deming Management Method" as an excellent synopsis of Dr. Deming's theories.
Dr. Deming's work goes far beyond the prescription for success as he had put forward in his famous Fourteen Points. The Points should be viewed as summaries of his views. They are a roadmap for Corporate Executives in Western industries that were formulated on successful outcomes of his exhaustive work in Asia, most notably post-WWII Japan. Like so many Eastern traditions, the Points must be incorporated into the culture of the firm - embraced as a way of life rather than a turnkey solution. It is a long path for any company to follow, but the potential rewards are tremendous.
Beyond the Fourteen Points, Dr. Deming authored his Seven Deadly Diseases and further Obstacles that are presented below:
The Seven Deadly Diseases:
1. Lack of Constancy of Purpose
Companies must think beyond the next quarterly report and dedicate themsleves to the new philosophy in the long term.
2. Emphasis on Short Term Profits
Dr. Deming warned of the dominance of lawyers and financial wizards in companies' Board Rooms, who may be ready to sacrifice core competencies and values in order to increase shareholders' dividends. The catastrophe of Enron is a brilliant illustration of this disease.
3. Evaluation of Performance, Merit Rating, or Annual Review
Dr. Deming redefines MBO (Management by Objective) as "Management by Fear". He argues that these mechanisms reward short term performance at the expense of long term planning and pride of workmanship.
4. Mobility of Top Management
By shifting senior managers around the business at high rates of speed ("fast-tracking") companies and individuals inhibit implementation of long term change.
5. Running a Company on Visible Figures Alone
By focusing exclusively on the numbers, companies are in danger of neglecting intangibles that may be associated with customer satisfaction and continuous improvement.
6. Excessive Medical Costs
This was a special disease, which for some companies is its largest single expenditure.
7. Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers
The USA is one of the most litigious countries in the world.
Among some other Obstacles that he discussed were:
- "Nelgect of long term planning"
- "The supposition that automation, gadgets, and new machinery will transform industry"
- "Our problems are different"
- "Quality by inspection"
- "Meeting specifications"
- "The unmanned computer"
- "Inadequate testing of prototypes"
- "Anyone who comes to help us must understand all about our business"
I encourage the reader to speculate on exactly what Dr. Deming meant by each of these obstacles, while relating them to examples within our own career. Then, research the Obstacles in Deming's own words. They will appear to be surprizingly self-evident and consistent with your instincts.
There is no doubt that introducing cultural and structural change in the magnitude advocate by Dr. Deming must be chamioned by Senior Management - indeed, through the Board of Directors - anddriven down through all levels in the organization. Unofrtunately, winning converts in middle management and professional ranks, such as QC Managers and Inventory Controllers, will do little good, as these people do not have the power to implement uch change. Nevertheless, middle management can take lessons from Dr. Deming at more "micro" levels. The 14 Points can help to guide us with repect to implementing a spirit of continuous improvement in our departments, and to help us with issues of employee relations and understanding morale issues.
Studying Dr. Deming's work had a profound impact on my own approach to employee management and developing business processes. His lessons have allowed me to realize numerous successes which endured for many years. I encourage my readers to study more about this great visionary, and use his spirit and content to maximum capability.
In the capstone of his Fourteen Points, Deming urges management to form a team to advance the thirteen other points. This is a cultural change that must take place - a long and sometimes ardurous road with the promise of long-term profitability and sustainability as the prize.
Deming introduces, or at least stresses the use of what has become known alternatively as the Shewart Cycle, or the Deming Cycle (in Japan), or the PDCA Cycle. PDCA is an acronym for "Plan, Do, Check, Act.". In brief:
Step One: Plan - study the process, decide what change(s) might be appropriate to improve the process. Organize a cross-functional team and gather data. Do nit proceed without a plan.
Step Two: Make the change, preferably on a small scale.
Step Three: Monitor and observe the effects.
Step Four: Document the key learnings, repeat the tests as necessary, and look for side effects.
Frankly, the PDCA Cycle has never really excited me. Perhaps this is because its elements seem self-evident. Most of us follow the cycle every day without knowing it: an example might be getting ready for work in the morning. You plan when to set your alarm to wake up, you might plan what you are going to wear, you plan your driving route to work, you leave time for a shower and a shave, you wake up with the alarm, you try on your clothes, you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, so you change your shirt and tie, you eat breakfast, you drive to work. You find out that you are arrving to work late, you amend your plan by waking up earlier, by skipping breakfast, by speeding in your car, and so forth. Not terribly exciting, but self-evident n many ways.
But Dr. Deming rightfully argues that the PDCA cycle is the emodiment of continuous improvement. It encourages the firm to focus upon and reasses methods and procedures. So if you don't get it, study it, and use.it.
Deming further emphasizes constancy and consistency of purpose by top management. This is a long-term commitment by management, and requires brutal self-assessment and pursuit of the Truth. Buddhists say that the path to enlightenment requires that one see reality.
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism may be paraphrased as follows:
1. recognize that suffering exists
2. discover the causes of those sufferings
3. see if it is possible to remove those causes
4. determine what should be practiced.
Walking this path can be painful and requires the courage to change. Rarely, and sadly, can such change emerge and succeed solely from the bottom-up. Top management needs to be engaged and need to sponsor the change. Neither workers nor Top Management can work alone.
In my next submission, I will wrap up my discussion of my views on Dr. Deming and his teachings, with a quick look at Seven Deadly Diseases, Some Obstacles, and Some Helpful Tools.
My apologies to my loyal readers for not having posted on this blog for quite some time. I have been very busy working on two exciting projects: first, I am helping to set up a new small business which covers the spectrum from creative thought to manufacturing to final assembly to carrying the product to market. The second is that I am writing a book - who knows if it will ever be published.
Both projects are incredibly challenging, but both bring to bear many if not all of the skills that I have developed in the past thirty years. My knowledge of inventory and asset management, including forecasting and demand management, drew me towards the first project. Since there is very little resource to invest in technology, we are challenged to build solid fundamentals of procurement and inventory management into the business from the start. But the level of risk is very high - much higher than anything I have seen before - and as such one needs to be flexible from an operations standpoint. Forecasting is very helpful, but one never really knows the direction a new business will take. I feel a little like Gandalf leading the Fellowship of the Ring into unknown territory - we are all very skilled, but in spite of our rigorous preparation we know not what lies ahead of us. I am also very appreciative that my career has exposed me to many business families: from the shop floor to the warehouse to the marketing department to sales to merchandising to visual merchandising to technology to Finance to accounting to advertising and promotion. It has truly equipped me to be able to put all of the pieces together into a largely cohesive unit, understanding the interrelationships within the business unit.
Writing the book frequently takes me back to lessons learned in Mrs. Ferguson's Grade 10 English class at Lorne Park Secondary School. She, in large measure, taught me how to write. How to construct a sentence, how to vary the rhythm of the piece, why spelling is important, and developing a decent vocabulary are all aspects that come into play when writing. Writing, unfortunately, is becoming a lost art due to advances in technology, and there are negative ramifications in business communications. With the book, the joy is in the creation, not necessarily the publication.
Deming's 13th Point advises us to "Institute a Vigorous Program of Education and Retraining". This is critical both for the business entity and for the individual. This is especially true in the 21st Century environment, where technology, as indispensible as it is, changes so rapidly that it is almost impossible to keep up. Some new developments should be ignored, some need to be adopted right away to achieve competitive advantage. Five years ago, Twitter barely existed; now it is ubiquitous. In the 1980's Sears Canada was on the leading edge when we introduced an internal communication system called "PROFS" - it was an early version of something called "email". In 30 years, email has become an essential part of commerce and individual communication in both Developed and Developing worlds. In order to survive, we need to constantly improve and learn.
I have, for many years, been an advocate of APICS, who has occupied a leading position in offering continuing education in Operations Management. There are many such educational services providers in a broad variety of disciplines. In SCM in Canada, many Universities and Colleges have joined independent educational service providers such as CITT and PMAC in offering post-secondary accreditations and degrees in SCM, OM, and Logistics. Take advantage of these offerings in the field that interests you most. Or, take a course in something from way out in left field.
Dr. Deming has said: "How do you help people improve? What do you mean by improve? I would say that I find a general fear of education. People are afraid to take a course. It might not be the right one. My advice is take it. Find the right one later. And how do you know it is the wrong one? Study, learn, improve. Many companies spend a lot for helping their people in this and that way. In arithmetic, geography, geology. learning about gears.
"You never know what could be used, what could be needed. He that thinks he has to be practical is not going to be here very long. Who knows what is practical?
"Help people to improve. I mean everybody." (from Mary Walton's "The Deming Management Method")
So, get out there and learn stuff. Adopt a learning culture in your life and your business. Nestle Canada, for example, was (and might still be) very good at this, building such a requirement into their annual HR Review Cycle. Build knowledge into your personal and business tool kit. Your prospects for growth will improve immeasurably.
Dr. Deming's 12th Point speaks to the issues of employee empowerment, the necessity of recognizing and dealing with employee discontent, and encouraging managers to allow employees' true talents to shine through into the firm's final products.
Dr. Deming observed that while managers in American companies were willing to work long hours and go beyond the call of duty to resolve complex challenges, many shied away from confronting "people problems." It was necessary, he argued, for one of management's top priorities to be identification of the root causes of barriers to pride of workmanship, and subsequent removal of those barriers. He observed that through obsession on production volumes and meeting quotas, workers were seen to be told to produce defective parts. Fixing the machinery that was producing the defective parts was, it seemed, too inconvenient.
I once worked for a leading Canadian consumer chocolate and confectionery manufacturer who allowed pride of workmanship from the front lines to shine through. The finished products were truly outstanding. When quality issues arose they were dealt with promptly, and often front-line workers were consulted to find solutions. We all took it personally when something went wrong. We were all proud of our product, happy to have our families eat our product, and pleased to mention the company name at dinner parties. It was a pleasure being employed by them.
Later in my career, I toiled for a different firm. I had over 25 years of experience in supply chain management by that time, had enjoyed considerable successes, and possessed two University degrees along with a professional designation in my profession that was recognized around the world. I was hired into a senior position in order to export my SCM expertise, critical thinking skills, and project management experience to the employees. The problem was that my managers had a vested interest in protecting the status quo. They had built the inventory control processes and systems, and would do anything to protect them. Changing the processes would have meant giving up power and knowledge to an underling. I had no such vested interest and quickly identified the gaps that existed in a very average system. Evidently, they took my criticism personally. I was called on the mat in the Director's office daily (sometimes hourly). Every action that I took was apparently wrong. I was told time and again that I just did not understand the system, and that I had better learn it. He even went so fas as to start correcting my grammar and vocabulary. I recall a protracted agrument over the use of the word "supplier" versus the word "vendor." The quantity of my output was simply below quota. After six months, they truly had me wondering if I actually had learned nothing in my life and career. It had a profound effect in me on a personal level. Thankfully, I eventually gave my head a shake. I knew better. They had purposefully erected barriers to pride of workmanship, and thereby frustrated and destroyed the motvation of a person who could have been one of their best workers. People who needed the job stayed with the firm. Thise who had brains, some courage, and marketable skills simply left.
Listen to your employees. Understand their concerns. Explain to them if they misunderstand. Treat them like humans instead of like instruments of production. Be willing to act in order to remove the barriers. You will find that this will help you to achieve a motivated workforce, and ultimately will help you to produce high quality output.
Dr. Deming very much opposed management's habit of setting arbitrary production quotas for workers. One form of such quotas is often referred to as "piecework" - where the worker is paid by the piece that is turned out or produced.
Deming argued, of course, that pursuit of arbitrary quantity goals had nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of output. Indeed, in the pursuit of quantity, the worker would routinely sacrifice quality, taking short-cuts along the way. This would in turn lead to rework, rejects, and demoralization. He talks, for example, about the airline reservations clerk who has a quota of 25 customer calls per hour to process. What happens if her customers on a given day have some difficult problems? What happens if customers are slow in providing information? Her job then becomes taking 25 calls per day rather than satisfying the customer. Risky stuff.
While it may be true that piecwork and its relatives are less common in western manufacturing processes than they were in the mid-20th century (we tend to rely more on technology to perform the mundane tasks than we did 50 years ago), the practice remains ubiquitous in SE Asia and other low labour cost jurisdictions. Further, it still permeates many North American businesses within the business processes themselves.
I once worked as a Manager for a large retailer and distributor. Candidates had to pass an intelligence test (top 5% of the general population) to be considered for a position in this firm. This was because their distribution and procurement systems were exceedingly complex, and only the very intelligent, they argued, could hope to understand them.
It turned out that the procurement system was based upon a broad network of Excel and Access databases and tools, which attempted to articulate the myriad rules and regulations required to run the business. The Director was one of the authors of the "system", and was its fiercest defender.
One such tool was called the "buyout". A supplier would come to us with a price reduction proposal (limited time offer) or an announcement that the supplier's prices were about to rise. The buyout was an Excel-based tool which allowed us to quantify the appropriate purchase.
I could go on for hours about my philosophical opposition to the concept of forward-buys, but I will leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that it violated every principle that I have come to hold dear in the field of inventory management. I underline the word management purposefully. Nevertheless, it became our task as a team of inventory analysts, to churn out as many buyout spreadsheets as possible. Believe me, the buyout opportunities flowed like water over Niagara Falls.
Analysts were prohibited from challenging the credibility of the process.
Considering metrics like inventory turns was a waste of time.
Flowing products through the supply chain was never a consideration.
The process was deemed to be infallible.
Constraints such as warehouse capacity were ignored.
Speed was essential. Speed trumped quality every time.
All energies were directed at inputting the parameters correctly, forwarding the spreadsheet for approval, and doing these tasks quickly.
What a waste if human talent. The analysts effectively became pieceworkers where the rate of output was of paramount importance, where critical thought was of little value, and where suggestions for improvement were discouraged on the strongest terms.
Search not only within your production operations, but also within your business processes for examples of piecework. Are your employees producing great work? Or are they churning out numbers for their own sake?
I remember some years ago visiting a large warehouse and distribution centre on the Eastern Seaboard that belonged to one of my corporate affiliates. Sadly, my associates in this operation were losing money by the bucketload, while (happily) my operation was turning in a tidy profit. I do not revel in the misery of others, but there were reasons why I was making money while they were not. If I could get them to make money, it would be a win-win solution for all.
My associates were terrific people, well-intentioned, brilliant, and skilled. But they were baffled by their lack of success vis-a-vis profitability. As one of the first orders of business, I was taken on a tour of their distribution operations. They had recently purchased a WMS system from a third party provider, and I was generally impressed with its capabilities. Their market was huge - perhaps ten times larger than mine. Opportunities to exploit economies of scale were there.
As I walked around the warehouse, however, I felt like I was driving down a freeway where the view of gorgeous parkland was completely impaired by billboards. There were more slogans, motivational sayings, targets, goals, and miscellaneous signs than you could shake a stick at. If I were looking for a sign to point me to a fire extinguisher (and I did), it was more likely than not that it would have been obscured by a banner which said something corny like "There's no "I" in "TEAM." Holey mackerel! I honestly had no idea what colour the walls were painted, or if they were painted at all.
Superficially, the banners became eye pollution. The messages were entirely washed out. There was no focus, no impact. No worker seriously paid attention to them. But the signs and banners were only a symptom of deeper ills.
As I started to peel back the layers of the onion, I discovered that enormous resource (financial and administrative) being devoted to setting targets, monitoring targets, measuring employee efficiency, and capturing attitude. Targets frequently conflicted with each other. Connection with the customers became obscured. There was little value-add. With hundreds of goals, there was no focus. Inordinate attention was paid to picayune errors. Hours, days and weeks were spent in meetings reviewing and measuring results, setting new goals. All relevant trend lines pointed down. I didn't have to ask about employee morale. It stunk. Like Tiger Woods, there eyes were collectively taken completely off the ball. It was MBO on steroids. "That which gets measured gets done" run amok.
As Mary Walton pointed out in her book "The Deming Management Method", slogans never helped anybody do a good job. Dr. Deming said "they generate frustration and resentment." There is an inference in sloganeering that if employees simply tried harder, they would do better. This offends the worker - it does not inspire her.
"You can beat horses,' Dr. Deming said, "they run faster for a while. Goals are like hay somebody ties in front of a horses snout. The horse is smart enough to discover no matter whether he canters or gallops, trots or walks or stands still, he can't catch up with the hay. Might as well stand still. Why argue about it? It will not happen except by change of the system. That's management's job, not the people's."
I remember clearly, on more than one occasion, being suckered in by my employers by offers of bonuses for supporting and achieving sales goals. They then proceeded to set the sales goals so high, that no one could ever achieve them. No bonuses were paid. Oh, let me correct that....bonuses were paid to company executives for their incompetence, and for leading the company directly into oblivion and bankruptcy. Bonuses for firing people. Bonuses for destroying families and communities. Sinful.
Management needs to get into the process, and make it easy for workers to do a good job. But many in senior management have grounding in the Dark Art of marketing, and as such are masters of smoke and mirrors.
My professional background is predominantly in retailing. I cannot begin to relate the number of times great ideas have met with failure due to the inability of different areas to communicate and work together as a team.
Promotions are critical to the sales performance in many retailers. My son delivers newspapers to our neighbours that are routinely packed with flyers from various retailers in the neighbourhood - the things weigh a ton! Sears Days! Bay Days! Warehouse Sale! Customer Appreciation Days! BOGO! But many retailers fail in the execution because of their simple inability to communicate the promotional plan to key stakeholders up and down the supply chain, assess potential constraints, and respect demonstrated lead times.
How often has the Marketing Manager walked down that hall to the Inventory Manager's office to ask, "How are things going for the big promotion that we are running next week?" Only to hear the Inventory Manager respond, "What promotion?". Oops! A quick root cause assessment finds that the promotional idea was only approved last week, with a pompous "Pull out all the stops! Let's make this happen!" comment from the VP, in the face of lead times of 4 to 6 weeks. The result? Lost sales, unnecessary expenses, disappointed customers, unfulfilled demand, poor sales, and the inevitable witch hunt for a culprit (or scapegoat).
All of this could be avoided by setting in place a well-articulated and precise promotional plan, discussed and endorsed with all relevant stakeholders, which respects time fences. Effective communication is key, and an inbox cluttered with 200 emails per day is not an example of effective communication - it's just noise.
Such a plan is not possible without a holistic approach to managing the business. While people within any given department might work superbly, this effort can quickly go to waste if the work is not done while respecting the needs and objectives of other departments. Marketing needs to appreciate that it takes time to transport goods across the country to various distribution points, and that expediting shipments involves excess cost. The Inventory Manager needs to understand that he or she has a responsibility to understand the promotional plan (upstream) and that the warehouse has finite capacity (downstream). Finance needs to understand that playing fast and loose with payment terms (e.g. extending actual supplier payments beyond agreed terms) might improve cash flow, but it ruins supplier partnerships. It's not "all about Me"....it's about the welfare of the entity as a whole.
JIT, for example, will not work in an environment punctuated by functional silos and turf wars. Teamwork is a prerequisite. It is not an easy task to introduce JIT philosophies into a business that has built such barriers. Dr. Deming had an interesting observation with respect to JIT:
"Many American manufacturers are trying to start with just-in-time, unaware that this process is years off. Just-in-time is focused downstream. It's a natural occurence. It is the end result of getting things right in the first place."
Perhaps it is the powerful simplicity of its title. Or perhaps it is the level of effort and commitment that is required to accomplish this goal. But of all the 14 Points assembled by Dr. Deming, I find this one to be the most compelling, and the one which drew me into studying this man's work more closely.
Fear exists in many forms and levels within Corporate America and in our daily lives. It can be healthy, and it can be debilitating. It can never be eradicated completely, but it can be managed and mitigated. It steers some of us away from damaging, unethical and illegal choices. But it is also the disease that infects millions of workers across the world, standing in the way of continuous improvement, cost containment, total quality, sustainability, and - quite simply - happiness.
Most of us with over ten years of business experience have worked in businesses or micro-environments that are at some level governed by fear. Deming was concerned mostly about the kind of fear that prevents the average worker from finding out how to do the job correctly. He worried about the fear that prevents us from asking questions, from rocking the boat, from suggesting new ideas, from challenging the status quo.
Many supervisors feel threatened by those employees who ask too many questions. Managers can be vindictative, and can evoke punitive measures which impact employees' lives on the most personal of levels. Promotions are denied. Raises are vetoed. Negative stress is taken home at the end of the day. Family problems arise: addiction, depression, and even domestic violence can result. So, in spirit of self-preservation, the employees fall into the trap of keeping their collective heads down, lest they be shot off by the tyrant down the hall. Even when new, enlightened managers come on to the scene, the culture can be difficult or impossible to change. Fear becomes ingrained into the business. When asked about the purpose behind certain business processes, employees will answer in typical fashion: "it's always been done that way", or "that's the way the Boss told me to do it".
I was introduced to the management-by-fear school of thought very early in my career. I remember the boss screaming at me because an item was out of place on the shelf. It was not the End of the World, but he made me feel as if it was. I remember coming in to work with a sick feeling in my stomach every day, worried that soemthing would go wrong, and that I would suffer more humiliation. I promised myself that if I were ever promoted to a management position, that I would never treat my employees that way. I would respect them as intelligent human beings - as adults who had a contribution to make. I hope that I lived up to that promise as a manager. But I did continue to encounter tryants throughout my career - they tended to be the managers who were successful in the short term, and dismal failures in the long term who left behind them a trail of destruction and shattered lives.
Dr. Deming argued that people need, ultimately, to feel secure. The word secure comes from Latin roots meaning "without fear." Employees ought to feel "not afraid to express ideas, not afraid to ask questions."
"Fear takes a horrible toll. Fear is all around, robbing people of their pride, hurting them, robbing them of a chance to contribute to the company."
The enlightened manager will encourage participation and input. She will foster an environment of learning and interaction. She will be self-confident. She will put the welfare of the company ahead of her personal aspirations. She will be a team leader. She will solicit opinions from her employees, and treat those opinions with respect. She will entrench processes that allow suggestions for continuous improvement initiative. She will know how to answer questions about methods and procedures, or will know how to get the answers. She will take great joy in seeing her employees grow, get promoted, and get raises in pay. She will build enduring teams of people who love their work. She will succeed.
Do whatever it takes to drive fear out of your organization. It is a long and difficult path, but it can be done.
Here are profiles of two very different supervisors:
"Boss A": As an employee, you would describe this person as friendly, easily approachable, and helpful. Knowledgeable about the business and the company, "Boss A" freely shares her skills and knowledge with you and your peers. Her knowledge has been gained both by experience within the industry and your company, as well as solid training and education from outside the company. She is a fan of continuous improvement both on personal and business levels. She demonstartes enthusiasm about the strong points of your company, and a desire to change the weaknesses and gaps. She encourages learning, and sets education of her employees as a high departmental expense priority. She allows her own career to move more slowly than it otherwise might, due to the resources that she devotes to her team.
"Boss B": This gentleman is very well-educated, holding an MBA from an Ivy League University. He is incredibly driven, grasping business issues aggressively with his own hands. He is less experienced in your industry than Boss A, but makes up for it in terms of enthusiasm. He runs the business "by the numbers", valuing results very highly, His focus is on the current and next fiscal Quarter. Since joining the team 6 months ago, he has achieved all the results that were asked of him - increased sales, reduced costs, reduced inventories and increased speed of delivery. He is a skilled orator. The Executive Committee has put this chap on the "fast track" towards quickly increasing levels of responsibility, with a view to installing him as a Vice President within the next couple of years.
Which one of the two is the real leader?
I have been blessed to work with and for some people whom I consider to be real leaders. These were people who taught me the way business ought to work. People who were altruistic. They took great pride in the work of their subordinates, and valued employee development very highly. They commanded respect. They were approachable, and largely open-minded. They were visionaries. They wanted the Team, and the Firm to succeed. Most had learned the business from the ground, up. These people included my rowing coach, Mike E., who guided me and my crew to two Henley Championships, and who shaped many of my attitudes towards elite sports and life. There was Mr. Chapman, mentioned in this blog before, who was one of the great unsung visionaries in supply chain management in the 1970's and 1980's. There was Wendy J., my mentor for many years and a great team builder. My list includes Tahira H., who was probably the most naturally intelligent leader who I have ever met. There was Colin P., for whom I would have punched my way through a brick wall if he had asked me. And there was Doug P., who showed such respect and support towards his employees and was never truly recognized for his efforts.
These leaders had a number of things in common: they learned their business with a grass roots approach. They paid their dues. They put business and team efforts ahead of individual aspirations, even their own, They did what they knew was right, and achieved material success as a byproduct. They were approachable. They thought in holistic terms, understanding the interrelatioships in the organization and between people. They were thrilled when one of their employees stepped up another rung in the career ladder. And they truly cared.
I have worked for the other kind of supervisor as well. Some were friendly and approachable, and some had been put into impossible situations, and just did the best that they could. But often I could not help but get the feeling that the purpose of my work was to advance their careers, not for the betterment ot the company. And that is a very poor motivator. They taught me very little, and I felt my own level of fulfillment diminishing. And because of their lack of experience, they frequently lacked the skill set to resolve the really big problems. In fact, their interference in the solution tended to cause more harm than good. They tended to withold information, lest the workers interrupt their agenda. They liked to maintain the "status quo" in their staffing arrangements, especially if the team were somehow working fairly smoothly, abnd would occasionally block an employees career progress. The worst of these supervisors were bullies, relying on threats to get the job done.
Dr. Deming was no fan of hiring graduates out of college or university, and dropping them into management positions within a company. He believed that in order to be effective supervisors, individuals need to know the work of the people that they supervise.
It is, or should be management's responsibility to remove barriers that exist which inhibit workers' ability to do their job. Make it easy to do the job correctly. These barriers might include a focus on producing things quickly rather than properly. They might include emphasis on numbers rather than quality.They might inlude accepting sub-par input materials at cheap cost, use of poor tools, and turning a deaf ear to workers' suggestions.
Deming argued that the one thing that novice managers fresh out of school can do is count. Therefore the metrics became paramount: quantity of output, costs of products and cost variances, quotas and sales all became the Holy Grails of business.
One of the problems with the "promotion from within" approach, on the other hand, is that the best employees usually become the supervisors (nepotism and office politics aside) and this leaves a gap in the skills of the work force. But at least the kowledgeable supervisor can teach and mentor the new employee in methods and processes.
Many colleagues of mine have complained incessantly about the culture of their old, and previously successful employers. "It has been ruined" they cry. The company is no longer what it was. It has been taken over by MBA's fresh out of grad school, consultants, and bean-counters. It's sad that once proud organizations lose their way in this manner. Somewhere, buried in the basement with the old tax files, are the core competencies and spirit that made such companies great.
It is management's job to help others do their jobs better - in other words, to lead.
My true hope is that a few of my own employees look back at me as a leader, rather than merely a supervisor. That would be a nice legacy to have.
My career in inventory and supply chain management began more by accident than design. That's the way things worked in the early 1980's. Out of University, I was recruited into the Management Development Program at Sears, worked at the retail level learning the business "from the ground up" and then made a decision to pursue a position in Sears' Department of National Distribution at Head Office. It seemed to be a progressive department, led by innovators and a single true visionary, Mr. David Chapman.
I was lucky. In those days, Sears had a fantastic training program, that exposed me to Best Practices in retailing and distribution. I learned how different levers can be pulled in the business to exploit market opportunities, and how important it was for all areas within the business to work smoothly together - it was an ERP approach before the term was even imagined.
But many other firms viewed physical distribution and logistics as field into which people were dumped. It was forklifts and pallets, warehouses and trucks, diesel fuel and propane, union workers and invoice clerks. Inventory Management was not-so-fondly termed "The Sales Prevention Department" as the buyers and planners, while trying to impart some sanity on the procurement process, simply got in the way of the brainiacs in sales and marketing, deemed to be the life blood of many a company. So, people tended to stumble into the supply chain rather than design their careers towards that area.
Can anyone imagine a firm, even 40 years ago, hiring an accountant, and allowing him or her to learn "on the job"? No! Any sane business would hire an accountant with a professional designation (CA, CPA, CGA, or CMA). Would the firm hire a truck driver without a driver's lisence? A person to fly an airplane without a pilot's lisence? Ridiculous!
Much of the training for the supply chain staff, on the other hand, was "on-the-job". There were few position descriptions, and those firms who documented work processes assembled documents that were indecipherable. There were few organizations, apart from APICS, CITT, PMAC, and a few others, who trained and educated people about Best Practices in operations management. So, new staff tended to be educated by older staff. Work routines and habits passed from one gereation to the next, with no one understanding whether those practices were right or wrong. They were simply the practices that seemed to get the employee through the day without too much hassle from the boss. Workers had a very hard time understanding whether they were doing their jobs correctly or not. Moreover, practices that were right one day might be wrong the next due to changing priorities and objectives.
Thankfully, many forms are growing to realize that they must entrust their valuable supply chains to professionals - those who have accreditation from a recognized education provider, such as APICS. Operations can play too important a role in strategic planning, and in building market advantage. The assets in the supply chain are too valuable.
Dr. Deming argued that it is very difficult to erase improper training. It may require implementation of a totally different method, in effect starting from scratch.
Once new, and correct practices and procedures were implemented, the variability of workers' ouputs could be measured by control charts. If a worker's output was out of control (speaking statistically) training was required. Once the process was stable, training was no longer required. New training would be required upon introduction of new technology or processes, until stability was achieved.
Dr. Deming used the analogy of the student learning to play the piano from a teacher who has never taken a lesson. "He learned by himself how to play. If you take lessons from him, you will learn a lot that is wrong; you might learn some that is right. Neither pupil nor teacher will know what is right and what is wrong."
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.