The Kaizen Way

If you had to stop reading this article this second and immediately begin the task of getting four new tires put on your car, filling the gas tank to the top, cleaning the windshield and then drinking seven ounce of water, how long would you guess that would take? Two hours? Three hours?

Now hold onto that thought and let me ask you a second question. Which car in the Indianapolis 500 race wins? Most people would say that the fastest car wins. Actually it’s not always the fastest car that wins. It usually is the car that spends the least amount of time in the pit. And what happens in the pit? That’s where they replace all four tires, fill the gas tank, clean the windshield and give the driver seven ounces of water to drink. And how long do you think that takes? Would you believe less than nine seconds?

At this point you may have figured out that I am presenting a business metaphor, but you probably dismiss my example as irrelevant to your business. After all, your business is quite unique. 

Here’s how the racing team gets that stuff get done in less than nine seconds:

  • The PROCESS was continuously improved over time
  • The team knows how to work well together ( or maybe their leader knows how to get them to work well together)
  • The team practices

You can improve your business process dramatically by continuously improving your business processes. But that means you have to admit to yourself that you need to CHANGE the ways you do things today. 

A very useful technique for bringing about change very quickly is called Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement and has been proven successful whether the business is a large factory employing 1000 people or the corner flower shop with two employees. Application of Kaizen involves a study of the businesses processes in an effort to discover where the waste is. Then a new process is implemented after all the waste has been removed. The amazing thing about Kaizen is the speed of implementation. 

One of the techniques employed by Kaizen practitioners is to reduce set-up times in factories. Toyota, for example, was able to reduce the time to changeover their presses from producing one type of fender to another from twelve hours to nine minutes. Our initial example compared our method of changing four tires in three hours to that of the professional team who does it in seconds. The pros do it without all the waste. The waste was removed from their process. 

The foundation of Kaizen is simple. If you want better results, you must improve your process. If you want to improve your process you must discover the waste in the process and permanently eliminate it.

Processes are what businesses do. It could be the process of giving a haircut, or it could be completing an accounts payable transaction or it could be doing an oil change. The trick is to identify where the waste is in your business process.

If a slogan had to be attached to Kaizen, it would have to be, “Just go do it-and do it NOW.”The first step in improving your business process is to do some housekeeping. If you have a large office or a small shop, over the years there has been an accumulation of “stuff” that you simply don’t need and is slowing things down. So the first step is what we call the “Red Tag Campaign.” Give all the people in the area you want to improve a handful of red tags. The kind of tag that works best is the paper ones with strings attached. Tell everyone on your team that they have exactly 20 minutes to tie tags on any items that will not be used in the next 30 days. Initially everyone finds the notion ridiculous because every single thing in the work area is vital to him or her. After a very few minutes they will be amazed at how many things aren’t necessary (or won’t be for the next month). After all the tags have been applied, the next step is to step back and make a decision about each item. If stuff really won’t be used in the next thirty days, either move it away for storage or get rid of it.

Once all that stuff is out of the way, the team can focus on finding their waste. Kaizen has a very effective tool for doing that. All waste is divided into seven categories:

  • Waste of overproduction
  • Waste of inventory
  • Waste of transportation
  • Waste of making errors
  • Waste of motion
  • Waste of processing
  • Waste of waiting

The red tag campaign enabled your team to identify unnecessary items in only 20 minutes. The hunt for waste must also be completed in 20 minutes. Your team is given the above list and allowed just 20 minutes to seek out examples of each in their operation.

The team members must keep an open mind and pretend to look at the processes they have been doing for years as if this is the first time they looked at them. They should start asking questions within each of the seven categories.

Here are some examples of waste within these categories and questions that could arise:

Why is the boss given a 25-page report when everything he needs to know is in one paragraph? Why is there so much stuff in the in-baskets? Why do we put reports into fancy binders?

Why do we have so much of each category of office supplies: Why is there so much Xerox paper, toner, and pens? Or perhaps the florist would ask, “Why do I have so many flower pots.” The hairstylist might ask, “Why do I have so many hair brushes or tubes of hair products that will never be used?”

Why is the fax machine upstairs (causing Sally to walk three miles a week doing faxes)? Why is Jane’s desk 50 feet from Mary’s? Why do we have to walk so far to the copy machine?

Why do we have to re-do so many orders (or jobs)? Why are there so many errors? Why do we have to check for errors?

Why do we have to reach far over our heads to get what we need? Why do we have to stoop down to get our things? Why do we have to twist our bodies into uncomfortable positions to do our jobs?

Why do we do so many things that simply aren’t necessary? Do we really need an approval signature for simple things? Why are there so many “hand-offs” in our office procedure? Can’t one person complete a job without handing it to someone else?

Why do we spend so much time in the day being idle just waiting for the previous person to complete their job so that we can begin ours? 

People spending time doing any of the above are not doing anything useful for your customers. Once the list is completed it is truly a list of treasures. Discovering the waste is the difficult part of the continuous improvement exercise. Eliminating the waste is the easier part. For example a great deal of waste can be permanently removed by simple re-arranging the office. Moving the fax machine to a central location and perhaps buying a few more copy machines could save many miles of walking. When office people are walking, for example, they are not doing anything productive.

In any business there are only two measures that mean anything, how fast do we do our jobs and do we do things right the first time. If frequent errors are a problem in your company, then you must find ways to make your processes error-proof. This not only eliminates the need to re-do work, it eliminates the waste of time associated with checking for errors.

Wasted motion is not only bad because it makes your customer wait longer for service, it could lead to injuring your employees. Many times a workplace could be made much more efficient by very subtle adjustments and relocation of equipment.

Once the areas of waste have been identified, solutions must be implemented to eliminate that waste. The trick is to implement the solutions very quickly. If it really will save time by moving the fax machine downstairs, then do it. Do it right now. Don’t wait.

If your customers will get better service if Mary and Jane’s desks can be closer together, then move those desks right now. 

The idea is to make everyone responsible to finding ways to do their own jobs better. This must become the way the business routinely runs. Everyone must be trained to continuously improve their processes by discovering where the waste is and eliminating it. That is the Kaizen way.

This article was written by Jerry Feingold. Jerry was on my radio show a few weeks ago talking about Kaizen and how it can help a small business to revolutionize the way they provide service. Jerry is president of Continuous Improvement Consultancy offering services in the application of Lean Manufacturing techniques.His consulting service specializes in the Kaizen approach which emphasizes a “let’s go do it” approach that is quick hitting, highly focused and unleashes employee creativity dramatically. He has worked in Japan, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Austria, France, Denmark, and the U.S. assisting companies to become competitive on a Global basis. His clients include a wide variety of manufacturing companies from military contractors, consumer product manufacturers, and food processors. They include: FujiFilm, ITT Industries, Harman International, Reltec (U.S. division of GEC Marconi), British Printing, Suiza Foods and Pelican Products. You can reach him at (805) 643-4216 or his website,


Many times I have walked into a a client’s office and noticed a buzz of activity and thought; “Wow, things are really getting done here!” Only after talking to the the owner of the business did I discover their disappointment with the level of productivity. Some small business owners wonder if they themselves could be more productive. Perhaps you feel that way yourself.

Your Productivity Quotient 
Take the productivity quiz below and be honest with yourself:

  • Do you set aside time every day to plan and review your goals?
  • Is your office area so well organized that you can find everything you need in seconds?
  • Do you immediately respond to email, snail-mail, phone calls, faxes and written rather than putting it off or scheduling it for the future?
  • Are you stress free rather than stressed out?
  • Is your accounts receivable up to date? (less than 10% past due)?
  • Do you pay bills on time, rather than pay them too early, or realize that you do not have the funds in your checking account to cover your bills due?
  • Do you know how many hours to allocate each week to marketing and administrative tasks, as well as to billable hours for each client?
  • Do you keep accurate financial records and are they up to date?
  • Do you use a business plan as an on-going working document to evaluate and redefine your goals?
  • Do you even HAVE a business plan?
  • Do you know and use the business skills necessary to run a business efficiently?
  • Are you an expert business owner, rather than just an expert in your field?
  • Do you feel you use technology efficiently?
  • Do you use the advanced features of your software?
  • Does the software you use to track sales/inventory, write reports, send/receive email satisfy your business needs?
  • Is your computer your friend rather than a device that intimidates you at times?
  • Do you feel “Technically Adept” rather than “Technically Challenged”?

If you answered “NO” to 5 or more of these questions then read on. If you answered “YES” to all of these questions then contact me immediately so I can get you involved with Virtual Consulting Network as a productivity mentor.It’s almost a cliche, but it really is true: “Work SMARTER, not HARDER” is the key to small business success. Before we go on lets define some things for the sake of clarity.What Is Productivity? 
Individual definitions of productivity differ both within organizations and between large and small organizations. In order to improve whatever it is that is meant by productivity at the organizational level, it is necessary that individuals within the organization know what their own productivity involves and how that fits into and helps achieve organizational productivity. There appear to be many people in organizations who are not clear as to what productivity is. Also, top management and owners may want to increase the training and education of their employees regarding productivity.How Do We Measure Productivity? 
The relatively greater emphasis on monetary definitions of productivity by small businesses when compared to larger businesses, coupled with the fact that small businesses emphasize marketing suggestions to improve productivity are particularly interesting. It may be that the focus of productivity in small 
businesses is directed toward improving outputs (e.g., sales or dollars); whereas, the focus of productivity in large business might be more on decreasing input costs or improving other processes which then affect outcome measures.Perhaps the productivity related costs associated with poor quality such as rework, increased scrap, downtime, warranties, and customer loss, have received relatively more attention and measurement in large businesses. Regardless of the explanation, the day-to-day quest for more sales as a self defined measure of productivity may obscure what has been deemed as the most effective way for small business to compete with quality and service. Small businesses may thus need to devote more attention and measurement to quality related costs in their efforts to improve productivity. In other words, there is more to productivity than increasing sales.Productivity In Large vs Small Businesses 
Both large and small businesses feel they can increase their productivity; that they know what they could do to increase productivity; that many of the suggestions would not directly cost the company to implement; and that many of the ways that could be used to motivate people to improve productivity probably center 
around their involvement in productivity improvement planning efforts.It may be that to get people in smaller organizations involved with increasing productivity it will first be necessary to educate small business people about the issues. In contrast to large businesses, employees in small organizations may already feel 
participated out and quite involved. Thus, in the short run, it may also be necessary to pay them more to get more. Yet, for both the large and small business, the opportunities clearly exist to increase productivity by asking those who are directly involved with producing.Study of Productivity 
The University of Seattle conducted a study in which they directly surveyed and compared employees of small and large businesses about what they think concerning productivity related issues. The findings are outlined in this article.Productivity – what is it, and how can it be improved still appears to be a major organizational concern for both small and large businesses. A lot has been written and researched about the subject, usually from a theoretical outside-the-organization perspective and has dealt with such issues as how productivity should be defined and measured, why the rate of productivity growth is declining, and finally how it can be improved.There appears to be an implicit, albeit untested, assumption that the activities which should be undertaken to improve productivity in large businesses are identical to those of small businesses.It does not make much substantive difference what academicians say about how productivity should be defined or how it should be improved because people still act and react on the basis of their beliefs, however erroneous we might think these perceptions are. In other words, to improve productivity rates we must first start by identifying the perceptions of organizational participants themselves.This exploratory study was undertaken to identify perceptions of employees in small businesses concerning productivity related issues, and then to compare their responses with those perceptions of participants in large organizations. Do employees in small business perceive productivity related issues differently than their counterparts in large businesses? If such differences exist, what implications does this have for managing productivity in small 
businesses versus large companies?METHODOLOGY 
The samples included 98 respondents from 61 small businesses with 50 or fewer employees and 226 respondents from ten large companies with over 50 employees within a major metropolitan area. Both samples were systematically selected from the 1983 Contacts Influential Business Directory.A firm was considered small if it had under 50 employees which was consistent with the local Chamber of Commerce’s definition and included 93% of the businesses in that area. Sixty large businesses and 305 small businesses were identified in the original sample. Of the businesses originally targeted and contacted, ten large businesses and 61 small businesses agreed to participate in the study.Questionnaires in both samples were provided to the main contact person in each organization who consented to distribute an agreed upon number to others in the organization. It was emphasized that the questionnaires should be randomly distributed among organizational participants, anonymously completed, and returned to a central collection box which the researchers picked up in the case of the large businesses and returned in addressed, stamped envelopes in the case of small businesses (to save time).Of the 1,332 questionnaires distributed to large businesses’, 226 
were returned for a 17% response rate. Of the 618 questionnaires distributed to the small businesses, 98 were returned for a 16% response rate.The two major differences existed in the samples. First, job level is not comparable in that 64% of the respondents in the small business sample were owners and/ or top management, compared with seven percent of the respondents in the large business sample.The major contact in the small business sample was often the owner, whereas it was seldom possible to contact his or her counterpart in the large business sample. Second, type of company was not comparable in that the majority of respondents (55%) in 
the large business sample consisted of manufacturing firms; whereas, type of business in the small business sample was more representative of the distribution in the general population.At first glance it might appear that any obtained differences in responses between large and small business samples could be attributed to these differences in job level and company type. However, there were no strong correlation’s in either sample between type of company or job level and responses to the survey questions. Thus any obtained differences in responses between samples could reasonably be attributed to real differences between large and small companies.Responses to open ended questions were coded by a format which utilized standardized coding sheets and an interrater agreement index. The coding scheme and instructions can be obtained from the authors.FINDINGS 
In response to the first question, “How would you define productivity in your organization?” there were significant differences between the samples such that small business respondents tended to define productivity in financial terms, (e.g., amount of profit generated by the company, earnings, increased dollars, increased sales revenue) more than large business respondents (42% versus 15%, respectively).Conversely, large business respondents tended to define productivity in quality related terms more than small business respondents (43% vs. 25%, respectively). Typical quality responses would be “maintaining or improving quality of care given,” “top service,” “increasing customer satisfaction,” and “increasing employee morale.”Responses to the first question also indicated that 75% of the large business sample (170/212) attempted to define productivity or did so in a way that could be classified by the coders; whereas, for the small business sample less than 50% (48/98) of the respondents either defined productivity or did so in a way that could be 
classifiable.Such answers as “I supervise only,” ” n/a,” “organization,” “communication skills,” and “increasing,” were a few examples of the unclassifiable responses. That is, there appeared to be more clarity as to how productivity was defined in the large business sample.In response to the second question, “By what percentage could you improve your productivity over the next twelve months?” there were significant differences between large and small business respondents. Small business respondents felt they could increase their productivity by a greater percentage than large business 
respondents.Of those who responded, 50% of the large business respondents estimated they could increase their productivity by 14% or less; whereas, 75% of the small business respondents felt that they could increase their productivity by 15% or more. It is notable that only a few respondents in both samples (7% in large business and 4% small business) felt that they could not increase their productivity at all.In response to the third question, “What if anything, would you do to increase productivity by that amount?” there were significant differences between the samples such that small business respondents identified recommendations for improving productivity which emphasized marketing activities (e.g., “advertise more,” 
“increase sales calls,” and “identify key potential customers”) more than respondents in the large business sample (42% and 7%, respectively). In contrast, large business respondents tended to identify more activities which centered around attempts to increase personal efficiency (e.g., “better work methods,” “better use of my 
time”) than did small business respondents (41% and 23%, respectively).There were no significant differences between the large and small business responses with both sets of data indicating a high percentage of non-cost ways to improve productivity (e.g., “improved work habits,” “increased sales calls,” “take on only larger jobs,” “watch waste food decrease it”).In response to the fourth question, “What would it take to motivate you to increase productivity by that amount?”, there were percentage differences between the samples, but these were not significant. A greater percentage of the large business respondents tended to emphasize intangible, intrinsic motivators (e.g., recognition, feedback, increased authority, more time to be creative, increased participation) more than the respondents in the small business sample who tended to identify more tangible, extrinsic motivators such as pay, equity share, budget increases, time off, profit sharing, bonuses, and fringe benefits.The important thing here is that a substantial number of suggestions made by respondents in both samples did not involve direct cash outlays by companies, but rather emphasized recognition and involvement in productivity planning activities – the human element. This is not to suggest that pay is unimportant, but rather that people 
do have ideas about how to improve productivity if we would only ask them.

Productive Potential

Sisyphus was condemned by Hades to spend eternity in the underworld rolling a gigantic stone up a steep slope, knowing full well that when it gets to the top, it will just roll back down, and that he will have to perpetually continue the cycle by pushing it back up the hill over and over again.

-Albert Camus

I think most of us have some kind of daily or weekly routine that we adhere to. But on occasion, extraordinary events in our lives force us to depart from this routine. During those times we may find that the various steps in our daily dance may not nearly be as productive as we think.

I know this happened to me just last week. Being ill is no fun. But as I was going from doctor to doctor for this or that test, I began to think… “what a waist of my productive time.” As I spent most of my time “waiting” I thought about what I would normally be doing with those “lost” hours. I realized that in some cases my normally scheduled (routine) activity was not much more productive than the “waiting” that I was doing at that moment. At first this depressed me. Then I thought…. WOW – there’s productive potential here. At least while in waiting my mind could develop creative new solutions to my client’s challenges. Once on the mend, I could completely re-evaluate these solutions and achieve a whole new level of productivity.

The fact was that some of the tasks that I was so anxious to perform were often times borne out of worry (what I rationalized as CONCERN). An example was a series of phone calls or emails to ensure that several other parties accomplished specific task for clients. In reality, much of these communications tended to be non-productive since that person was already doing what I had expected. In fact, my communication, rather than empowering them could very well impede them from completing the task. I found that although I wasn’t directly involved in these during the week… more got done. Ouch! That hurt. 

What happened to me? I was never like this before. In fact I was still writing and preaching about delegation, accountability, empowerment to my clients, classmembers, web visitors and radio show listeners. The problem was that I had inadvertently slipped back into my “old roles.” And so had my clients and many of their competitors. Maybe September 11th did that to us. Or the Enron debacle. Or the stock market. Or even the recession itself. Nevertheless, it was a good thing! I now realize that change is imminent. Either YOU decide to move change forward to a better alternative OR the syncope of the mundane will relegate you to change BACK to your most comfortable paradigm. Often time this is not the most prudent framework for success. 

What my clients hire me to do is not so much “get things done” for them but rather find NEW WAYS of doing things – more efficient, effective, productive, strategic, collaborative and profitable ways. Then I began seeing this very behavior lacking in some of my clients. Remember, I’m talking about very highly regarded, successful, educated, even wealthy professionals. Business people at the top of their game. In nearly every case they were focused on managing minutia rather than masterminding metamorphosis. I saw this all around me. It was an epiphany. Like lifting the scales from my eyes. Like I could see something that was hidden from the rest of the world. A world filled with a myriad of Sisyphus all making great effort to push a huge bolder up a steep slope. Then chasing it back down, only to push it to the top again. And on and on. 

In short, by applying The Myth of Sisyphus to life’s daily routine experiences, we can maximize productive work time, free ourselves from greater stress, validate our peers and generate more creative, proactive solutions in every area of our lives.Here are some activities that you can do to transform your mundane task potential to productive strategic potential:

  1. Catch yourself at various times during the day and test your productive potential. Are you doing something that is task oriented? Could it be delegated to someone more efficient and effective at the task?
  2. Ask how you could approach solving the particular problem from a strategic perspective.
  3. Heighten your awareness. Transform your attitudes towards any situation, and therefore, transform your life. We are what we think and even better we often become what we speak.
  4. Make a list of goals that give you a sense of purpose in life. Why are they important to you?
  5. Ask your friends what makes their lives worth living; compare their answers with your own.
  6. Explore the negative frame of mind that can sap your motivation (explain why this situation seems futile, frustrating, or hopeless). What can you tell yourself daily to turn this around?
  7. How can you change your attitude to a positive frame of mind (identify some goals; define some sense of purpose in your plight)?

Like Sisyphus, we all face situations that involve seemingly insoluble, recurrent events in our lives. The workman of today labors everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. 
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn. Particularly when it is self-inflicted.While somewhat philosophical, I hope these ideas help you to improve your productivity potential. If employed consistently I know that they will succeed in producing greater effectiveness for your business in this difficult economy .

Our Most Valuable Commodity

I just started a new sales class last week and as I often do I open the class with a few questions. The first question that I like to ask is: “What is our most valuable commodity?”

I am always amazed at the answers I get. It’s not that they are right or wrong. After all different things are valuable to different people. But it’s interesting to see the process that people go through when they think about what IS their most valuable commodity.Some of the answers I get are information, relationships, money, reputation, clients, employees and so on.Let’s face it all of these things are important to a businessperson today. Take information. Today we need the right information immediately. But in truth we are drowning in information. In fact the Internet and technology has blasted us with so much information that we don’t have the time to wade through it to figure out what information is important to us!Or how about relationships? Anyone who knows me would agree that I’m always going on about how we’re living not in a technology age but in an age of relationships. This is true yet why is it that people just can’t seem to find the time to get together anymore. How many times have you heard, hey we’ve got to get together sometime? Yea right when I have SOME TIME!Then there’s money. Right the almighty buckaroo. You know if you have enough money you can buy anything. Right? Sure if you can find the time to spend it!But there is one commodity that is special and unlike any other in that it seems to be getting more and more important yet there is less and less of it available.That is time.What’s so special about time?”Time is precious. You can’t get back the time you wasted yesterday. Those who can extract value from their time will make a huge impact on their business.”Those who focus on the proactive activities or what I like to call the “big stuff” (a very academic name) will ensure their success first rather than simply dealing with the most urgent issues of the day.If you think about this it really does make sense. If we are spending the majority of our time working on the urgent or reactive items, then we will never have time for the critical or PROACTIVE items.These proactive activities are those that permit us to bring about positive change and give us a competitive edge. These are the things that bring value to our reputation and with our clients, employees and biz-partners. And these are things that allow us to strengthen relationships and deliver inspiration to those in our sphere of influence.What keeps getting in your way of devoting time to these activities? Most of us have experience with this. We keep setting the same goals over and over again, yet we sabotage our own success by letting other less important activities get in the way.Here’s my advice:
* Make a list of what gets in the way and what you will STOP doing.
* Go to your day timer or Pocket PC, Palm Pilot or whatever you use to organize your day, and start recording the activities that you will do to achieve the big stuff.
* Plan specific activities and the time you will commit to these in each day of your planner.
* Hold yourself accountable to working your plan.
* Try delegating all of the urgent tasks so you can stay focused on the critical.
* Plan one day a month where you seclude yourself from the phone, email and day-to-day issues to focus on catching up on all those critical things you’ve been meaning to get around to but never seem to have time for.I recently found a wonderful little verse that demonstrates the value of time. It goes like this:To realize the value of:
ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade
ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
ONE WEEK, ask, the editor of a weekly newspaper.
ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train.
ONE SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident.
ONE MILLISECOND, ask the silver medallist at the Olympics.What’s your BIG STUFF?Where should you be investing your time?Don’t wait until later. Later never comes.Go do it. NOW!Help our readers learn a little something from your experiences and we’ll give you a reward. Tell us your stories about how you stopped just dealing with the urgent to focus on the critical. What kind of “big stuff” did you get done and how did it impact your business? Everyone that gives us a good story will receive our two disc set of the Best of the Small Business Hour.I hope that this “Business Update” has been helpful in assisting you to improve the performance of your organization. For more information on how the Small Business Advisory Network assists companies in improving their performance, please feel free to contact us at 310-320-8190 or email .Mark Deo

Efficiency is NOT Enough

One must, however, not just work hard. One must work smart. As the saying goes, the efficient person gets the job done right, but the effective person gets the right job done. – John-Roger and Peter McWilliams

While sitting at home wearing my Rich Gannon number 12 jersey watching the Raiders beat the Cardinals 31-3 Thursday evening, I took a keen interest in how Sam Adams was playing for the Raiders. As the most recent member of the team signed, he has only been in training camp for about a week as opposed to the four weeks the rest of the team has been there. He reported to camp weighing 340 pounds, which is big even for an NFL defensive lineman. Because he is still a bit out of shape, he was running off the field after every play to sit the next play out, then running back on the field to rejoin the game. He would breathe from an oxygen mask as soon as he got to the sideline, and was visibly tired. Raider announcer Sean Jones remarked on this situation- he said that he remembered that as a player, running off the field after every play actually was more work than staying in the game to play consecutive downs. I came to think that the effort to reduce the workload for Sam Adams actually generated more work for him.I then thought about the things that I do that I think of as saving me time and energy, but actually are more work than the alternative. I lost my TV remote control a few weeks ago, and rather than just get up to change the channel, I spent 30 minutes turning my living room upside down looking for it. I eventually found it in the kitchen, but by the time I did I was both frustrated and annoyed, and I had spent a full inning of the Dodger game looking for the remote control when I didn’t even have a desire to change the channel.While I have suspicions that my two examples are activities that weren’t very effective, I decided to take it one step further. I measured the extra work that was done due to the manner in which these situations played out. Sam Adams ran on and off the field at least 10 times each way, running about 20 yards each time, so he ran approximately 400 yards. If he had stayed on the field, for the same number of plays he would have only had to run on and off the field twice each way, thus only running 160 yards. He ran an extra 240 yards in an effort to conserve energy. I spent approximately 30 minutes looking for my remote control, walking all over my apartment. To change the channel, it would take only about 10 seconds, so I would have had to change the channel 180 times before it justified spending that long looking for the remote control. The biggest problem with these situations isn’t that work was done poorly- Sam Adams ran about as fast as a 340 pound defensive lineman can, and I did a pretty thorough job of searching my apartment. The problem lies with the decision that was made to undergo these tasks instead of a more effective means of accomplishing the same end result.Those of you who aren’t football fans or couch potatoes are probably thinking, “Funny story Matt, but what does that have to do with my business?” Think for a moment about how often we as business people do these exact same things at work. How often do you undertake an activity with the stated goal of saving time, effort, or money and actually wind up spending more time, effort, and money? What can you do to streamline your operations to reduce wasted time and effort? While some activities might pop immediately into your head, not everything we do that can be improved upon is immediately apparent. There are five key steps to identifying waste in your operation and making your business not only efficient, but effective as well.1) Determine what you want to accomplish
You must first know what it is you want to do before you know if your activities are working or not. If you are advertising in the newspaper or on the radio, what result do you want to obtain from these ads? Is it a certain number of customers you want to acquire? If you are producing a physical product, how many do you want to manufacture and how long do you want it to take? If you are making sales calls, how many calls do you want to make and how many people do you want to speak with? Once you have figured out what it is you want to achieve, you can start to look at how you currently achieve these results.2) Measure the effort you are putting into your activities
Now you should measure the effort you put into your current activities. If it is advertising to acquire new customers, calculate how much you currently spend on advertising for each new customer you gain. If you spend $2000/month and gain 10 new customers, you are spending $200 per new customer. If you are producing a physical product, and it currently takes you one week to produce 10 of them, you know it takes ½ a day to manufacture each item. If you make 20 sales calls, and speak with 4 prospects in two hours, you know you must make about 5 calls to speak to one person and you can make 10 calls an hour with your current methods.3) Compare these results to your goals
If you spend $200 per new customer and gain 10 new customers a month, but you want to spend only $125 per new customer and want to get 16 new customers a month, you know that you need to change your advertising if you are going to meet this goal. If you want to produce 15 pieces a week instead of 10, you know you must decrease your manufacturing time from ½ a day per item to a 1/3 of a day per item. If you only have 2 hours to make sales calls and you want to reach 8 people, you know you must be more effective with your calling efforts.4) Identify waste in your operations
If there is a difference between your desired results and your actual results, you know that you are wasting efforts in some respect. For the advertising example, perhaps your media mix can be adjusted to reach a better audience for your products and services. If you are manufacturing products, there may be limitations in the physical layout of your operations that slow your operation down. If the 2 hours you spend making calls are in 15 minute segments spread throughout the week, you may be wasting some time in preparing for calls multiple times throughout the week instead of just once.5) Eliminate the waste
If you have come to realize that your product sells best to women aged 18-30, and you are currently advertising in AARP magazine, you are likely wasting your advertising dollars- shift them to a marketing vehicle that makes more sense for your target audience. If you noticed that you have to move materials across your shop in a zig zag pattern while assembling the parts, try changing the layout of your operation so you don’t have as much wasted energy moving things around. If you get a lot of incoming phone calls that interrupt your outbound sales calls, try switching your phone to send all incoming calls to voicemail before you start making your calls.If the Raiders had done this, Sam Adams would certainly have been more refreshed on the sidelines, and if I had followed this advice I would have just gotten up to change the channel and would have enjoyed an inning of Dodger baseball rather than grabbing a flashlight to look under my couch.We live in a society that moves at the speed of fiber optics. Information is flying at us from all directions. We constantly have to prioritize what is urgent critical or merely important. Today being efficient just isn’t enough. We need to find ways to be more effective.

Effective Decisions

Theodore Vail was perhaps one of the most effective decision makers in American business. Vail was the president of Bell Systems during the turn of the century. He built that company into what was to become the largest private business in the world. So large in fact that the government had to break it up into many smaller companies. Such a behemoth was Bell that it took nearly an entire decade to accomplish the break-up of the monopoly.

Back in 1914 however Bell was in some trouble. Its phone patents had expired and other smaller companies were getting into the business. Suddenly, Bell had competition. Vail solved this problem in three ways. First, he decided Bell would be called AT&T. He decided they must have the very best phone system available. He committed the company to building a long-distance system that would cross the entire US. To do this he knew he would have to invest in scientific research, and he developed AT&T’s own research laboratory, Bell Labs. Second, he cooperated with the competitors, leasing them the use of AT&T’s phone lines. Third, he managed to convince the public and the government that the best possible phone system was one that could provide “universal service” around the country, in essence, the best phone system would come from a monopoly like AT&T.Management guru, Peter F. Drucker talks about Theodore Vail in his book, “The Essential Drucker.” He credits Vail’s decision to grow AT&T as based on implementing the four elements of effective decision making:

  1. Rule of principal
  2. Boundary conditions
  3. Moral “right”
  4. Action commitments

The Rule of Principal
The first issue that confronts business leaders in making a decision is to determine if the circumstances are generic or exceptional. In other words is the situation in which we find ourselves caused by a symptom of a greater, more generic problem or is it a truly unique event. Vail knew that the lapse of those patents would forever change the way Bell would compete in the marketplace. He knew they were symptoms of a far larger problem within Bell. He recognized that Bell needed again to become a research-driven organization. I see so many business people today ignoring the generic issues in their businesses. Instead they ascribe problems to a never-ending series of “unique exceptions.” I encourage leaders to make every attempt to associate the exceptional symptoms in their businesses to the generic and create rules of principal or business “values” in order to help make effective decisions.Boundary Conditions
The second major element in the decision process is clearly defining the specifications of what the decision needs to accomplish. What are the minimum goals? What is the ultimate vision of success? Science has a name for this type of discipline. It is called “boundary conditions.” What boundary conditions must be satisfied in order for a decision to be effective? The clearer the boundary conditions, the more effective the decision. Boundary conditions must be rooted in the values that are the core of any business or institution. These are the guiding principals that give strength and uniqueness to any business. If our decisions are consistent with these principals then we have greatly improved our odds for success.Moral “Right”
Who can say what is “right?” What is morally right for one is anathema to another? We only need look to the horrific events of September 11th to see this clearly. What was an act of cowardly aggression from our vantage was heroic retribution from the Talaban’s. But if we are determining what is morally correct by measuring our decisions against our “boundary conditions” or business values as discussed above, then we are evaluating moral “right” in a viable way. Again, I see far too many business leaders measuring their decisions NOT by what is “right” but rather what is “acceptable.” Some might say, “come on Mark, you’ve got to compromise don’t you?” Like the old saying, “half a loaf is better than none.” But what about the old proverb from the book of Solomon? Is half a baby better than none? I implore all leaders to start measuring decisions by predefined business values and like good scientists with well thought-out boundary conditions.Action Commitments
Even the decision that meets the rule of principal, is consistent with the boundary conditions, is morally right is useless without the effective plan of action. Decisions result in change. Typically people have to carry out the decision. If this part of the formula is missing in our decision making process than our decisions will be completely ineffective. We need to answer the questions: Who needs to know about the decision? How will they react? What could be the consequences? What is our plan to ensure that the decision is carried out and that change occurs? As leaders it is our responsibility to not just make decisions but to ensure their implementation.Let’s face it effective decisions require good judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It requires more than merely gathering the facts and weighing them. While that is important, it isn’t enough. We need to be able to discern the cause of the problem. Is it a symptom of a larger issue? We need establish boundary conditions and measure the decision against our values. And finally we need to take ACTION to ensure that transformation occurs and our goals are accomplished.At the Small Business Advisory Network we like to say that we influence decisions, improve performance and inspire change. That’s what our consulting, workshops, web site, weekly articles and The Small Business Hour Radio Show are all about.

Disruptive Innovation

What if businesses failed NOT because of the things they did wrong but because of the things they did RIGHT?

You might be thinking, “Now what’s Mark been smoking?”But those are the words of Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Professor and author of the book, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.I am just about finished with this amazing book and I have to tell you it has shaken the foundations of everything that I have believed about innovation. Christensen makes the point that when companies focus on products or services that are currently profitable and in high demand, they ultimately weaken the strength of both their market position and their ability to lead and grow.This is in sharp contrast to what we have been taught as marketers. That is to pay close attention to what our customers are saying. It’s been drummed into our heads for years: “The customer is always right.” Marketers spend millions on research, focus groups, regression analysis and more. These findings are often the basis for establishing innovation within companies and industries. Christensen takes issue with this type of strategy. His contention is that blindly ascribing to this philosophy can be the very thing that STANDS IN THE WAY of innovation.He shows that regardless of the industry, (pharmaceuticals, retail, automotive, steel, computers and financial services), market leaders often will abandon the truly innovative niche oriented products and services in favor of the current broad demands of consumers. This creates a vacuum for the nimble, entrepreneurial companies to catch the next wave of growth by creating products and services that are more innovative. Consumers then abandon their long-held preferences in favor of this more innovative category.This being said, it can not be denied that many market leaders have succeeded BECAUSE they have listened to their “next generation customers” and developed products and services for that “next generation customer.” However, the “Innovators Dilemma” is that some of those same companies have ended up FAILING for the very same reason.An article on illustrated that one-third of the companies listed in the 1970 Fortune 500 had vanished by 1983 and attributed almost all of this demise to companies not anticipating and embracing disruptive innovation.How can business leaders determine precisely WHEN to listen to their customers or WHEN to invest heavily in products and service that may be “ahead of their time?” Christensen demonstrates that understanding the phenomenon of “disruptive innovation” is critical in understanding when to listen to the customer or when to apply radical change.In many ways innovation is the single most important building block of competitive advantage: giving a company something unique that its competitors lack. Disruptive innovation, however, is a term used to describe innovation that is of a highly discontinuous or revolutionary nature, which is the opposite of evolutionary or incremental innovation.An example of disruptive innovation currently in progress is the DVD industry disrupting the VHS industry. While DVDs were only for the “nerds” or the more “geeky” crowd, today DVDs are becoming the standard in the audio-visual format. The same happened with CDs and audio cassettes, reel-to-reel; 8-track tapes (for those of us in the over 40 crowd), and so on.A potential disruptive innovation might be “flash card memory” (as the technology improves it has the potential to disrupt the disk drive industry). This industry has been through so much disruption that it is amazing that some of the players can afford to keep pace with the breakneck speed of innovation. Technologies are innovated and exploited in a matter of months rather than decades.In short, for a discontinuous innovation to be disruptive, successful exploitation is vital, which results in significant transformation of the mainstream market and its value proposition. This theory holds true for simple technologies as well. Think about a simple example such as the light-bulb industry’s disruption of the candle industry and the ball-point pen’s disruption of the ink-well pen.Now think about your industry and the position your company occupies in that industry. What kind of disruption has already occurred? What are the discontinuities that exist? What innovation is expected in the future? What are the consuming “geeks”or “nerds” in your industry looking for? How can you restructure your organization to be more entrepreneurial and nimble in order to respond on to disruptive innovation?All of us need to think of ways that we can apply disruptive innovation to our products or services. Let’s help one another do so. I’d like to invite anyone to use our message board to post questions and comments about disruptions occurring in their industry. I will commit to answer every message and perhaps others can give their input as well. Let’s all work together to help make innovation a standard in every industry. It’s good for the consumer, its good for the supplier and its good for everyone in between.It’s EASY to participate in the message board! To post questions or comments just click on the link below: Disruptive InnovationI will answer them the same day if possible.I hope that this “Business Update” has been helpful in assisting you to improve the performance of your organization. For more information on how the Small Business Advisory Network assists companies in improving their performance, please feel free to contact us at 310-320-8190 or email mark deo.

All That’s Right

Just a few days ago my wife and I were at our local park lying in the grass and taking some time out to relax. Not far from us was a group of little leaguers practicing for a baseball game. They hadn’t yet started the game but were warming up for the big event. Like most teams they had their stars and they had their mediocre players. But watching them practice it seemed like the second team had a bit of an edge over the first. They had some more mature boys that were bigger and physically stronger. If I were a betting man I’d have put my money on them. That is until I met their coaches!

Each team had an adult man acting as their coach. Knowing my interest in human behavior, my wife turned to me and said, “Mark, check out the coaches.” I turned my attention to the men and immediately noticed that they each had very different coaching styles.The man who was the coach for the first team spoke very little. In fact the only time he said anything was when one or a group of the boys did something good. For example if they caught a fly, stole second or hit a base hit, he would say, “good show,” or “way to go,” or “nice play.” Whenever one of the boys would do something right he would give them a loud verbal comment that made the their action seem outstanding or even spectacular. If on the other hand one of the boys didn’t catch a fly ball or a ground ball shot by them he would not comment on the missed opportunity. He only commented on the positive actions. He also kept the game going by constantly passing new balls into play. The coach made sure that there was no downtime in play. That first team had lightness in their step and passion in their play.The coach from the second team was handling things in quite a different way. He seemed to focus only on the missed opportunities and mistakes that were made. He would say, “What are you doing? What were you thinking? How could you miss that?” If the boys did something good he was silent. He only spoke up when an error was made. He would often stop the play to give “advice” to the team or to comment on their lack of performance. When he did this, all of the boy’s shoulders slumped and their heads hung low. I don’t think this coach noticed this. My wife and I noticed it because we sat several hundred yards away. From our vantage point, the way the boys shuffled from place to place was proof that they wished they were somewhere else rather than on that field.Suddenly the boys ceased practicing and the game began. The second team, while having the advantage of both size and strength was failing miserably. They seemed to miss even the easiest of plays. They jabbed at each other and even fought among themselves. Throughout this their coach had a miserable, disgusted look on his face. It was obvious he was displeased and even angry.The first team, although lacking in size and strength was beating the pants off their more powerful adversary. Their effervescence was rather obvious. They were willing to steal bases, willing to take risks, and willing to try and try again. Could it be that their coach’s encouragement and inspiration had had such a dramatic impact on their success? They had they overcome their physical limitations with pure commitment, dedication and motivation.The second team ultimately lost the game. I felt terrible for them as they walked off the field in abject failure. I didn’t envy the “after-the-game lecture” that their coach was sure to give them. He still didn’t get it as he eyed the boys with a sour smirk, shaking his head in disgust. He did not understand that they could never win while under the hand of his iron fist. He robbed these children of their spirit. He made them feel that they were lazy or daydreaming when in fact they were giving their all. He was just lucky it wasn’t my son that was on his team!You may be thinking at this point – – “Nice story, Mark but you don’t understand the circumstances I’m facing in my business. The competition is beating my doors down, out-advertising and out-pricing me while my employees only seem to care about an increase in their compensation and how many days off they get. How can I concentrate on the positive things when there are so many NEGATIVE things happening?”The fact is that there will always be bad things happening. There will always be mistakes. There will always be errors. We can choose to focus on the hundreds of negative things or the few positive. Do you suppose it’s easier to “fix” the hundreds of things that might be WRONG in your business or to try to expand the 1 or 2 positive things?I’m embarrassed too say that there are times when I too catch myself focusing on the “missed opportunities” rather than the spectacular performance. I think I’d like to be a little more like that first coach. He didn’t acknowledge their errors but he certainly was there to meet their excellence. It’s easy to point out the mistakes of others but its much more difficult to give accolades and notice the success of others.

10 Tips on How to Effectively Delegate

To often we think we are Superman or Superwoman and able to do everything ourselves. We say things like, “it would be quicker to do it myself”, “no one does this as well as I do”, and we make ourselves believe we are the only one who can do our job or complete a project a certain way. This thinking reduces your productivity and prevents you achieving your goals. Choose to delegate. Choose to be more productive by teaching others and helping build their skill set.
The benefits of delegating include:

  • You give others the satisfaction of learning a new task
  • You reward others with more responsibility
  • You free up headspace to allow you to focus on other strategies
  • You empower those around you to achieve more

Here are a couple of tips to help you delegate.

1. Trust people – One of the biggest reasons you don’t delegate is because you don’t trust other people to complete a task or activity your way. Once you accept people will not do things exactly like you (and maybe your way is not the best way!) you will be better equipped to trust others. Accept that sometimes 80% (not 100%) completion is better than 0% completion.
2. Trust yourself – believe you will give people the best instructions on how to complete tasks, know that you are the best person to delegate activities. Trust what you know.

3. Try delegating small tasks first – to build your trust when delegating, start with small and less important tasks to build up your confidence that people can follow your instructions. 

4. Create a template for task delegation – write down specific details of the action, the date and time required, relevant documentation that relates to the task and the interested parties in the task. Explain this to the person you are delegating to, then check off the completed task against your template or written instructions.

5. Ask the person to repeat their understanding to you – once you have delegated the task ask the person to describe back to you (in their own words), what the task is and how it is to be completed. At this point you can clarify any misunderstandings.

6. Communicate your expectations – people don’t read minds. Be clear if you have expectations, explain these in detail and once again get the person to repeat them back to you. If you have a certain way of doing something and you want that repeated – make that very clear.

7. Set clear timeframes – be specific about when you want the task or activity completed. Be specific about the date and time and provide the reasons why this is required. Often when delegating we get frustrated because people don’t complete things in the same time we do, understand while people are learning it may take more time.

8. Give feedback – once the task is completed let the person know how they performed according to your instructions, expectations and timeframes.

9. Reward the delegate and congratulate yourself – take time to recognize their achievement through praise or an appropriate reward. Congratulate yourself for trusting someone else to complete activities or tasks you would normally complete yourself.

10. Release control – recognize you can’t do everything all the time and you may benefit from the help of others – learn to delegate.

Remember delegating will help boost your productivity and help you focus on more important tasks while still achieving results – challenge yourself to delegate something today.

This article was written by our friend and partner, Neen James, a leading productivity expert from Australia. She has worked with many organizations to boost their performance through communications and message management. She has numerous articles on productivity available on her website at

Have a great week!
I hope that this “Business Update” has been helpful in assisting you to improve the performance of your organization. For more information on how the Small Business Advisory Network assists companies in improving their performance, please feel free to contact us at 310-320-8190 or email 

Mark Deo

Paralyzed by Fear

Are You Waiting…

for someone to lead and inspire you?
for the boss to recognize you?
for clients to thank you?
for coworkers to help you?
for prospects to find you?
for the world to hail you?Well here’s a news flash…. They are all just sitting there waiting for you.Someone recently asked me, what I felt was the biggest challenge for marketers today? My answer was complacency. Websters dictionary defines complacency as contentment and self satisfaction. You might say, “Hey hold on there Deo! Isn’t that what we are striving for as entrepreneurs and small business owners? Shouldn’t it be our ultimate goal to be content and satisfied with our business, finances, family and life?”I say, NO.When we become content and satisfied, we no longer have any motivation to get better.We drop our guard. We become OK with achieving the minimum. Unfortunately in today’s competitive environment achieving the “minimum” in the short term may just not be good enough to “survive” in the long term. This can be very dangerous in the fast paced, high risk, volatile economy of the 21st century. You may be thinking, “that sounds a little scary, Mark.”It is.Many people today are saying that fear is bad. I agree that too much fear can be debilitating, just as a complete lack of satisfaction can create disappointment and disillusionment. There are no absolutes. But if we completely eliminate fear from our lives, we lose some of our most base instincts. Think about when you first started your business or your first day on the job. Weren’t you a bit apprehensive? Didn’t you have some fear? You probably found yourself asking questions like, what if this doesn’t work? What will I do if I fail? What if my coworkers or clients don’t like me? Can I really compete? Do I really have the skills necessary to succeed at this?I think you would agree that this is the GOOD kind of fear. The fear that drives us to greater levels of performance. Fear that motivates us. It’s the kind of fear that makes us have more apprehension for things staying the way they are rather than bringing about change.What does this have to do with marketing, you might ask. Successful marketing must allow us to significantly differentiate ourselves from our competition. We need to look different, sound different and be different. We need to go beyond the expectations of our clients and prospects. We must be willing to always be a bit uncomfortable with the way things ARE if we want to change. We can not be content with waiting for change. We can not be satisfied with the most comfortable option.Here are some very specific things that you can do to make fear the friend that you consistently court, rather than the foe that you chronically avoid:1. When things look bleak don’t deny reality, accept it and begin to develop some options. Write them down and take action to change things rather than waiting for them to get better.2. Don’t allow yourself to be forced into change. Make the decision to bring about change BEFORE you are swept-up in the maelstrom.3. Find someone that you can mentor. Taking this leadership role with even just one person will allow you to see the power of fear and change in another person. In the end, this will make it much easier for you to cope with fear and embrace change.4. Look for situations where others are positively dealing with fear and change. Give them the recognition they deserve for coping with their changing environment. This will reinforce your own values.5. Change the way you celebrate achievements.Typically, we set goals, we work hard at achieving them, we reach them and we celebrate. We are content and satisfied with a job well done. Hopefully when the party’s over we set new goals and the cycle starts all over again. But shouldn’t we be setting new goals BEFORE we pop the cork on the Champaign?6. Be an evangelist for your company, product or service. Ask yourself, how YOU change peoples lives for the better. Focus on this. NOT features and benefits.7. Be a catalyst for change with everyone that you meet. Look for ways that you can help them to cope with the fear and change in their lives.8. Don’t try to eliminate all stress in your life. Like my old boss, Sue Schneider used to say, “Stress is good, DISTRESS is bad.” If we try to completely eliminate stress and fear in our lives we will be sadly disappointed. On the other hand if we find ways of coping with stress and fear, we will amass for ourselves resources of great value.9. Be the first. Decide from this day forward that YOU will be the first to initiate change in your organization and even at home. You will lead and inspire. You will give compliments and provide recognition. You will thank your clients and vendors. You will lend a hand to help fellow workers. You will seek prospects whose businesses and lives can be improved by your company, product or service.I hope this helps you to begin see fear as a friend and change as the precursor to growth.