A vandalized car and some leadership lessons

Our car was vandalized. We don’t know when it happened but we found it a couple of days ago. It was a shocking sight. The glass on the driver’s side of the window was broken and the shards were all over the seat and below. The center part of the dashboard was ripped apart and insides of the dashboard were hanging below. We do not know who did it and why they did it but the fact is that we felt violated. No one has the right to even touch let alone destroy what belongs to us.

Anyway, we called 911. Our first surprise was that 911 does not deal with vehicle break-ins. They gave us the number to call the Columbus police department. Surprise number two: The police department is closed on weekends! There was an option on the voice recording to stay on the line if there is a need to dispatch a police officer. We stayed on line. After a really weird ringtone, a lady spoke. We explained her what happened. Our biggest surprise followed. She said this is an unsolvable problem. It could be anybody who could have done this. It is impossible to investigate such cases. So go ahead and file that report. We asked her what happens after filing the report. Her response was, “Well, you inform your insurance company and they take it from there.” Bewildered, we asked, “So are you saying that the police will do nothing about this? No investigation at all?” Very condescendingly, she replied, “Ma’am, all I am saying is that you file the report. It is really a small problem.” First let me just tell you I hate it especially when they ‘Ma’am’ me. The word is respectful but you don’t feel any respect because the tone of their voice is degrading and anything but respectful. But think about how scary such a response is coming from someone we rely on for safety, security and assurance!

You are probably wondering, where exactly I am going with this? Well this goes back to leadership and how we respond to our associates when we implement changes. We go out to the gemba, teach people how to look for problems and encourage them to solve the problem. How do we actually respond when they do bring up the problem? The associates are in a vulnerable state of mind. Firstly, they fear losing their job. Secondly, they are afraid to bring up problems because until now they have survived because they hid the problems or fixed on their own. Guess what? It is not easy to handle change. Now what if they bring up a problem that has been there for a while and is “unsolvable” like above? The issue is too sensitive or political? What do you tell your associates? That you really cannot do anything about it? Do you tell them to focus only on a certain kind of problems? Or do you listen to them, go observe the process and understand the difficulties they are actually experiencing while doing their job? Do you or associates gather the data (observations, measurements, taking pictures or shoot a video of the process), asking other associates if they are experiencing similar difficulties and bring it to the attention of the senior leaders? You may get a no for an answer from the leaders but do you at least try? Do you ensure that your associates feel safe to discuss problems? Do you assure them that you will take actions and actually do it? Are you consistent with your words and action that they feel secured about their jobs?

There are lots of tools and methods of process improvement. You can open the tool-box and implement any tool when you want. However you cannot rely on the tool box to exert leadership. As a leader, you have to be out there. You encourage, listen, observe and empower under all circumstances unlike the above incident where they shrug off the responsibility labeling it as an intractable problem.

Share with me your experiences as you are implementing changes in your organization. What is your approach? What are your challenges and ‘aha’ moments that made you grow as a leader?

COE summit highlights companies as ‘engine of social change’

Weeks before the Center for Operational Excellence hosted its first-ever Leading Through Excellence summit, keynote speaker and The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg offered a valuable insight on the recipe for success in the business world during an interview.

duhigg, charles
Summit keynote Charles Duhigg speaking during his address on Friday, April 12.

“You have to be smart and lucky to hit it out of the park,” he said, referring to the meteoric rise of Alcoa under CEO Paul O’Neill.

His words carried a special resonance as COE hosted the summit earlier this month, bringing together more than 200 industry professionals committed to solving the challenges they face and becoming better leaders. The brilliant minds that took the stage gave us our star lineup. It’s that elusive, intangible feeling that everything “clicked” that gave us a home run. Check out the video below for a look – and don’t miss the slide show at the end of this post.

The Leading Through Excellence experience exposed our attendees to the latest research from our Fisher faculty, insights from process improvement veterans, and up-close looks at lasting change through a round of plant tours around the Columbus area. In addition to Mr. Duhigg, we featured a diverse group of plenary speakers that included Momentive CEO Craig Morrison, Ohio State Marching Band Director Jonathan Waters, and Wexner Medical Center patient safety chief Dr. Susan Moffatt-Bruce.

Amid all this variety, a common theme very quickly emerged that – thanks to a lot of smart people and a little luck – neatly threaded itself through all the presentations, from a welcome address from Fisher Dean Christine Poon to Duhigg’s closing keynote, where he said: “Companies are the engine of social change in America.”

Leading Through Excellence brought together professionals in manufacturing, banking, insurance, health care, logistics, and many other industries, but we all found common ground in those words. We didn’t gather for nearly three days just to find ways to cut costs and boost the bottom line. We came together to discover how we can improve the processes that drive our daily work in order to speed up innovation, save lives, or create a better environment for others.

In his dynamic and energetic opening address on our summit’s second day, Morrison told the crowd: “Continuous improvement is a matter of survival in today’s world. It’s not a ‘nice to have.’” This comes from the leader of an enormously successful and profitable Columbus company, but one committed to using his organization’s market position to protect the environment. As Dean Poon said in her introduction to Morrison, companies like Momentive embody that Fisher spirit of excelling in business but also making a difference in others’ lives.

Duhigg echoed that the next day in his keynote address when he said that the habits cultivated in an organization spill over into the lives of those who are a part of it. Leading Through Excellence was designed to help attendees start that next great habit or break the one holding them back. We’re thrilled to make this event an annual habit of our own.

COE summit keynote Duhigg wins Pulitzer Prize

You’ll be reading and seeing a lot more about the incredible experience of our first-ever three-day Leading Through Excellence summit very soon through photos, blog posts and details on our next one – but one piece of news can’t wait.

Charles DuhiggSummit keynote speaker Charles Duhigg joined us Friday to talk about his bestselling book, The Power of Habit, and how “companies are the engine of social change in America.” What he didn’t know then was that he was about to win a prestigious Pulitzer Prize just three days later.

Duhigg and his colleagues at the New York Times won a Pulitzer in the “Explanatory Reporting” category for a series of pieces dubbed “The iEconomy.” Take a look at some Pulitzer submissions here. Duhigg was on a team that was a Pulitzer finalist a few years back and has won his share of awards for his other reporting work – but this is the big one, and we’d like to extend him a note of congratulations.

Anyone who has read The Power of Habit or saw him deliver a dynamic keynote address this past Friday knows this likely isn’t the last great honor he’ll receive. We look forward to what’s next.



Cardinal exec, Huntington win Fisher diversity awards

Each year, the Fisher College of Business Office of Diversity and Inclusion Student Services honors the individuals and companies working to make the corporate world a place where everyone feels welcome.

The Center for Operational Excellence is proud to have direct ties to both the individual and corporate winners this year. Aida Sabo CardinalCOE submitted winning nominations for the following individual and organization:

Aida Sabo, vice president of COE member Cardinal Health’s Diversity/Inclusion Center of Excellence (pictured left, middle). Sabo is in charge of developing a long-term global work-force diversity strategy in partnership with the company’s leadership team. She is actively involved in diversity efforts both inside and outside Fisher and Ohio State.

Traci Dunn HuntingtonTaking the corporate honor for the Diversity Business Award is Huntington Bank, a COE member and the official bank of The Ohio State University. Huntington is one of COE’s most engaged members from a diversity perspective as a strong supporter of Fisher’s Operations in Action class, which our center partially funds. The bank works closely with a number of other areas in Fisher. Accepting the honor for Huntington was Traci Dunn, senior vice president and inclusion director for the bank (pictured left, middle, with colleagues William Shepherd and Erin Walberg).

Sabo’s individual win wasn’t the only honor for Cardinal on Wednesday. Nominated in the same category was her colleague, Steve Lin. Anne Dunlap and Eric Tharp, both employees of COE member Nationwide Insurance, were among the nominees as well. Joining them were Linda Burstein of Deloitte, Amy Sweet of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, and Roger Rawlings of Columbus-based discount shoe retailer DSW.

Nationwide Insurance, in addition to its dual individual nominees, also was in the running for the corporate Diversity Business Award along with Cummins Inc., the Columbus chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble.

Honored for his work as a Fisher student with the Student Perseverance Award was Christian Bonner, who started the Fisher Business Students with Disabilities Association.

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees!

Read more about the diversity awards criteria and process here.

What you see is what you get

Walk into most any company, and the only signage you’ll see is the name of a department and the names of the people who work there. At the Master of Business Operational Excellence program, we teach our students that visuals can be used for much more, indicating the purpose for the existence of a department or a function within a company.

Drew Locher, Shingo Prize-winning author, recently shared with our MBOE students a quote while making a case for visual management. This comes from György Kepes, founder of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT:

“The visual language is capable of disseminating knowledge more effectively than almost any other vehicle of communication.  Visual Communication is universal and international; it knows no limits of tongue, vocabulary, or grammar.  Visual language can convey facts and ideas in a wider and deeper range than almost any other means of communication.”

Companies generally work in functional silos. Within the functional silos, many times people don’t know what their colleagues are working on and what the expectations are. People within the department know of their roles mostly from the job responsibilities they had read from the job posting and any projects that are thrown at them by the supervisor. The information lies within the heads of people.

How does visual management help? Locher says it helps once you understand the key elements of visual management:

  • What is the purpose or function of the area?
  • What activities are performed in the area?
  • How do people know what to do?
  • How do they know how to do it?
  • How do they know how they are doing?
  • What is done if expectations are not being met?
  • Last but not the least: How will we drive Continuous Improvement via visual management?

Organizations that care about operational excellence must care about these questions and think about simple and visual ways of conveying this information. Visual management aids in better use of the employee talent, builds in accountability, and leads to the right action when the visuals indicate so.

The idea is not to have just the visuals but a process to manage what you see in the visuals.

On their most recent visit to campus, our MBOE students also mastered the elusive solution to solve the Rubik’s cube puzzle. Executive-in-Residence and MBOE faculty member R. Gary Butler found an innovative way to help students learn the principles of standardized work and training within industry and apply it to the process of solving the puzzle.

Students were asked to first find the solution. They then created critical steps necessary to solve the puzzle and developed a simple process to train anyone who may have/have not solved the Rubik’s cube puzzle in the past. The group that developed the best method won a prize.

Getting it Right: The Crucial Role of Standard Work

We all have our own way of doing work.

This is something we learned in school, found it worked for us in the past, or we just developed a habit to do our work in a certain way. Let’s take a simple example: Managing e-mails. Some people print each and every e-mail to keep a trail of the conversation. Others create folders and dump their e-mails in them. There are still others who create chunks of time in a day, respond to them, and delete them after that, leaving an empty inbox most of the time. The process of managing e-mails, in the end, is personal and doesn’t impact the overall business. Every individual can have the freedom to manage the e-mails the way they want as long as they respond appropriately within a reasonable period of time.

When it comes to building cars at a pace of a minute per car, workers cannot have their own way doing work. Every second counts in a process like this. It is important to develop a process with the least amount of waste that results in a defect-free product that also meets customer specifications. This is nothing but standardized work.

MBOE students standard work
MBOE students used paper plates and other ordinary items to create a new set of standard work during an exercise.

The Lean Enterprise Institute’s Mark Reich, director of strategy and operations, and faculty member Scott Borg recently spent a day with our Master of Business Operational Excellence students discussing standardized work and the nuts and bolts of developing it. Students watched two videos depicting the process of manufacturing parts of a washing machine and refrigerator doors. Reich and Borg had the students break out into teams and focus on the movements that the operators went through and time them. Then, using paper plates, a string, duct tape and A3 paper, our students developed standardized work to improve the process as seen in the picture to the right.

The goal with the exercise, aside from allowing the students to exercise their inner MacGuyver, was to understand the purpose of standard work, which is to do what the customer requires with safety and quality built into the process. This is accomplished with these elements:

–          Takt time: Pace needed to meet the customer demand

–          Working sequence: The most efficient order of operation in single process that yields the highest quality product

–          Standard in-process stock: Minimizing the number of products necessary for operator to keep work repeatable and without stopping.