COE’s ‘Current State’ newsletter goes monthly, digital

For years, the Center for Operational Excellence has created a printed quarterly newsletter that has featured a mix of stories on member company news and success stories, Fisher College of Business faculty research, Q&As with business leaders, and details on upcoming center events.

current state digital
A look at our first digital issue

There’s a lot right in that first paragraph – and a few key things that aren’t. Going forward, we’re still seeking to bring you that same mix of content, which connects the theory behind the tools and behaviors of operational excellence to its practice day-in, day-out. The Current State’s printed days, however, are over, as is its quarterly rotation.

From now on, you’ll be receiving an e-newsletter once a month, a decision we made because of the vibrancy of the op-ex community inside and outside of Fisher. Put simply, there’s enough going on to fill a newsletter 12 times over, so why not?

The rollout of our e-newsletter will come with a few additions. In each issue, you’ll see three leading stories. These are housed in our regularly updated Think Op-Ex blog, which has new stories and updates on a weekly basis, sometimes more frequently. You’ll also be able to track and register our upcoming events using the right-hand sidebar. And the space below our featured stories will be a mix of other news of note and – when it’s available – newly available online resources, such as archived event webcasts and educational webinars. This is a direct result of feedback we’ve received requesting that these resources – while always available for you as a member – be more visible on an ongoing basis.

We also want your help. Plenty of incredible transformations are going on at all of our member companies, and we want to hear about more of them. If you have a story idea you think might be of interest, contact me. We also want to hear about your promotions and new employment endeavors.

Finally, in the spirit of continuous improvement, we want to know what you like and don’t like about this new format. Like you, we’re open to change when it’s for the better.

Matt Burns
Program Manager, COE

COE seeking student volunteers for April 9-11 summit

Looking for a great volunteer opportunity that gives you face-time with leaders from a wide range of industries?

See how much fun they're having?!
See how much fun they’re having?!

The Center for Operational Excellence’s second-annual three-day Leading Through Excellence summit will bring together Fisher College of Business faculty, dynamic leaders, and process improvement experts with acute insights into today’s business challenges. We expect this event to draw more than 250 mid-level and higher-ranking operations professionals – and we’re seeking Fisher undergraduate and graduate students to volunteer.

You can help out by:

  • Staffing the check-in / registration desk
  • Riding along during Wednesday, April 9, plant tours
  • Introducing professors / visiting professionals during breakout sessions
  • Assisting with audiovisual needs during presentations
  • Helping attendees as a greeter / way-finder
  • …among many other opportunities.

Some important details on this opportunity: The summit takes place at the Fawcett Center, 2400 Olentangy River Road. COE is running shuttles between Gerlach Hall and Fawcett every 30 minutes during the summit for the 5-minute trip. Volunteer shifts begin at 7:30 a.m. each day and are available until 7 p.m. Weds./Thurs. and 3 p.m. Fri., and you can select one or multiple 2-hour slots.

If you’re interested, please contact Sreekanth Kolan at All you have to do aside from staffing your volunteer slot is attend a one-hour volunteer info session on Wednesday, April 2, in 355 Gerlach, from noon to 1. Pizza will be served, naturally.

Big data, huge potential for operations

Big data.

It’s the sea of information inside and outside your organization that’s so vast, and often so unstructured, it’s spawning a multibillion-dollar industry among those with the tools and skills to analyze it. It also has reaped huge benefits for a number of big-name companies, including Target and, among many, many others.

big dataThese days, though, big data isn’t just a game-changer for the retail and technology sectors. It holds promise for any industry, anywhere, and a wealth of potential lies in the field of operations management. But how do companies just wrapping their heads around the big data explosion harness, and profit, from it?

We’re exploring that very topic in the latest addition to our Leading Through Excellence summit, which kicks off exactly two weeks from today on Wednesday, April 9. On the final day of the summit, Friday, April 11, we’re offering you the chance to hear from leaders at three organizations that are making major inroads in big data and analytics: Anson Asoka, VP of global insights and analytics at COE member Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.; Andy Keller, VP of analytics and global process owner at COE member Cardinal Health; and Dihan Rosenburg, director of product planning at online information powerhouse LexisNexis. The panel will be moderated by Ralph Greco, director of the Business Analytics Initiative at the Fisher College of Business.

At this panel, set for the Fawcett Center theater after a morning address from restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, you’ll hear the ways in which these companies are leveraging big data from an operations perspective. They’ll also be on hand to take questions and scope trends in what will continue to be an increasingly important – and ever-challenging – facet of corporate growth and strategy.

Only six days remain to sign up for Leading Through Excellence before an April 1 price increase that applies to our COE members and non-members. Non-members, though, can save 10 percent on registration through March 31 by using discount code “save” at registration.

See you in April!

Summit keynote Chip Heath talks ‘Decisive’ lessons, misleading gut instincts

Less than a month from now, bestselling author Chip Heath is heading to Ohio State University to deliver the featured keynote address as part of the Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit April 9-11. To shed some light on Decisive, the latest book he wrote with his brother, Dan, here’s a recent Q&A the Heath brothers participated in, posted here with the permission of BrightSight Group. Here, the Heath brothers explain why we still make decisions like teenagers, why the “gut instinct” isn’t always to be trusted, and why your ‘Devil’s Advocate’ is probably entirely too angelic.

Chip Heath

Why did you think the arena of decision-making was worth another look beyond the current literature?

People have been studying decisions for a very long time. But most of the emphasis, traditionally, has been on the problems with people’s decision-making: the biases and irrationalities that we’re all prone to. So our approach was to flip that and ask: What are the solutions here? We know people tend to fall into certain traps, so how can they avoid them? How can they make better decisions?

Why aren’t we, as leaders, specifically taught good decision-making habits?

In corporate America, we’ve got this mythology of “the gut.” Great leaders should trust their gut! Rely on their instincts! We all seem to like this kind of swashbuckling image of an executive who can make a multimillion-dollar bet just because it feels right.

Unfortunately, there is very little reason to believe that we should be trusting our guts. We need to put our trust in a good process, not a smart “gut.” I’d draw an analogy to health care – great surgeons have phenomenal instincts, but they are also surrounded by systems and processes that bring out the best in them and minimize the chance of error. Those guardrails are what we need in decision-making, too.

Does time taken to reach a decision add to its quality?

Not necessarily. Often the best advice is the simplest, for instance, the suggestion to “sleep on it.” That’s great advice—it helps to quiet short-term emotion that can disrupt our choices. But it still takes 8 hours, and it doesn’t always resolve our dilemmas. Many other powerful decision aids require only a simple shift in attention.  Doctors leaning toward a diagnosis are taught to check themselves by asking, “What else could this be?” And colleagues making a difficult group decision can ask, “What would convince us, six months down the road, to change our minds about this?” Those are great tools, and they take minutes rather than months.

You write that “organizations often make decisions like teenagers.” How so?

A defining trait of teenagers is that they tend to make decisions without a thorough weighing of the consequences. That’s what makes them teenagers. But organizations often do the same thing. In our experience, leaders often spend a lot of time assessing a decision but very little time preparing for the possible outcomes of that decision. One smart technique we cite was created by the psychologist Gary Klein. He created a process called the premortem, where you say, “OK, team. We just made a decision. Let’s imagine that it’s a year from now, and it was a disaster. What went wrong?” Everyone assembles lists of fiasco scenarios and compares notes. Then you say, “Given what we’ve foreseen, how can we forestall as many of those outcomes as possible?” A premortem makes you humble enough to think, If I’m wrong, what then?

The ‘Devil’s Advocate’ approach seems too often delivered with a smile – not with the authenticity, relish and depth needed to ensure a profound consideration. What should this genuinely look like?

Here’s a real tough dilemma: We know that decisions are better when multiple points of view are aired out. Sometimes that means surfacing new perspectives, and sometimes that means disagreement. But of course there is an array of factors that tend to suppress those alternate points of view: politics, politeness, timidity, and so on. So one of the most important duties of a leader is to build a culture that allows people to raise objections or concerns or to flat-out disagree. There’s a great quote from Alfred Sloan, who was CEO of General Motors decades ago. He interrupted a committee meeting with a question: “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here?” All the committee members nodded. “Then,” Sloan said, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what this decision is about.” That’s the right spirit.

You recommend a “playlist” in the chapter “Find someone Who’s Solved Your Problem.” Do we struggle with this one because it’s hard for leaders to publicly acknowledge we have a problem that can’t be solved right away?

We came up with this term “playlist” to describe a concept that’s so simple that we can’t believe it’s not used by every organization in the world. The idea is no more profound than this: Leaders repeatedly make the same types of decisions, so shouldn’t they learn from the strategies used by previous leaders who faced those same situations? For instance, every manager will struggle at some point with an underperforming employee. How do you handle it? Wouldn’t it be great to have a “playlist” with a dozen reliable strategies for handling that situation? That way, as you build up the playlist over time, you’ve got concrete proof that your organization is getting more diligent about decision-making.

Where there any surprises in your research?

One of our biggest surprises was the research on narrow framing. Some Carnegie Mellon researchers published a study showing that when teens make decisions, only 30% of the time do they consider more than one alternative. They’re making “whether or not” decisions. I.e., I’m deciding whether or not to go to the party tonight. And that’s a real trap—it makes them overlook other options that are available to them. But here’s the twist: Organizations do the same thing! In a study of decisions authored by Paul Nutt, he discovered that only 29% of organizations considered more than one alternative. They were making decisions like teenagers! And of course all of us do the same thing in our personal lives. We get stuck thinking “whether or not” and ignoring the spectrum of options that are available to us.

Want to hear more from Chip Heath? Join us for our April 9-11 summit!

This article appears in the March 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at

Originally conducted for the American Society of Association Executives

Leadership development, innovation lead roster of April summit’s breakout sessions

With less than four weeks to go before we kick off our second-annual Leading Through Excellence summit, we’ve unveiled the full list of breakout sessions you’ll have the chance to experience throughout the day on Thursday, April 10, and Friday, April 11, in Columbus, Ohio.

The full list is available at our website, but here’s a quick look at some of the sessions available:

leading through excellence logoBehind the scenes at GE Aviation – It’s tough for many organizations to keep a fresh pipeline of leaders with the right problem-solving skills and cross-functional capabilities. Rick Guba, a Master Black Belt at GE Aviation, will offer an inside look at the company’s successful accelerated development process, which links skills and hands-on experience for a best-in-class learning model.

Kaizen 101 – Looking for a crash course in hosting a kaizen event week? Whitney Mantonya, owner of Collaborative Lean Solutions, will walk attendees through the purpose, flow, and structure of one, offering up a primer on basic tools and concepts applicable to all such events.

Leading from the middle – True lean success needs support from the top, but few organizations start out with this luxury. Ted Stiles, a partner with lean executive recruiting firm Stiles Associates, examines how creative mid-level leaders can navigate this landscape and the skills they must employ along the way to boost leadership engagement and influence without authority.

‘Buying’ a lean culture – Harvard University’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was showered with 90,000 employment applications annually, but they needed a new, efficient way to determine which potential hires would thrive in a lean environment and be an integral part to its ongoing success. Alice Lee, vice president of business transformation at Beth Israel, will share the pre-employment assessment tool that was developed and implemented.

Innovation and the element of surprise – Award-winning Fisher professor and researcher Aravind Chandrasekaran will share his research with more than 30 high-tech organizations into the “disruptive innovation” that has dealt a blow to some companies (Polaroid) and, with the right strategy, allowed others (IBM) to thrive.

Paper or plastic? – Through an interactive game that challenges preconceived notions about the environmental sustainability of products in our everyday lives, Fisher Asisstant Prof. Gökçe Esenduran will introduce the concept of the life-cycle assessment (LCA), a powerful tool to evaluate a product from the cradle to the grave.

And there are a dozen more where that came from. Register now before pricing increases April 1!

Featured summit tour: LeanCor trip to highlight visual management, employee engagement

lean fulfillment

Need to get out of town for a while?

The Center for Operational Excellence has expanded the scope of the April 9 plant tours offered as part of our three-day Leading Through Excellence summit to include a trip to LeanCor in Florence, Ky., in the Cincinnati metro area. Unlike the five other plant tours we’re offering Wednesday afternoon, this is an all-day experience that heads to two different operations LeanCor runs, both of which are models of enterprise-wide lean application.

The lean-focused third-party logistics provider supports 44 plants, five cross-docks, 1,700-plus suppliers, and 1,200-plus outbound shipping locations. In any given week, they coordinate the movement of 17,000 tons of cargo.

The exclusive summit tour is taking attendees to LeanCor’s control center for tactical transportation management, where visual management is used not just to track the movement of cargo but highlight problems. Brad Bossence, a LeanCor vice president, tells me the tour also highlights how leaders are engaged in problem-solving.

After lunch, the LeanCor tour heads to a 110,000-square-foot in-bound replenishment facility (pictured, above) the organization runs nearby, which supports a number of major automakers. Here, you’ll see how LeanCor has implemented visible metrics for tracking the engagement of the 100-worker team hour-by-hour, painting an agile, accurate picture of how workflow is moving.

We all stare down complexity day-in, day-out. LeanCor offers a compelling, multifaceted playbook for tackling it.

The LeanCor tour already is 50 percent booked. Check out details on this event and others we’re offering by visiting the official Leading Through Excellence site or registering.