MVP Seminars Blogs

Much as been written and said about teamwork and team building to the point now that it could be a bad cliché as unsuspecting employees run for cover when the boss springs on them another team building activity.  Besides now you could not get your staff off their phones long enough to even conduct an old skool Trust Fall exercise. 

Knowing that staff working together in a productive way is the key to meaningful productiveness, what is a leader to do?  Some take the approach of labeling, like calling employees teammates and forming them into workgroups.  That’s like calling your Hyundai a Ferrari.  It might make you temporarily feel better, you can even shut your eyes and rev the engine, but its still not the same thing.

Oh ya, you still might be wondering what I was doing at 2 AM to learn so much about teamwork?  I used to lead a search and rescue team for a sheriff’s department in Oregon.  From this I learned three critical things:  1. No time for endless meetings and planning.  Get your resources together and help your team get the job done.  2. Don’t get too hung up about the process, just get the persons found before they could die.  Anything less is a failed mission.  3. If you want your team to respect you and each other, there must be complete trust and communication.

I know is sounds so easy when I list them out that way, but it’s that darn ‘Trust and Communication’ part that so many have trouble with.  I promise you this, if you can achieve it, magic will happen.  Not only can you form high performance teams faster, but critical bond will be nearly unbreakable.  Teammates will go above and beyond for each other, even risk each other’s lives for one another.  Meanwhile your workgroup is till calling in sick.

Next time you have a big job to do, think of it as a search and rescue mission, in a storm, 2 AM, knowing you are not sleeping until the mission is complete.  It helps put everything into prospective real fast as far as who you want to help you and how are you all going to work together to get the job done efficiently and successfully.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Jack W. Peters

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I have been building a large cactus garden in the backyard. I thought I was almost done until the 10 tons of screened crushed white marble to be used as a decorative floor in the garden was delivered. The problem was not the quantity of rock - it was the quality... too many fines and rocks of varying sizes. I called the rock company (the retailer) about the inconsistency and was told that 1) they accept every shipment they get from their supplier and 2) I should have checked their inventory in the back before placing the order, even though they have samples near the office door in the front that supposedly shows what the product looks like. The rock could not be returned, so they took some money off my order. A two-day job became a 2-week job because they pushed their quality issue to me. I cannot use the rock "as is" because of the fines. The fines will prevent the water from getting to the plants, so I am manually screening them out with rakes, shovels and tarps before I place the good rock in the garden.

While doing this work, I thought about customer service, control points and standards. I also thought about the management perspectives that are ultimately responsible for my problem. Here's what I mean by that:

1) The retailer needed standards that were firmly established with suppliers, a process for insuring that the product they accepted matched the samples they showed the public, and a process for rejecting a load if it did not meet their standards. But... without a change in perspective about who owned the problem, these process changes would not be enforced. 2) The marble supplier obviously had screens that needed to be repaired and had blasting inconsistencies. Process improvement work would have focused on the screens and blasting practices, but without a change in management's perspective about shipping a consistent product, neither process change would have been sustainable. Do you work with departments that "push" problems downstream? Has the "rehandle" downstream been accepted as "just the way we work here"? Have you even staffed for it? When I find departments who think it's OK to push a problem downstream, I know that managers in the level above that department believe it's OK too. Process improvements can be designed to stop the "push", but if management layers above do not change what they believe about this issue, the process changes will not be sustained. The internal cost of this kind of rehandle is seldom measured, but is significant because it "sucks" resources away from value-added work and adds unmeasured dollars to the cost of the final product. Management perspectives, not equipment or systems, are ultimately responsible for the quality of a product or service.
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In 1902, Mr. James Cash Penney founded the J.C. Penney Corporation. When he was in his 80's, he was still actively leading the company. At that time, a reporter asked him if his vision was still good. He answered "My eyesight is not as good as it used to be, but my vision has never been better." An organization's vision is formed by the executive team that leads it. That vision is directly connected to potential (what could be achieved and what is possible to change). Executive teams are often told that leadership is the key to achieving their vision and capturing potential. Leadership is a great asset and is essential to running a profitable company, but more is required to capture potential. Why? Because management tools and processes used for decision-making and problem solving are not linked to potential, which handicaps executives as they try to improve performance. This gap in management systems disconnects potential from day to day activities and prevents new perspectives on the relationship between potential, actuals and budgets from forming. As a result, companies depend on the budget and long-term plans to deliver the growth they have promised to the board. Unachievable performance targets may be unintentionally set, which causes mistrust between management and the workforce. People will unknowingly protect the wrong things, causing losses (sometimes significant) to occur that are not measured and putting their own credibility at risk. For every management team, credibility is everything, especially for those who were hired to solve problems that the last person couldn't solve. A new perspective about potential will help executives connect their people to potential growth, meet expectations and accelerate the change required to achieve the vision.
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When organizations get smaller, the KPIs are headcount and lower labor/benefit costs. After the reduction occurs, most planned, scheduled or processes related to day to day activities continue on with fewer people with the "hope" that some steps in day to day activities are simplified to "match" the new lower capability of the smaller workforce.

But what about problems? Why is it important to consider problems in a downsizing mode? Let's say that the workforce is reduced by 10%. My observation is that 90% of the people are left dealing with 100% of the problems that were occurring prior to the actual reduction in force. Going forward from that date, the problem load may actually increase because there are fewer people to analyze, investigate or solve problems and fewer people to prevent problems from occurring. Additional profit dollars associated with lower manpower costs are often offset by a higher problem load that is unmeasured.

In this environment, it is MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER to take on recurring problems as a very important way to improve productivity and reduce costs.
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Taking action to capture potential improvements is what change is all about. For the past 100 years, we have used a process-focused approach to do that with limited success. Some companies report significant improvements in production or cost but how many of those improvements are sustained? Other companies experience shortfalls in the expected returns, both for profit and culture change. Again, process changes are made but the results just don't materialize.

Logic tells me that there must be barriers preventing our actions from having the impact that they should have on performance and culture and that those barriers reside outside of the process work. What is sitting on the outside of process improvement work? The culture and the management system, the sources of barriers to change. The lid on a jar prevents anything in the jar from escaping and prevents anything on the outside from getting in. Barriers to change act like the lid on a jar - they hide potential or keep it just out of reach and they prevent new ways of thinking from helping us change faster. We have a vision for what can be accomplished but the invisible lid on the jar prevents us from achieving it. We can't see the lid, so we don't understand the dynamics at work - we just know that we are doing great work on the process side and things still don't change as expected. With millions at stake, it is time to focus on the barriers to change and take the lid off the jar.
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We can overcome most workplace stress.  Changing up a few  practices at work including taking "breaks" helps to reduce stress and recharge creativity, focus and productivity.

The following tips will help to create mindfulness at work which will reduce stress, according to the research.  These strategies are applicable to corporate employees and small business owners as well as home based entrepreneurs:

  •          Become intentionally aware of what is happening in the moment without  judgment.  See things as they are.  Do not take negative feedback or rudeness "personally."
  •          Mindful emailing can be as simple as drafting a message, taking three mindful breaths, and then re-reading the message from the perspective of the receiver before sending.
  •          Before answering a phone or making a call, take a few deep breaths.
  •          Before starting a meeting take three mindful breaths or take a few minutes before the meeting to sit with everyone and practice mindfulness meditation together.
  •          Learn how to best cope with difficult colleagues by talking with an expert or attending a seminar.
  •          Practice basic mindfulness meditation, listening meditation and walking meditation.
  •        Take a break when you need it.  Release frustration and anger with "silent scream", relaxation breathing and  exercise.

Getting  started  with any new habit patterns can be tough. There may be a few bumps in the road on the way to your goal, and that’s why it’s important not to take that personally (be objective as possible) and stay positive.  Taking all aspects of a situation into consideration  prevents  self-sabotage.  Having a realistic goal within a realistic time frame is important within a bigger picture.  These are the “R” and “T” in SMART  Goals:

Specific  The goal should identify a specific action or event that will take place. Measurable  The goal and its benefits should be quantifiable. Achievable  The goal should be attainable given available resources. Realistic  The goal should require you to stretch some and point towards success. Timely  The goal should state the time period in which it will be accomplished Write your goal in positive language.  The more positive instructions you give yourself, the more positive results you get!  Review and re-prioritize your goals frequently. Give yourself permission to change your mind.  Pay attention to your body, feelings, thoughts and intuitive self!    
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Have you ever been on the receiving end of a problem that no one would help you solve, even if they had the authority to do so? You provided data and observations about the problem's existence and explained how it impacted production, cost, earnings and/or culture. You talked to the person or persons that had authority over the problem, but those individuals either denied that the problem existed, washed their hands of it, or said that it was someone else's problem to solve (even if there was "no one else"). Right now I have a wireless internet problem that does not seem to have an owner. This problem is preventing me from backing up some data, which is kind of a big deal. Every company that I talk to says that it is out of their control - the internet provider, the router company and the company that made the device that I am uploading the data from. The problem is real - I have data that I have collected on speeds and have narrowed down the scope based on what the data shows. I have shared that data and was told that the problem was "out of our control". I have not given up and continue to escalate the problem to a higher level, hoping that I can get some assistance but do not know if I will be successful.

I could give many examples where management chose to ignore a problem, even though that choice was tied to a production loss, higher costs or a loss of trust. In addition to these losses, the person making that choice ALWAYS lost credibility with others in management and/or the workforce. Management priorities would change if we could quantify the losses associated with choices to ignore problems. But... before we track the losses (financial and cultural), we must first stop accepting this choice as "management's discretion". Until we change our perspective on what we are willing to accept as "OK", unrecorded losses will continue and the people directly impacted by an unsolved problem will continue to work around it the best that they can, knowing that it's "management choice" that they continue to struggle with the issue.
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If we can't or won't solve a problem in the workplace, it's usually because 1) we believe we can't because we have never seen it solved before or 2) the actions required to solve it go against the "management sub-culture". What is the management sub-culture? It's the common set of beliefs and behaviors that exist within a management team. These beliefs and behaviors impact decisions, communications, promotions, acceptance of problems, etc. They trickle down from the top and materialize in different forms, depending on the management level.

Example: Let's say that a production problem between two departments increases. The problem is not addressed because management promotes "silo behavior" through a lack of transparency between departments and rewards it via the incentive plan. Management's sub-culture says that they get to choose which problems to solve. This team chooses to focus on problems that exist within each department and avoids problems between departments because conflict could be involved. As a result, there is no effort to estimate the loss associated with these kinds of problems. Now, let's say that the BOD of this company is looking at this scenario from the outside in, maybe taking a 30,000 foot view. They see a problem that is costing the company $5,000,000 (lost margin and increased costs) and discover that people know that it is not being solved. From their perspective, they see a team of technical experts in their field that has chosen to forfeit profit to avoid conflict. They see a management system that 1) encourages conflict avoidance at the department level, 2) promotes a lack of collaboration through the back door (i.e., through low transparency and incentive rewards) and 3) sustains a culture that excludes some problems from the project report. Does any BOD "expect" problems between departments to not be solved? Do they accept the cost of such problems as part of the cost of doing business? In the annual report or 10Q, shareholders are used to seeing explanations of earnings shortfalls like "higher equipment downtime", "an act of God weather event", "extended planned shutdown", etc. Would they accept an explanation of a $5,000,000 loss that read "conflict between departments"? I am sure that you would agree that the answer to all of these hypothetical questions is "NO"! The truth is that losses related to problems between departments do occur and do go unsolved, sometimes for years. Those losses are either reflected in a lower net production volume or are buried in variable costs. Either way they make their way to the annual report but remain invisible. We could make more money if these kinds of problems were just as important to solve as asset efficiency. What if we looked at these kinds of problems with this perspective? Would it be easier for management teams to make a different choice and solve them? I believe the answer is "yes".
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Fewer and fewer people coming into the workforce do so having been brought up with any set of value system in place. With these missing values, also comes the absence of business etiquette. Teach organizational values, believe in them, and back them up. Regularly discuss your team’s/organization’s values. This should be a part of your everyday conversation and clearly defines where you are going as a team/organization. Discuss each person’s role on the team – inclusion – how they each will play a part in taking the organization where the vision says they are going. An organization's values should not come as a surprise as if it is heard for the first time; these values should be discussed on a regular basis so that the entire organization lives and breaths them. From the highest levels of management and leadership, to the most serving of positions, company values should be the life that is preached and lived. Remember, it is one thing to say them, it is another thing entirely to live them.
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New questions lead to new solutions for old problems. New questions give companies access to their upside potential, to growth, to hidden equipment capacity and more. Sometimes new questions make it obvious that the wrong thing is being protected and that a better solution is just out of reach. Have you ever thought about the questions managers and employees ask (and the questions that are never asked)? For example, when reviewing budgets, are the questions ONLY about how people will meet budget? Does anyone ever ask "How much better than budget can we be?"

There are two reasons why questions tied to potential are NOT asked:

1) Historically, decisions about investments, targets, costs, etc. are made using 2 sets of data: budget and actual. Data directs focus. Neither data set is tied to potential. Adding a "3rd set of data" linked to potential helps create a mindset focused on potential. If all 3 sets of data are used in decision-making and communications, they collectively reveal information about change and potential that prompts new questions and new solutions not limited by "meeting the budget" thinking. 2) Management does not want their assumptions to be questioned. The price paid for this approach is VERY HIGH but SELDOM MEASURED. If people are not free to question the status quo, companies are "trapped in the present" and will not be able to maximize earnings, improve culture or sustain change, despite the investment in high cost change initiatives. Are people asking questions about how much better you can be? Is anyone listening? Do you have data that can help answer that question? If you answered "no" to all these questions, change is constrained by a lack of data related to potential OR by a management choice that limits what can be achieved. Both conditions occur due to a lack of awareness about how to connect people to potential. Once the losses attached to these conditions become clear, it is easy to make the changes required to maximize growth. It is also easier for management teams to abandon ol practices and old ways of thinking in favor of practices that make more money and help people change faster.
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