Food for Thought "If you have the right people, with good, basic values and good work ethic, you can have a tremendous journey."

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Food for Thought 2 "The follow-up in my Food for Thought series, with more focus on my experiences with Six Sigma and Kaizen."

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December 17, 2014

A Test To Help Weigh The Risks

Filed under: Leadership Skills,Motivation,Professional Development — Alec @ 3:42 pm

Every day — in life and business — is a test. And if you like tests as much as I do, you are in luck!

The tests come in many forms, usually: Think, Produce, Value

We have to Produce, but we also must Think and plan some depending on the complexity, value and risk associated with the work to be accomplished.

I am a very big risk taker, but I always want to take into account and estimate the cost or severity of failure. I always want to evaluate the ability to reverse my actions. In other words, it is an easy and inexpensive risk to test a new flavor of tea, but very expensive and hard to reverse risk to buy a new convertible on a whim.

It is essential to understand the impact on the company, boss, employees and goals when considering high value and high severity actions. Corrections are easy on a wrong flavored cup of tea, but not so easy on a $250,000 machine that proves wrong.

And finally, the real score keeper is the customer. How will they accept and evaluate the risks you take and their inevitable success or failure?

In your Plan for 2015 you have already thought about what next year should look like. Now you need to analyze the details and Think:

1. What do you really want to or need to accomplish?
2. What risks are you willing to take? What is the Value of these risks?

Sometimes it takes a little nudge to stop, wake up, and think about your 5-year plan and make sure your 1-year plan fits with the bigger picture.

So, do a little mental reboot, nudge your risk-taking dream machine, and don’t be afraid to think about what you REALLY want.

Need help with your reboot? Call us! We love dreaming about what your company could be. We will help you pass your next big test.

December 9, 2014

Kaizen Listening : Using Your Ears and Eyes

Filed under: Food for thought for friends,Leadership Skills — Alec @ 3:47 pm

Nonverbal communication is probably the single most powerful form of communication and the least recognized. After leading numerous Kaizen events and People Leadership Seminars, I have realized that you hear just as much with your eyes as you do with your ears.

I am sure teachers have known this little fact for years. They can easily tell what students are listening, who wants to ask a question and even more so, who doesn’t want to be called on. Small observations will quickly tell you who is listening, who is bored and who is daydreaming. By taking notice of body language, facial expressions, hand gestures and eye movements you can see the thoughts of those around you almost as obviously as you can by the tone or volume of someone’s speech. Sometimes you even learn more!

As I facilitate classes and try to engage people in participation, I can tell who has a question or who does not understand, but would like to (most of the time). Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of groups, let alone speaking their mind in mixed company at work. By utilizing subtle cues in body language and listening to each other, we can better communicate through issues in the workplace, find effective ways to complete projects and get everyone on the team to participate.

February 6, 2014

Conflict Management : Keeping the Conversation Going

A lot of team building is getting all the team members to play nicely in the sand box together. We do a lot of Personal Development classes that end up being Conflict Management sessions. I am surprised how often I have to say, “name calling is NOT allowed”.

There is a great book written called The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton. The main idea of this book is that bullying behavior at work actually worsens both morale and productivity. And in order to lessen the effects of toxic people in the workplace, some companies have instituted the no asshole rule. Basically some people are just that and the word jerk or bully doesn’t have the same power. Get rid of them; they are like rotten apples and one bad apple will ruin the whole bushel.

I have a poor memory for bad situations, but I never remember calling someone an ass at work. I might have called them an ass behind their back or in my head. I also don’t ever recall saying to someone’s face, “It is none of your business!” Although it is possible I did at some point. When emotions are high, conflict arises and people say things they don’t mean. If you find this happening you might also want to read Crucial Conversations : Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. This book speaks to how communication stops when emotions rise. It discusses effectively talking about anything safely and how to transform anger and hurt feelings into an open dialogue.

With these two books you will be have the tools at your disposal to handle most workplace conflict and keep your emotions under control at the office.



October 28, 2013

Who’s to Blame?

Filed under: Leadership Skills,Professional Development,Six Sigma — Alec @ 8:05 pm

Maybe 10 years ago we were having a rash of big scrap issues. Percentage wise it was not terrible, but it seemed we would scrap the whole order of a production run. The root causes were always a little different, but unfortunately they were usually human error.

My 6 Sigma background would always push me to ask questions and look for the secondary cause. I rarely would accept “employee error” as a root cause. After about 3 occurrences in one month of having scrap issues that cost us a whole order, I began to dig deeper. At our weekly production meeting someone mentioned that the operator had typed in the wrong offset on the new tool and not done a first piece. The prior 2 scrap issues had a similar human error tone.

One of the Managers repeated what I had often said, “What is the real root cause? We can’t blame the operator. Was he trained properly?” I was fed up and said without thinking, “I have had enough of this no blame bull pucker!”. There was a big laugh and it eventually became a joke phrase in the future. But the thing is, I was half sincere. We must hold people accountable.

I don’t want to blame people for their errors. In fact, I want them to take calculated risks. In other words, the reward of success is significant and the consequence of failure is small. But, I want them to be accountable for what they say, do what they say they are going to do and do it when they said. Or just be honest and tell me they are not going to do it.

See the Rick Lochner article below titled: “This accountability crap is for the birds…” it brought back memories of my “No blame bull pucker” moment.

August 28, 2013

MasterMind Alliance : Join our upcoming program!

Filed under: Leadership Skills,Professional Development,Services — Alec @ 3:30 pm

Starting in September, I will be co-facilitating the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce MasterMind Alliance groups with my sister-in-law Pinky McPherson, who is also a business consultant that focuses on developing people and talent within organizations. You don’t need to live in the Lowell area to participate, all are welcome!

If you have any questions, please contact Pinky McPherson at 616-446-5076 or
Contact the Lowell Chamber of Commerce at 616-897-9161 or to register.


Who do you turn to when you need to discuss a decision that can impact your business or employees?

Tap into the knowledge and experience of a group of your peers by joining the Lowell Area Chamber MasterMind Alliance. This group of business owners or people in top level business management is committed to listening and lending a fresh perspective to situations you face every day and some you have never encountered until now. All they ask is that you do the same for them in return. This is a chance to help your business, organization, your peers and your community.

WHEN: 2nd Tuesdays of the Month
September through June, 2013 – 2014

TIME: Choice of Alliance Group
Early Morning 7:30 am – 9 am
Lunch 11:30 am – 1 pm

WHERE: Flat River Outreach Ministry Board Room
11535 E Fulton, Lowell MI

WHY:  A Rewarding Program That Leads To Great Business Decisions!


1. Share Best Practices: Make well-informed business decisions based on the experiences of the group

2. Resolve Challenges: Have a group of trusted peers to openly and honestly share difficult and sensitive issues and learn what actions they took to overcome similar challenges

3. Leadership Development: Self Improvement both formally an informally

4. Enhanced Business Experience: Develop a unique synergy with group members, who often become confidants, to more fully enjoy the experience of being a business owner, CEO, Site Manager or Executive Director

5. Business Growth: Connect with your group to find the information and resources you need to manage change.

6. Valued Network / Advisors: Trusted individuals who serve as a sounding board, provide fellowship and an empathic ear, and are a phone call away

HOW DOES IS WORK ? You will be placed into a group:
• 7 to 12 men and women just like you, with non-competing businesses
• Become trusted advisors, coaches, counsel, trainers, and friends
• Assist each others business to go to the next level through the discussion, challenging questions and shared ideas
• Meet on the 2nd Tuesday of the month, September through June
• Structured meetings with some flexibility
• Participants give and receive coaching
• Participants help others manage their commitments
• Professionalism is an expectation and Confidentiality is a requirement
• Investments will be invoiced bi-annually
• Facilitators will guide the culture and structure of the meetings

$1100 per year for Chamber Members
$1300 for non-members
(A light breakfast or lunch will be provided)

Hope you will join us and I wish you success in the days ahead!

July 12, 2013

Personality Profiles : Who We Are Today and Who We Want to Be

On my recent trip to the UK I was reading about and listening to a television show about the personality profiles of managers. One of the discussions was about entrepreneurs and the personality traits of successful entrepreneurs and successful senior execs.

At one of the many job interviews I went on in the last thirty years I was trying to outsmart my interviewer on a series of those blasted Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessments. The only result I got was that I outsmarted myself. I answered questions based on what I thought my personality profile should be or what I wanted it to be. I also took a Mensa test about the same time and found out that I am not that smart. In fact, I think I am getting dumber as I get older!

Over the last thirty-five years I think that some of my personality profiles have changed because of new things I have learned or habits I have implemented. Hopefully I am becoming more tolerant and a better listener. It makes me think that we all need to decide what our “real” personality profile is. Sort of like the old adage of dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Think about how you can adapt like this in the workplace and how can it make you successful? Now sell it! Maybe you have already figured this out? In that case you are ahead of me.

I used to tell headhunters that I was a team player, a people-person, data-driven, results-oriented, used tough love, and so on. The article suggested that successful entrepreneurs are driven, never accept failure, obsessive, rule-breakers (can’t accept paradigms), and risk-takers who think out of the box and love change. I thought, “Wow, that is ALMOST me.” I want to be a people-person, a team leader, and not a micro manager. But I think I am an obsessive-compulsive data person, a huge risk-taker, who loves change almost to the point of loving change for the sake of change. I hate rules, policies, procedures, and the corporate mandates that slow change (almost to the point of cheating on corporate procedures or rewriting them, but not to the point of breaking any “major” laws), and I love to be around hard-working people; I can’t tolerate slackers. I am driven, almost anal about finding a way to win. I love contests and incentives almost to a passion.

The article also suggested that successful entrepreneurs have huge egos, are extremely self-confident, terrible team players and love seventy-hour weeks. None of which fit my profile (LOL). Only because I don’t like to work seventy-hour weeks anymore….I know my average is only about fifty-five to sixty (like I said, I am an obsessive-compulsive data person so I track this meticulously).

I sometimes think that headhunters want to hear that you are a mean SOB who gets results. Companies say they want people-people, team players, etc., but they really want results at almost any cost. So, feel out the role and the interviewer but make sure you know who you want to be in that interview for that particular job. Knowing who you are and who you want to be never hurts. If you have never taken a Personality Profile, don’t be afraid to give me a call and try one out.

June 27, 2013

Getting Results : Delivery and Dollars

Filed under: Leadership Skills,Motivation,Professional Development — Alec @ 4:49 pm

Some of the best employees I ever had work for me were the very same employees someone else thought I should let go. This has always been a mystery to me – I don’t know how to explain this other than maybe it is the job, or sometimes the employee versus boss chemistry, could be the boss, might be the employee motivation, or every so often it is just timing. I have also been let go several times in my career. I know there were things I could have done differently, but most of the time it was just either chemistry or the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, I always liked to think it was the boss just making a mistake (LOL). Judge your people for yourself. Don’t always take another’s word for it.

In my opinion, as managers we have a huge impact on what our people produce. This is a product of the power of positive expectation, the willingness to tolerate and even encourage diversity. The power of listening and involving leads to more motivated employees and creates a better work environment for our employees.

What do we want? On-time delivery or Dollars? Obviously, we want both. If I had to state a number of priorities in order, it would be as follows:

  1. Involve, encourage, enrich, listen, train, and fairly compensate our employees.
  2. Customer satisfaction numbers. Service. Quality. On-time Delivery.
  3. The numbers, EBITDA dollars, Cash Dollars, Ship dollars, Order dollars (in that order—percent does not count).

And, of course we want all three!

If we empower and train our people as well as understand the metrics in goals #2 and #3, we will have a winner. Let your people make the daily decisions that improve the numbers.

June 19, 2013

Leadership Skills : How to Improve

Filed under: Leadership Skills,Professional Development,Services — Alec @ 5:43 pm

How many of you think you are excellent leaders? How many can show evidence of being an excellent leader?

Being an excellent leader is like a bicycle racer who rarely has a flat tire. A small slow leak can be very costly in a race because it leads to lost speed and eventually a need to change the tire. A puncture is a quick flat and it too will cost the racer precious immediate time to change a tire. The worst situation would be a blow out that costs not only time but also can be dangerous to the racer if they lose control of the bicycle.

In leadership a small error in judgment can cost sales, profit and time and a major error may cause serious injury to the company.

Bicycle flats can be reduced by planning ahead and maintenance. Repeated errors or flats will cost you the race. The racer on the pro circuit may have a support team, but ultimately the racer is responsible. The concept is the same in business. Leadership errors can be reduced by thinking ahead, planning, listening, reviews, and goal alignment. Errors by the support team, whether known or unknown by the Leadership, become the fault of the CEO.

You can reduce your risk of bicycle flats by buying the right tires, doing research and hiring the right support team. Knowing your craft such as inflating the tires to the right pressure, training properly and communication will be essential to preventing errors. It helps if you miss broken glass and potholes on the course, stay focused on direction and are able to adjust your course quickly. These same thoughts apply to being a good leader; know your craft, do your research, train properly, communicate effectively, pay attention, and stay focused so you can adjust your course if needed.

Racing tires usually lose a few pounds of air every day and wear a little every day with use, especially the rear tire. In business, your team may lose a little productivity or focus on a goal. They may skip a step, or not listen well. In order to keep your performance level high, it is necessary for the CEO to observe his/her environment and adapt the plan frequently to keep on course.

Evidence of being a good Bicyclist is winning the race. Evidence of good Leadership is finishing higher than last year.

June 5, 2013

Finding New Solutions

Picture it : You are driving down the road in your 2004 Corvette Convertible on a wild stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop. You see three people waiting for the bus:

1. An old lady who looks as if she is about to die

2. An old friend who once saved your life

3. The perfect life partner you have been dreaming about

Which one would you choose to offer a ride to knowing that there could only be one passenger in your car? What a dilemma! Think it over for a minute and commit to an answer before you continue reading.

This is a moral/ethical dilemma that was once actually used as part of a job interview. It definitely presents a variety of options for you to consider. You could pick up the ailing old lady and thus you should save her first. Or you could take the old friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back. And then there is that Perfect Partner – right in front of you! You may never be able to find your perfect mate again. What do you do?


The candidate who was hired (out of 200 applicants) had no trouble coming up with his answer. He simply answered, “I would give the car keys to my old friend and let him take the old lady to the hospital. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of my dreams.” Bet you didn’t see that coming?

Never forget to think outside of the box. Sometimes, we gain more if we are able to give up our stubborn thought limitations.

Talk to McPherson Lean Partners, we can help you ask the right questions and think of new solutions.

May 13, 2013

Making Good Decisions, Better

Visualize your best employee. Now let’s make some assumption based on this employee. I am guessing that you know 75% – 80% of what your best employee is doing. I am guessing that your best employee knows 75% – 80% what you want him/her to do and that they are doing it 75% – 80% of the time. Lastly, I am assuming that those 75% – 80% are similar but not identical.

Of course, there is also the list the employee wants to work on and that you do not want them to work on!!!

Concerning your best employee, would you agree with the following statements: [1] you have a clear expectation of their job description [2] they have a similarly clear expectation and [3] they usually work on those defined and mutually agreed tasks/goals.

If each of those three statements is 90% accurate, the resultant is 72% harmony. If the three of those statements is 80% accurate, the resultant is only 50% harmony. Big difference right? I think we would agree that having a clear agreement is critical to success.

I have read studies that show the best employee will individually:

• Make the best decision 30% – 50% of the time

• Make a good decision 67% of the time

• Make not so good decisions 20%+

• Make no decision the rest of the time

Multiply these out and the best case scenario for a “good” employee – 90% x 90% x 90% x 67% = 49% – gives you a 49% chance that the best decision on tasks and goals you want completed. The more probable result is not as high given 80% x 80% x 80% x 67% = 35%.

All these stats apply to your good employees. As you can imagine, bad employees are worse and can even be negative. Why? Our offices are too far apart. Studies show if your office is more than 25% away from someone, the communications accuracy drops. Email isn’t helping, but the telephone call does. Other leading factors include: We do not have clear succinct job descriptions with 3 to 5 short understandable points (25 words or less); The job descriptions are not measurable; and/or we don’t review them often enough.

If we want to fix the communication issues above, we must continue to do Management & Leadership Training that includes both Communication and Listening Skills development. Not just a one-hour speech, rather a session focused on habit changes, or time-spaced class structured around listening, communicating, decision-making, and team work.

Face-to-face daily Gemba walks reviewing an employees measurables or metrics will help tremendously (if you are not familiar with Gemba walks they are a fundamental part of lean manufacturing and include the action of going to see the actual process, understand the work, ask questions, and learn). Team decision making on critical issues helps employees make the best decision more often, but management and leadership training are the key.

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