Balancing Process With Flexibility

For profit businesses must actually create a profit. Not that there is necessarily a link to the stock market. Tesla has only lost money and has a higher market cap than Ford that earned $5 billion in profit last year.

But I digress…

Most common sense assessments of why a business needs a process would be centered on manufacturing companies. Even a truly custom shop can have standardized processes for performing certain actions and this can help manage repetitive activities in a very efficient way.

The rise of service businesses such as McDonald’s and Subway showed the process, in all its glory and simplicity, right in front of the customer.

Every Big Mac has “two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” And yes, I did that from memory without checking “the Google.”

The supply chain for quick serve restaurants and other businesses that deal with fresh produce requires improved ordering so that the freshness can be achieved without paying extra shipping costs. Providers to the fresh produce industry have started to use different types of insulated packaging to protect from heat and cold. The user probably said “we need better packaging to reduce spoilage” and the wise packaging rep told his or her marketing department about the new product opportunity.

At this point the new product development system kicked into gear and assessments were completed and protoypes developed (I am simplifying this description) so that these new products would satisfy and retain the customers.

If you are efficient then you should be more profitable. But this is also over-simplifying things. If the product doesn’t help the customer get its job done effectively (yes, even a customer at McD’s has a job to be done – enjoy a meal so they can make it through the day) then you may not sell what you need to cover costs. While you may be controlling variable costs with efficient processes, you also need volume and margin to cover your fixed costs and earn a profit.

This approach also holds true in marketing. There are efficient ways that certain processes can help improve your effectiveness in each of the 4P’s. And there is also the need for flexibility to adapt as customer needs change or PESTLE influences impact your company or industry.

And then there is the human factor. One person in the process that has a tiny brain cramp at the wrong time may result in no pickles or onions on your Big Mac, potentially creating a dissatisfied customer. Despite the training and reinforcement, things will happen. And that is why process work must be continually evaluated and the people in the process need to be guided appropriately. Help them understand how important each person and step is to attain customer satisfaction. Train them on their importance and how it needs to fit within your broader customer-centric focus.

Be flexible enough to learn from those that are deeply involved in the process. This is true in any industry and situation. Those on the front lines will provide their opinion and views. It is up to you as leadership to assess and determine if their suggestions are worthwhile or should be parked for now. Remember that you need to respect people’s opinions if you ask for them. And you should be humble enough to know that you won’t know every answer. Your people need to have some level of flexibility to make the right decision.

As I learned in a leadership course twenty years ago “if it is not illegal, immoral, and nobody gets physically hurt” then whatever the person did is probably OK. Or it can be easily corrected without making them feel bad.

And this should help you be more profitable in the long-term.


Trappar’s Teachings

If you are a dog person I believe you will readily understand my perspective today.

If you are not a dog person, trust me and have a read. You can always let me know what you think later. A comment on the word press site or via LinkedIn would suffice.

I have had a dog for most of my life. And I really like dogs, too. They are like children that need to learn about the rules for safety, eating, and having fun. Their lives are full of wonder and investigation, whether inside or outside.

Responsible dog owners know there is a lot of work involved raising a dog. As a parent, you are usually trying to help your children learn what they should be doing to help Rover get trained.

Our five year old golden retriever, Trappar, is a gem. I believe he was brought to us to help teach me…patience and problem-solving. I will translate using the TK3 Consulting approach – review, refocus and recharge.

He has a great motor and needs to get worked every day. Our morning routines of fetch in two different fields with two different canine pals is always an interesting endeavor. There is always so much for him to sniff because there is a lot of garbage in the field from the kid’s soccer the previous evening, or in the school yard itself.

Up until two weeks ago I would get frustrated at his sporadic efforts to retrieve the ball on some mornings. Usually he is speedy and an excellent retriever. Other times he will chase the ball, grab it, look at me, then drop it and go off on an investigation. I cannot explain why it took me almost four years to realize that if I let him do his sniff and investigation first, then he will chase and retrieve much more consistently. This was me learning to review the situation to determine the challenge (my patience to understand his need)  and consider alternate solutions.

There was another aspect that was at play. Chasing the same old ball was getting boring for him. While it was a favorite, those dog years were flying by and the ball was not quite as new and exciting. I needed to refocus on alternatives and I have also started to bring a different ball. It is a lacrosse ball that he found at one of the fields and he loves it! I am not surprised that this new target has heightened his interest and speed in retrieving.

These slight changes to the old routine have allowed Trappar to really enjoy his morning activities. And I have a much more positive mindset and I really enjoy our time together. This is clearly part of the recharge of our morning performance for both of us.

I now find myself noticing a lot more of the nature and the surroundings because I am more calm and attentive. Because I am calm Trappar is also calm. He is walking a lot more off leash (yes, I have it with me) and he is very obedient. I do not put us in a position where something can go wrong, especially with the morning idiots driving and not stopping at the intersections we have to cross.

And this “fresh Tim of River Park South” has let me become more relaxed and able to concentrate on work-related activities. My thinking is clearer again, and my ideas and thoughts are deeper.

What have you done in your work or personal life to take specific actions to improve your performance? I would bet a glow in the dark ball, or two, that working through these three steps to address a specific situation will help you gain clarity and a new outlook.



Leading by example?

Every morning Trappar and I walk through two soccer fields, a baseball diamond, and two school yards.

And every morning my faithful PI (puppy investigator) finds numerous morsels and sundry other garbage to comb through.

We often see a group doing their morning fitness regimen, whom we have seen since Trappar was a puppy. One day they were asking about his fetching in the field because he was still carrying his ball. I replied that he just uncovered something, I am not sure what, that he wolfed down in one gulp. To which one person replied, “it might have been pizza or hot dog left from the fundraiser we held there last night.” Polite laughter ensued.

We continued to the other field for additional running, and the comment bothered me. Why would an adult think it was funny that leftover food, or garbage, was left lying around the schoolyard for an inquisitive dog to find?

What kind of leadership does this show from parents? Every day on our morning walks we see so much trash left blowing around in the fields and in the schoolyards. We are trying to teach the kids about their responsibility for climate change and the future of the earth and they cannot walk five feet to deposit garbage in the receptacle or recycling into the appropriate container?!?!?!

And it gets worse. There are speed reduction zones around the schools that were instituted a few years ago because of concerns for speeding vehicles and the danger to kids crossing the streets. A noble effort.

Except that the worst offenders are the darn parents that speed into or out of the parking lot to drop their kids at school/daycare. They do not stop at the sidewalk to check for pedestrians. I know because we have almost been hit a couple of times.

These same people never, I mean NEVER, come to a full stop at a stop sign or when they enter a main route from a side street. I cannot count how many times we have almost been hit, the countless times I have yelled “STOP your wheels from turning” as we cross the street at a four way stop.

And finally you have the drivers that zig zag around a bus or vehicle that is turning so they can get around them. This is most often done when it is dangerous to do so as the cars have to brake to avoid the collision. Driving past one of the local high schools yesterday, I witnessed four near collisions with the same vehicle because of this driving pattern by a student driver.

There is a phrase I learned years ago – that which you permit you promote. Apparently, the actions of these parents are being mimicked by the kids.

Yes, I know this is a rant after last week’s inspirational post.

But it is damn irritating to witness this behaviour and the outcomes on a regular basis. The garbage cans along the sidewalk are not regularly emptied by the municipal government. And the garbage cans in the schoolyards are also not regularly emptied.


And this got me thinking a bit more. These parents act this way, and obviously condone the actions/inactions of their kids. What are they like in their daily jobs?

Do they care about good doing work? Are they responsible and supportive teammates? Do they go the extra mile for their customers? Do they drive their company vehicles with the same disdain for traffic rules and common courtesy that I see when they drive their own vehicles? Rhetorical question for sure!

The unfortunate outcome is that I am worried that people care a lot less about these important things – our earth and personal safety – than they like to claim. They are not teaching their kids or setting the right example.

And these people don’t care about the job they do because they are “owed” something for being as great as they are.

It is no wonder the level of labour productivity in Canada is lower than most other OECD nations.

Personal accountability is sorely lacking on so many fronts.

Change our behaviours and we set the right example for our kids, and colleagues and fellow citizens, to follow.

It is time to be a leader.

Time to pick up the trash.

Strong Roots…and Wings!

When my oldest son graduated from high school ten years ago, I read one of the best lines about parenting that I have ever uncovered. Henry Ward Beecher said: “There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One of these is roots . . . the other, wings.”

As our son prepared to head to the U.S. for university, this quote was always on my mind. Throughout his studies, football, and other aspects of growing up away from home, there always seemed to be a reminder of the power and applicability of this quote.

And the story continued when his brother joined him at the same university.

They both had a solid scholastic upbringing from K to 12, enjoyed playing many sports, being involved in volunteer opportunities, and participating in other community activities. They really prepared for their life’s work with these strong roots.

They suffered their fair share of emotional and physical bumps along the way. And the foundation they established helped them demonstrate resilience to overcome these obstacles. We provided and encouraged their personal building of a strong base of self-confidence, hard work, and faith. Supporting their decision to go away to school was quite the literal application of “giving them wings.”

And proudly seeing them as fine young men today is a testament to their foundation and personal commitment to do good work every day.

This is school graduation season as I see so many signs around the city for upcoming graduation ceremonies, fundraising activities, and convocation events.

As an instructor at the U of Manitoba in the Continuing Education division, I am attending the graduation ceremonies in another couple of weeks. This is exciting to see adult learners taking a new step in their lives as they prepare for their business careers.

With all this graduation stuff floating through my head this morning walking Trappar, I got to thinking about some of the great people I have worked with in my career that moved forward for something better. Sometimes this was in the company and sometimes it meant them leaving.

Now, I am not saying I was the best leader, because I wasn’t. But one thing I learned early on was that I should never stand in the way of someone building on their strong roots and supporting them as they grew strong wings. I have been honoured when some of these people asked if I would be a reference – and I always made sure the new company or department knew exactly the high quality person they were getting.

This level of positivity can be hard to swallow, especially when you lose a top performer because you don’t have something for them in your area. But that is a selfish way to look at life, and I did NOT want to be the one who was trying to hold someone back.

How often are you in a similar situation as a leader? Do you endorse and encourage people to spread their wings? Or have you clipped them because you want to keep that talent to yourself?

This is a hard question to answer, especially when you may lose very talented people.

Coaching university football was a similar situation. You only had an athlete for up to five years of eligibility. And then you needed to have someone ready to step in.

This is called succession based on graduation.

Do you have an internal succession plan? As a contingency? Or are you just going to “wing it” when the time comes and you are losing someone.

Are you reinforcing strong roots for your entire team so that when it is time for them to leave the nest you will have confidence they will be successful?

And when you build this foundation, some top talent may just decide to stay and win with you and your company. And now you have confidence and trust that you have the best team members in the business.

It is no wonder the strongest and tallest trees have the best root system.

And it is also no surprise that people want to test their wings.

What you establish and support in both of these areas will be best for those individuals, for you, and your organization in the long run.

And if you support your kids this way, the results are thrilling!