Productivity—the Japanese Way


Economists are forever telling us that we need to increase productivity in order to improve our standard of living. Productivity is one of those concepts that are so loaded with meaning and implications that is very difficult to define, much less explain. Not surprisingly then, improving “it” is one of the most difficult tasks facing business. More to the point, the time for improvement is quickly running out. Industrial performance is being outstripped at a frightening pace by the Japanese. In fact, it has reached the point where their productivity performance is so superior that they can literally pick any product and any market and quickly come to dominate it.

The idea that Japanese are uniquely gifted in only a few related areas has been debunked by their proven successes in industries as diverse as automobiles and semi-conductors. As well, the facile suggestion that the Japanese are somehow culturally inclined to be productive doesn’t wash. Japanese managers have taken over factories in Europe and the US and greatly improved productivity records. Productivity has also been high in their North American plants.

If corporate managers believe that their workers can be as competitive as anyone else in the world, and technically, there’s no valid reason why they can’t be, then they must find better ways to help their employees realize their potential. In that sense, study of Japanese methods is a jumping-off point that can lead to adaptations that will produce unique ways of improving productivity.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Gap Analysis


Gap analysis is a statistical technique with immense power under certain circumstances. Its maps of the market are used to determine how various products are perceived by how they are positioned on the market map. On any map the items plotted tend to cluster here and there, with open space between them. These open spaces are gaps, and a map that shows gaps is, not surprisingly, called a gap map.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Follies of Losers


Losers lose out on repeat business. They use rather than value their existing customers. They haggle over prices and margins, and discourage ‘variations’ from standard offerings that might create ‘extra work’ and cause ‘systems problems.’ They do just enough to fulfill any contracts that are won. They don’t really care about their customers’ businesses and keep ‘outsiders’ at a distance to protect their ‘know-how.’

Losers do little to lock their customers in. they are reluctant to establish online links because of worries about importing viruses. Open book accounting and partnering relationships are also avoided. Not surprisingly, clients seeking a deeper and more intimate relationship look elsewhere.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Flexibility


Perhaps the biggest difference between an individual businessperson and a large corporation is in the degree of flexibility each possesses. Here the balance tips in favor of the small business. Because it hasn’t indoctrinated numerous level of management and a gigantic sales organization in the tactics and strategies of its marketing plan, it can make changes on the spot. It can be fast on its feet and can react to make changes, competitive ploys, economic realities, new media, newsworthy events, and last minute offers.

Like the furry quick mammal, you’ve got the flexibility, the speed, the disregard of image, that enables you to use radio commercials and also hire high school students to hand out printed circulars on street corners. You don’t have a body of rules to follow, a committee to answer to, a set structure to follow. You are the organization. You answer to yourself. You make the rules and you break the rules. And that means you get to be amazing, outrageous, surprising, unpredictable, brilliant, and quick.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Organizational Mandates


The formal and informal mandates placed on an organization consist of the various “musts” that it confronts. Actually, it is surprising how few organizations know precisely what they are (and are not) formally mandated to do. Typically, few members of any organization have ever read, for example, the relevant legislation, ordinances, charters, articles, and contracts that outline the organization’s formal mandates. Many organizational members also do not clearly understand what informal mandates—typically political in the broadest sense—their organization faces. It may not be surprising, then, that most organizations make one or all of the following three fundamental mistakes. First, not knowing what they must do, they are unlikely to do it. Second, they may believe they are more tightly constrained in their actions than they actually are. Third, they may assume that if they are not explicitly told to do something, they are not allowed to do it.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

Flatten your Organization


Flattening the organization means that each manager becomes responsible for more people. There is a limit to the number of people that one person can supervise, but this span of authority varies widely between jobs. Most people imagine that a manager can only handle a few subordinates. In reality, proper delegation allows you a surprisingly wide span, allowing a much flatter and leaner organization.

Your organization should have the best structure for achieving its goals. This structure shows the internal divisions of the organization; and the relationships between them. The structure is not fixed, but evolves to meet changing conditions. Unfortunately, this generally means a drift towards more complex structures, with more divisions, extra layers of management, longer chains of command, less delegation and more centralization. Endless levels of management can be used for minor rewards and recognition.

The proliferation of management layers is hopelessly inefficient. It forms an army of people whose only job is to force information to travel through a long and convoluted route before it is used, and makes sure that decision makers become hopelessly remote from the operations.

Delegation has clear advantages and empowerment allows you to reduce the layers of management. So the best type of organization is as flat as possible, with only a few layers of management. The organization must be flat, so that the top is connected to the people who actually make the money.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Evaluate


Evaluation is intimidating. Often, managers are too busy to keep up with what people are doing and how well they are doing. And when managers don’t know what their people are doing, they can’t  evaluate accurately. As a result, they feel unable to support their impressions or comments about performance—and so they avoid the task.

But when selection and direction are done properly, evaluation becomes a logical, easy-to-implement process. If you know what your people are supposed to do and have assigned each of them specific tasks, responsibilities, and objectives with deadlines, then you have criteria against which to measure that individual’s performance. In this situation, evaluation becomes a simple matter of determining whether or not a person has met those goals, and how well.

Mangers often assume that if they select good people and direct them in what is expected, things will get done. They’re right. Things will get done, but how well they will get done and how long they will take are uncertain. Evaluation lets you determine how well something was done and whether it was done on time. In a sense, evaluation is like a traffic cop. You can post all the speed limit signs in the world, but they will be ignored unless people know that infractions will be discovered and fined.

This sounds logical, but it’s surprising how many managers postpone evaluation again and again while they focus on more pressing but ultimately less important duties. When evaluation is postponed, deadlines also slip, because employees begin to feel that timeliness and quality are not important. When performance slips, more responsibilities shift to the manager—who thus has even less time to direct and evaluate employees.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Strategic Decisions


There are three central characteristics of strategic decision making:

  1. Strategic decisions that affect the very survival of the firm;
  2. The effects of a decision last a long time, perhaps five to ten years;
  3. The long range effects of a decision are very hard to forecast.

Actually, the first characteristic is really the definition of a strategic decision. The other two characteristics follow from it. If we could correct a bad decision of any size within a year or two, then it would be less likely to harm the firm permanently. And it should be clear that any decision whose effects last for many years will be extremely difficult to forecast.

Difficulties of long-range forecasting include:

  1. Long-range forecasts are usually ill-structured; that is, it is impossible to make a really good mathematical model of what is being forecasted.
  2. Forecasting accuracy drops off rapidly as one looks further into the future. This is essentially because unforeseeable change accumulate as we peer further and further ahead.
  3. Forecasts need to mix subjective and objective information, since different kinds of information are being captured.
  4. The longer the horizon, the less objective information is available, the worse models will be, and the more we must rely on subjective forecasts.

Given that huge financial stakes are involved and that strategic decisions have a long horizon with poor forecasts available, it is hardly surprising that most Operations Management texts do not delve deeply into this problem. Many methods which are in practical use are not deeply quantitive, and are, in any event, difficult to describe and justify. Nevertheless, manufacturing executives do not have the luxury of ignoring strategic decision making and must be careful consumers of the best available methods.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Customer Retention Program


To develop an effective customer retention (CR) program, organization can follow this five-step process:

  1. Determine your current CR rate. It is surprising how few companies know the percentage of customers that leave (the defection rate) or the percentage of customers that they are able to retain annually (the retention rate). There are many ways to measure customer retention. Choosing an appropriate measure provides a starting point for assessing a firm’s success in keeping customers.
  2. Analyze the defection problem. This is a three-pronged attack. First, we must identify disloyal customers. Second we need to understand why they left. There are six types of defectors. Customers go elsewhere because of lower price, superior products, better service, alternative technologies, market changes (they move or go bankrupt), and “political” considerations; (switching motives) can also provide insight here. Third, strategies must be developed to overcome the non-loyal purchasing behavior.
  3. Establish a new CR objective. Let’s assume that your company is currently retaining 75% of its customers. A realistic goal may be to improve client retention annually by at least 5%, to 80%, and to keep 90% of your clients within 5 years. Customer-retention objectives should be based on organizational cabalities (strengths, weaknesses, resources, etc.), customer and competitive analyses, and benchmarking with the industry or sector, comparable firms, and high performing units in your company.
  4. Invest in targeted CR plan to enhance customer loyalty. The cost (potential lifetime value) of a single lost customer can be substantial. This is magnified exponentially when we realize the overall annual cost of lost business.
  5. Evaluate the success of the CR program. As an iterative process, the final phase in designing a solid customer retention plan is to ensure that it is working. Careful scrutiny is required to assess the program’s impact on keeping existing customers. Upgrading current customer relationships may be a secondary business objective. At this point, we gather new information to learn to what extent our CR rate improved. We may need to revisit our benchmarks and further probe isolated causes of defection. CR strategies and tactics will be closely analyzed to determine which methods worked best and those that had little or no impact on keeping customers.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Study Your Best


If you want to be sure that you have started with the right three talents, study your best in the role. This may sound obvious, but beware: conventional wisdom would advise the opposite.

Conventional wisdom asserts that good is the opposite of bad, that if you want to understand excellence, you should investigate failure and then invert it. In society at large, we define good health as the absence of disease. In the working world, the fascination with pathology is just as pervasive. Managers are far more articulate about service failure than they are about service success, and many still define excellence as “zero defects.”

When it comes to understanding talent, this focus on pathology has caused many managers to completely misdiagnose what it takes to excel in a particular role. For example, many managers think that because bad salespeople suffer from call reluctance, great salespeople must not; or that because bad waiters are too opinionated, great waiters must keep their opinions in check.

Reject this focus on pathology. You cannot infer excellence from studying failure and then inverting it. Why? Because excellence and failure are often surprisingly similar. Average is the anomaly.

For example, by studying the best salespeople, great managers have learned that the best, just like the worst, suffer call reluctance. Apparantly the best salesperson, as with the worst, feels as if invested in the sale that causes him to be so persuasive. But it also causes him to take rejection personally—every time he makes a sales call he feels the shiver of fear that someone will say no to him, to him.

The difference between greatness and failure in sales is that the great salesperson is not paralyzed by this fear. He is blessed with another talent, the relating talent of confrontation, that enables him to derive immense satisfaction from sparring with the prospect and overcoming resistance. Everyday he feels call reluctance, but this talent for confrontation pulls him through it. His love of sparring outweighs his fear of personal rejection.

Lacking this talent for confrontation, the bad salesperson simply feels the fear.

The average salesperson feels nothing. He woodenly follows the six-step approach he has been taught and hopes for the best.

By studying their best, great managers are able to overturn many similarly long-standing misconceptions. For example, they know that the best waiters, just like the worst, form strong opinions. The difference between the best and the worst is that the best waiters use their quickly formed opinions to tailor their style to each particular table of customers, whereas the worst are just rude—average waiters form no opinions and so give every table the same dronning spiel.

And the best . . . .

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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