Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity

Red Delicious Apples


Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

 

Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.

 

Embracing Change

 

You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.

 

“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman

 

Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!

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Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!

 

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming

 

You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).

 

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett

 

In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.

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One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.

 

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker

 

Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?

Look and Feel Better Once and For All

Sport Couple Of Athletes Success

Have you struggled to lose weight or stay fit?

Do you dream about being locked overnight in a delicatessen?

How do you sustain success?

What can you learn about goal setting when trying to stay in shape?

 

Finally In Shape

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ken Blanchard, one of my favorite authors and speakers about his recent personal transformation, losing weight and getting in shape.  Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world.  He is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies. He is also the author or coauthor of fifty books that have sold more than 20 million copies, including the iconic The One Minute Manager®.

Ken recently wrote about his weight loss in a new book, Fit At Last.

 

“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard

 

An Early Relationship With Food

 

fit_at_last_covWhen you were young, you describe your life as fairly centered around food.  What impact did that relationship with food have on you?

Controlling my weight has always been a battle.  My mother, like many other mothers, nurtured her family with food.  If we were happy, we ate; if we were sad, we ate; if we were worried, we ate. When you grow up that way, it becomes second nature—that’s where “comfort food” got its name.  I used to have dreams of being locked overnight inside our local Jewish delicatessen.  I can smell a piece of cheesecake a mile away!  And at times I’ve been my own worst enemy—I believed that if I worked hard during the day, I could eat anything I wanted at night.  My wife Margie used to call that a “lousy belief.”

 

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Ken Blanchard

 

Everyone who has struggled with weight has experienced the ups and downs.  You’ve lost weight before.  What happened?

Many times when I would have some success at getting fit, there would be a point where I would get complacent—then I’d forget about my original commitment, get distracted, and shift to other priorities.

 

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re commited to something, you accept no excuses – only results.” –Ken Blanchard

 

Sustainable Goal Setting

 

What makes a goal sustainable?

A goal is sustainable when you have a few people in your life who help you stay committed to your commitment—they hold you accountable, praise your progress, and redirect your efforts when you get off course. In my experience, most goals are hard to sustain without a support system.

 

“A goal is sustainable when you have people who help you stay committed.” -Ken Blanchard

 

What role does individual personality or behavior style have on personal fitness?

Orbit Shifting Innovation

Abstract image of a world globe with spiral orbit in golden text

 

How do you create the type of innovation for the history books?

Why did record producers reject Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody?

What are the 8 enemies of innovation?

 

After twenty years of research in the field of innovation, Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah authored a terrific book, Orbit Shifting Innovation.

If you’re interested in small shifts, slight improvements, and new versions of an existing product or service, then you can pass.  Orbit shifting innovation is all about huge, disruptive, groundbreaking transformations.  With an orbit shifting innovation, history is created.

I had the opportunity to ask Rajiv and Devika about their work.

 

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs

 

Experience An Orbit-Shift

 

Your new book is the result of 22 years of work in the field of innovation.  Would you define “Orbit-shifting innovation” and share an example?

Orbit-shifting innovation happens when an area that needs transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create, and not follow, history.  At the heart of an Orbit-shifting innovation is the breakthrough that creates a new orbit and achieves a transformative impact.

 

There is nothing called a saturated market, just saturated mindsets.

 

Orbit-Shifting Water Purification

 

The Swiss firm Vestergaard Frandsen has developed an Orbit-shifting product that is and will continue to have a transformative impact in areas where there is a pernicious shortage of clean drinking water.  The entire water purification industry is locked into the mindset ‘Purify at the source and then drink.’   So bottled water is purified at the source or in factories, and then supplied through retail to consumers.  Home water purifiers either have pre-purified water dispensers or purify the water which is filled into containers (jugs and bottles) and then dispensed.  LifeStraw broke this industry mindset by making it simultaneous: purify as you drink.  The real shift that LifeStraw made was not in miniaturizing the system; deploying technology to make it smaller, sleeker and speedier is a given in the natural progression of development and growth.  It is the delivery mechanism in the format of the straw that changed the game comprehensively.  By putting a miniaturized system into a straw, LifeStraw broke the mental-model boundary from ‘purifying and then drinking’ to ‘purify as you drink’ (Vestergaard Frandsen).

LifeStraw

You can literally drink water from any source:  This straw filters 99.9 per cent of water-borne bacteria and parasites.  A single straw costs about US $6.50 and filters about 1,000 liters of water, which is enough for one person for one year.  This has bought potable water within the reach of millions of people for whom traditional water purifiers or bottled water is simply not affordable.  Vestergaard is truly saving lives with this Orbit-shifting straw by safeguarding against waterborne diseases, which are among the commonest sources of illness.  No wonder then, it has been named LifeStraw.

What’s more, Vestergaard was originally a clothing company in the fabric industry.  And yet fabric became the trigger, rather than the boundary, to create the LifeStraw – its central component is a cloth-based filter membrane.

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

 

The Enemies of Innovation

 

I’m interested in your view on the enemies of innovation.  You point to a survey by Business Week and BCG that identified the enemies as:

  • lengthy development times
  • lack of coordination
  • risk-averse culture
  • limited customer insight
  • poor idea selection
  • inadequate measurement tools
  • dearth of ideas
  • marketing or communication failure

And those “enemies” would be the expected ones.  You, however, say that all of those are really manifestations of something much deeper.  What is it?

From our experiences in ‘Making Innovation Happen’ with over 250 Orbit-shift projects over the last 20 years, we find that these are not the real enemies, these are merely symptoms. The real enemy is the underlying mindset gravity.

02fig2Mindset gravity conditions and limits even the most brilliant teams and organizations, layers of invisible constructs and beliefs that unknowingly limit the thought spectrum, reduce the exploration space and stifle new possibilities.

Most organizations and teams have a tendency to settle into an orbit that works, that is reasonably successful, that is fairly predictable and one that minimizes uncertainties.  The more settled an orbit, the greater the desire to cling to it – the greater is the accumulation of gravity – gravity that prevents a move into the next orbit.

 

We need to hire mavericks; only people with this kind of a rebellious attitude can come up with innovative ideas and see them through to the end.

Leading The Internal Talent Wars

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The War for Talent

Every day there is a war for talent.  When the economy is roaring, the war gets a lot of attention.  Human Resource departments will circulate reports about the hot market.  Reporters jump into the fray with articles warning executives about the market.  Managers quickly realize that the market is hot, not only because of the articles, but also because recruiters start calling more often.

“A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.” Johann Wolfgan von Goethe

 

No company wants to see the best people leave for other opportunities no matter what the economy is like.

Winning the talent war is a complex goal combining leadership, culture, opportunity and other intangibles.

The war for talent happens every day, in every economy, and inside of every organization.  It doesn’t just happen when the economy is expanding, nor in the hot sectors like technology.  It rages on everywhere, in every organization, continuously.

Instead of looking at companies battling for talent, look at it from a different perspective.  Consider the talent wars raging INSIDE the organization.

Step back from it all, and be on the alert inside of your company:

 

Watch the leaders who attract talent.

 

Yes, leaders who attract outside candidates are worthwhile to watch.  More interesting is to see if a leader attracts talent from within the company.  That means that the manager has created a unique environment, a culture that is worth watching.

 

Watch the leaders who send the talent.

 

Some managers are especially good at sending leaders.  This means the person or group may be especially good at developing next generation leaders.  As a result, the manager ends up with raving fans throughout the organization.  Study this person’s methods and replicate the success.  Leadership is not about direct control but about influence.  This manager’s influence is likely growing faster than others.