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In an age when every business needs to achieve more with fewer resources, Jason Jennings offers the key to ramping up productivity. In this BusinessWeek bestseller, he identifies the world’s most productive companies and reveals their secrets—none of which, surprisingly, include layoffs. The companies he features are truly astonishing, from Ryanair, which generates three times more profit per employee than the legendary Southwest Airlines, to Nucor, a steel firm with annual growth of seventeen percent for the ...
In an age when every business needs to achieve more with fewer resources, Jason Jennings offers the key to ramping up productivity. In this BusinessWeek bestseller, he identifies the world’s most productive companies and reveals their secrets—none of which, surprisingly, include layoffs. The companies he features are truly astonishing, from Ryanair, which generates three times more profit per employee than the legendary Southwest Airlines, to Nucor, a steel firm with annual growth of seventeen percent for the past thirty-one years and the highest paid workers in the industry.
Drawing on these and other amazing companies, Jennings presents his readers with solid advice on how to streamline businesses, eliminate waste, and inspire greatness within a workforce.
A Simple BIG Objective
In the absence of a simple BIG objective to act as a unifying force, no leader or manager can hope to make a company more productive.
-Bill Zollars, CEO, Yellow Freight
Before committing even one word to paper, as I led my research team to begin the initial work of identifying a group of the world's most productive companies and figuring out how they do what they do, I'd have never guessed-not in a million years-what the theme would turn out to be for this opening chapter.
After all, the book was intended as a collection of the tactics employed by these firms to be more efficient than other businesses, proving the proposition that Less Is More. I'd imagined getting right into things with machine gun staccato . . . bang, they do this, bang, bang, they do that, bang, bang, bang!
Then a big discovery went boom and got in the way of my plans. Here it is: In productive companies, the culture is the strategy.
As I crisscrossed the United States and traveled the world, hanging out with the customers, workers, managers and leaders of companies where less is more, a single indisputable fact kept confronting me:
Unlike other companies, productive companies know the difference between tactics and strategy.
That difference is the foundation that allows them to stay focused and build remarkable companies. They have institutionalized their strategy.
There's a lot of bang, bang, bang stuff in the chapters to follow but, as a result of our exhaustive research, I'm convinced that a company will never become truly productive unless the management can learn to nail down the differences between strategy and tactics and allow the strategy to become the culture.
Strategy du Jour
If you keep your ears open on airplanes, at business meetings and in boardrooms, you'll hear the word "strategy" tossed around so frequently as to render it meaningless. It seems everyone has a strategy for this, a strategy for that, a strategy for everything from dealing with the kids to buying a new laptop to handling the boss . . . and yep, one for being more productive. And how many people do you know who have climbed the corporate ladder because management (or human resources) identified them as "strategic thinkers"? What's even more alarming is the frequency with which companies discard one "strategy" for another in the name of being flexible. Grasping at tactic after tactic, trying this and trying that and incorrectly labeling everything they attempt as a "strategy," most companies cloud the climate, confuse the troops and do the opposite of what it takes to be productive. Productive companies keep everything clear and simple-everything including strategy.
As I came to the end of my in-depth interviews with the CEOs of the companies covered in this book, I was struck by the fact that each shared this in common; the ownership of and fierce loyalty to a very simple big objective. The big objective was the strategy and it became the culture; everything else was tactics on how to achieve it.
All of these leaders vigorously prevent anyone from mucking up their drive for productivity with some strategy du jour or the latest alphabet-soup management theory.
Imagine for a moment the power of everyone in your organization-whether a ten-employee restaurant or a thirty-thousand-worker transportation company-knowing and striving to achieve a simple big objective.
While having everyone in a company share this simple BIG objective might seem to be simply common sense, as the age-old maxim goes, the most common thing about common sense . . . is how uncommon it is.
So what are these strategies-these BIG objectives-that are held so firmly by the leaders of some of the most productive businesses in the world?
NOPE! It's Not That Vision Thing Again
People who have survived the mission and vision thing give a knowing grin and agree that most of those grandiose statements are fit only to be framed on the wall of the reception area, put on the cover of the annual report and talked about with the head honcho to show you're on the team. They definitely are not ideas anybody would actually try to carry out to get the job done better. Unfortunately, lofty mission and vision statements, like all the other empty promises too many companies make, have a rich history of not being worth squat.
The real grunt work involved in building a productive company doesn't happen in the boardroom or executive offices; it's done on the shop floor, in the offices, on the factory line, on the retail sales floor and in the field. The very people who have the ability to make a business more productive have "been there, seen that, done that" with the vision thing.
The Power of a Simple BIG Objective
One company that's a poster child for productivity, Lantech, based in Louisville, Kentucky, discovered the need for a simple BIG objective the hard way. The traditional means for a company to ready their product for shipment involve putting the individual units in boxes, putting lots of little boxes together to make a big box, then wrapping these big boxes in plastic sheeting and sending them through a heated tunnel to form a weatherproof shrink-wrap. When the big boxes come out of the tunnel, they're stacked on a pallet for forklifting onto a truck or railcar.
During the U.S. energy crisis of the 1970s, Lantech founder and chairman Pat Lancaster came up with the idea of wrapping pallets of boxes tightly with strong plastic from a continuous roll. (Picture wrapping a rubber band around your fingers a number of times.) The process meant no more need for shrink-wrap heating, which translated into significant energy savings. Patenting this process and equipment designs, the company spent the 1980s making money hand over fist. Lantech was (excuse the pun) on a roll. Today it's the world leader in stretch wrappers, palletizers and conveyor systems.
That's the bright side of the story but there was a dark side, as well. By Lancaster's admission the company wasn't doing a very good job in a lot of areas. "Quality and customer service were poor, the factory was inefficient, but there was so much demand that we just kept doing things the same old way." Until one day in 1990. "After arguments all the way to the Supreme Court," he says, "we lost our patent protection and overnight everything changed. We had to admit to ourselves that we'd been selling wheelbarrows and been pretty arrogant about it. All of a sudden everybody else could sell the same wheelbarrow. It would no longer be enough to say we didn't suck worse than our competition." Pat Lancaster realized in the dark of night and in the bright light of day that the company's free ride had ended. Unless he could dramatically reduce inventories, improve product quality, deliver superior customer service and become more productive, the days of Lantech as a company were numbered.
During the next ten years, Lantech tripled sales without increasing staff, slashed the time it took to build a single machine from five weeks to eleven hours(!), and increased productivity 1 percent a month for the entire time period-all because of one man's focus.
Pat Lancaster's simple BIG objective was to become the most efficient and productive manufacturing plant on the planet and do things better than they'd ever been done.
What? A Company More Productive Than Wal-Mart? Where?
In 1982, New Zealander Stephen Tindall founded The Warehouse, a single-location discount store in Auckland. Fast-forward twenty years and you'll find this publicly traded chain of two hundred stores across New Zealand and Australia outperforming America's Wal-Mart in every metric of productivity. While Wal-Mart puts 3.3 pennies of each sales dollar to the bottom line, The Warehouse puts 6.6. And while Wal-Mart achieves a stunning 24 percent return on equity, The Warehouse smokes them with a killer 40 percent.
At first glance you might think the success of The Warehouse is about technology, but dig deeper and you'll learn it all began and continues to exist because of a powerful simple BIG objective.
In 1982 Tindall, working for another department store, was on a buying trip to the United States and was accompanying a vendor on a supply run to a suburban New Jersey shopping center. When he saw his first suburban discount store, a light went off and he rushed home to New Zealand to quit his job and open his own store. He took his entire life savings of forty thousand dollars, rented a large old industrial-area warehouse-hence the name-and plopped down thirty thousand dollars of his start-up capital for two computerized checkout terminals. If you're wondering, as I did, where he came up with the money to stock merchandise, you'll understand why he needed the two terminals.
Tindall saw he wouldn't have money for inventory so he went to all the companies he knew that had goods sitting in their own warehouses and offered a proposition. "Put your goods in my warehouse and I'll sell them for you," he pitched prospective vendors, arguing that the stuff wasn't doing them any good sitting unsold where it was. Then, brandishing his computerized inventory and checkout system, he promised to pay them weekly for whatever he sold. The caveat was that if he didn't sell it he could return it, eventually earning him the nickname "Sell-or-Return Stephen."
"Since the day we opened the doors in our first store," Tindall says, "this company has been an enterprise where people come first." But when Tindall says the words, the needle on the B.S. meter doesn't budge. You instinctively know he's telling the truth and want to hear more.
"Look," he continues, sounding a bit like a modern-day Robin Hood, "New Zealand, where we began, is a small island nation and much of what we sell has to be imported. As a result of manufacturers, manufacturers' reps, importers and their agents all taking their markups, the New Zealand consumer was constantly getting screwed and people ended up paying far too much for the goods they purchased." He quickly showed he'd found a better way. "As soon as I'd proven that my concept for The Warehouse would work, I immediately began applying for licenses to become a direct importer in as many categories as I was able. Do you know the thrill," he asks, "of being able to sell a set of luggage for one-quarter of the department store's price and still end up with a higher margin than theirs?" Tindall chuckles and says, "Now, that's real fun."
But Tindall becomes his most emphatic when he proclaims, "It's not as much about selling merchandise as it is about empowering people and giving the common working person the same choices that the wealthy always had. That's the reason this company exists!"
Today, with his billion-dollar personal fortune, Stephen Tindall can dress, drive and do as he pleases. And he does, with a seventeen-dollar sport watch because "I swim every day and it's a great watch in the water," driving a Volkswagen because "I really like the shape" and living in a modest house he and his wife bought years ago. "Why do we need more house?" he asks.
Originally, the research team had a hypothesis that people heading highly productive companies might be personally thrifty (or cheap) and that their abhorrence of waste was in some part responsible for the creation of efficient enterprises. That's not what we found.
Instead, we found people who conduct their personal lives in harmony with the stated BIG objective. When I pushed Stephen Tindall on the issue of whether personal thrift is a precursor of productivity, he said, "I don't think so." But he added, "It would be pretty silly of me to run a company for the benefit of the common man and ask everyone around me to do the same if I weren't one myself, don't you think?"
"Thanks for Calling Yellow, Have a Nice Day"
When Bill Zollars was recruited from Ryder Trucks in the late nineties to become CEO of Yellow Freight, a Fortune 500 company, he found a troubled business that had stumbled badly since deregulation of the trucking industry. What disturbed him most was discovering that the company was very inwardly focused and had no measurements of customer satisfaction. Seeing that the company was coming off three years of extremely poor performances made worse by a strike and losses, Zollars recognized he would need to operate in turnaround mode.
Like Lantech, Yellow Freight had been buffeted by government regulation. Zollars recalls that in the regulated environment where Yellow had prospered, companies never had to worry about strategies or customers. "If you needed more money, you just sent out a letter that said, 'Hey, I need a price increase,' and you got it. The business had become completely commoditized and the company that got the business was the last one in with a load of doughnuts or free tickets to a ballgame."
The effects of deregulation were entirely predictable, Zollars says. Lots of new people came in with great ideas, they opened new companies and raised the bar, so that many of the existing businesses couldn't compete and eventually went bust. Industry analysts, he says, were forecasting Yellow Freight's eventual demise. "The question I got asked most frequently when I got here," Zollars told me with a grin, "was whether we'd be around in a couple of years."
So what had Zollars spotted as clues he could use to keep that from happening? From his early days at the company, he noticed, "When people would ask someone who worked for Yellow what the company did, they'd respond by saying it was in the long-haul LTL trucking business." (LTL, or less than truckload, describes a carrier that specializes in shipments under a certain weight, combining shipments from several customers to make up each full truckload.)
Even today, Zollars fumes as he remembers. "Where's the pride and potential in being in the long-haul LTL trucking business? Not only are you putting yourself in a box, you're putting yourself in a really little box."
His answer to the many dilemmas facing the company was a strategy, a simple BIG objective. "We are not in the long-haul LTL trucking business," he commanded. Contrasting Yellow with two major competitors, he told his people, "We're going to get out of the trucking business and into the service business. And from now on, instead of wasting our time comparing ourselves to Roadway and Consolidated Freight, we're going to compare ourselves to Starbucks."
Starbucks! That's picking a successful model to emulate.
You've probably heard the remark that if the railroad companies had understood they weren't in the rail business but in the business of transporting people and goods, the airlines today would have names like Union Pacific or Santa Fe. Zollars instinctively understood the distinction.
Today he argues that until you get the "people thing" right, no amount of technology can make you more productive. "Look," he says, "we spend as much as eighty million dollars annually on technology, but it won't do a damn bit of good and make us more productive if the people using it don't get it.
"During my first week on the job," he told me, "I went to one of our state-of-the-art customer service centers in Des Moines, Iowa, and spent a day listening in on phone calls from our customers." With a knowing wink, he added, "You know darn well they put me with our best customer service people, not a newbie or an old crank."
What he heard made his ears burn. "A customer called and said he had a shipment that had to get from Chicago to Atlanta in two days. And our customer service person tells him we can get it there in three days. The customer repeats, 'No, I really need it there in two days,' and our customer service rep says again, 'We can get it there in three days.' Finally the customer says, 'Okay, I'll call someone else,' and our agent says, 'Okay, thanks for calling Yellow and letting us serve you. Have a nice day.' "
Zollars's comment: "Imagine a 'Thanks for letting us serve you,' when the agent had just sent the customer to our competition!"
Here's the way he saw the picture: "The entire mind-set of this company was, 'Here's what we do . . . if you want it, fine . . . if you don't, that's fine, too.' No one ever asked a customer what he or she wanted or needed. How can you ever hope to become productive until you get people on your side?" he asks. Zollars's simple BIG objective was to get Yellow out of the trucking business and into the service business.
The Great Game of Business
Jack Stack is the CEO of SRC Holdings. Twenty years ago, as a young production whiz for International Harvester, he was sent to Missouri to run Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation, a business unit that rebuilt dirty broken-down engines into like-brand-new and sold them for 60 percent of the cost of a new one.
While Stack was turning around the facility and making it profitable, parent company Harvester was harvesting themselves into a deep mess, eventually trying to recover from owing the banks billions by chucking assets and laying off tens of thousands of people-in time eliminating more than 100,000 workers out of 115,000. During that huge, gory bloodletting, workers would come to Stack and say, "What should I do?" "Should I buy a new car?" "Should I get married?" "Will I have a job?"
Finally, Stack responded to the pain of his people. Deciding, "This is bullshit," he went to them and said, "Look, don't buy the new car and don't get married. One of three things is going to happen. Harvester can sell us, they can close us or we'll all die a slow death from them not being able to supply our capital needs." But Stack also offered hope in one other possibility. "I went around and asked people if we should try to buy the company from Harvester. I kept waiting for someone to say no. Nobody did and so we made an offer."
At the time, Stack's total net worth was $28,000 and he needed to raise $9 million. Banding together with a dozen other managers in the company, he was able to scrape together $100,000 for the down payment on a $9 million purchase. Then Stack embarked on a grueling, two-year search for financing that changed his life. "I was out there looking for this huge pile of money and the bankers had me jumping through hoops and learning a new vocabulary," he remembers. "All of a sudden, out of nowhere, came things like equity ratios, liquidity ratios, debt financing and bonds. I'd always thought you kept the accountants and finance people in the back room and they did whatever they wanted with the numbers. The more I got into it, the more I loved it and thought, 'Wow, all this stuff with the numbers is great, it's a really neat system.' "
This led him to the conclusion that "the only way to win is by performance." During Stack's time in the field, two things happened. "First," he says, "I was like a kid in a candy store. I loved learning about business. It got so that I could write and rewrite business plans in the back of a taxicab between pitches to bankers."
But during his search for financing, Stack also got mad. "I was completely angry with the company I'd worked for, for fourteen years. During my entire time with them, they'd never taught me business and never asked me to make money or generate cash. I could manufacture whatever they wanted me to make. I could build engines. I could make fifty-ton trucks. But I didn't know a darn thing about making money."
On February 1, 1983, when Stack and his co-owners got their factory, they had $100,000 in equity and $8.9 million in debt. His first order of business was to gather all three hundred workers together in a lunchroom and tell them that although they had jobs for the moment, the company was essentially comatose.
He explained to them that at a debt to equity ratio of 89 to 1, the company was brain-dead, but that if they were able to turn that number upside down and have 89 times more equity than debt, that was where real wealth would be found.
"I was so excited by what I'd learned that I wanted to share it with everyone," Stack recalls. "I knew cash-flow statements, income statements, balance sheets, I'd learned the lingo of the venture capitalists, the commercial bankers and the angel capitalists."
What he'd learned, he would share. "That day I made a promise to teach business to every worker in the company."
The factory workers, the managers and even the other executives were all as much in the dark about business as Stack had been. "We'd all thought it was about building great products, that it was only about delivery, quality, service and housekeeping-but along the way we'd missed the boat. We'd been kept in a jungle of making stuff but had never been allowed to see the big picture."
Stack made good on his promise to teach everyone business, with steps that include calling the whole company together weekly for a detailed update on the firm's profit and loss statement and balance sheet. Today a visit to any SRC facility starts in the lunchroom where an entire wall details the company's financial statement including how much money they have in the bank. As you walk the factory floor engaging people in conversation, you find workers who are as comfortable talking price-equity as pistons, cash flows as cylinders.
SRC Holdings has become a widely diversified manufacturing holding company that grows 15 percent per year in good times and bad, whose twenty-two plants are involved in fifteen different manufacturing operations. With revenues greater than $200 million annually, the company handily beats their competitors on all the productivity metrics-revenue per employee, operating income per employee and return on invested capital.
Stack's simple BIG objective was to teach everyone the rules of business and then turn it into a game where everybody has a clear awareness of how his work impacts the numbers.
A Furniture Dealer's Testament
Imagine being worth a reported $30 billion and counting every penny like it was your last. Welcome to the world of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Swedish furniture retailer IKEA. His original simple business proposition was to bring affordable, well-designed furniture to the masses, people he refers to as the "many." And he's doing it with stunning success.
Kamprad's dedication and focus to IKEA's BIG objective manifested itself in a document he wrote in December 1976, entitled A Furniture Dealer's Testament. In it, he stated that "All nations and societies in both the East and the West spend a disproportionate amount of their resources on satisfying a minority of the population. In our line of business, for example, far too many of the fine designs and new ideas are reserved for a small circle of the affluent." Kamprad's business objective for IKEA grew out of that simple observation.
Like The Warehouse's Tindall, Ingvar Kamprad is a man of the people. His idea of a luxury vacation is riding his bike. He refuses to fly first class and, even though retired, he still visits IKEA stores to keep a feel for where the business really happens: in the store. Today, the world's only global furniture brand achieves sales per employee sales 50 percent greater than the industry average.
The son of farmers in northern Sweden, Kamprad had a modest upbringing. While in his teens he started importing small items like ballpoint pens and selling them for a modest profit. Tired of wasting money on middlemen to import, distribute and handle his goods, he eventually decided to import himself.
From belt buckles, pens and watches, Kamprad moved to furniture and as furniture sales continued to grow he began to experience a worrisomely high percentage of furniture damaged in transport-broken table legs, that type of thing. The European insurance companies were beginning to grumble.
One day in 1952, Kamprad's trusted jack-of-all-trades, Gillis Lundgren, came up with the idea that changed the furniture industry forever: "God, what a lot of space it takes up. Let's take the legs off and put them under the tabletop."
The rest is history. IKEA's flat-pack methodology rocketed them past the competition. "After that [table] followed a whole series of other self-assembled furniture, and by 1956 the concept was more or less systematized," writes Kamprad. "The more 'knockdown' we could produce, the less damage occurred during transport and the lower freight costs were."
And that value was passed on to IKEA's customers.
Driving him the entire time was his commitment to providing high-quality, affordable, stylish items to ordinary people. He recalls with distaste when he visited Italy and saw firsthand whom the "well-designed" furniture had been reaching. "I had an awakening," he writes, "when I went to the Milan Fair and visited a large carpet supplier. Thanks to him, I was able to see ordinary Italian households, the homes of simple clerks and workers. What I saw surprised me: heavy, dark furniture; a single lightbulb above a heavy dining-room table; a chasm between all the elegance at the fair and what could be seen in the homes of ordinary people."
Kamprad has always thought that it was laziness that created expensive furniture design solutions. "Any architect can design a desk that will cost 5000 kronor," he writes in A Furniture Dealer's Testament. "But only the most highly skilled can design a good, functional desk that will cost 100 kronor. Expensive solutions to any kind of problem are usually the work of mediocrity."
Even though Kamprad no longer actively manages IKEA, his legacy, in documents like A Furniture Dealer's Testament, lives on. IKEA employees still refer to him as if he were actively managing the company. His BIG objective-affordable well-designed furniture for the many-has been so influential that it's outgrown his presence at the company and will most likely outlive him.
How many furniture retailers, or retailers period, out there think like Ingvar, and have such a fervent commitment to their BIG objective? According to our research . . . none!
Most people in business are only too familiar with the rants of the beleaguered CEO, general manager, sales manager or plant manager out to cover his own butt, who harrumphs, "The only thing that matters for the next quarter is maximizing profit" . . . or new business . . . or productivity . . . or whatever. And then proceeds to create an initiative with a lofty project name like PUFF-People United For Our Factory. The next quarter, of course, management is back again with another equally preposterous set of initials asking people to be or do something different. Most workers have been asked to focus and refocus on so many phony-baloney programs so many times by so many people that it's no wonder they become cynical.
To focus means to concentrate attention or effort. Unfortunately, most corporate leaders act as though they suffer from attention deficit disorder when it comes to keeping their companies focused on mastering a simple BIG objective. This lack of clarity inevitably leads to that same old stuff every corporate employee has witnessed too many times: an inability to move quickly, hidden agendas, unhappy workers, turf wars, finger pointing, a constant need for phalanxes of outside consultants to try and sort things out, palace intrigue and eventually a CYA mentality. It's tough to be productive when there's a swamp full of superfluous man-made issues to wade through each day.
Think about how Kmart ended up in bankruptcy court because of its inability to focus on a simple BIG objective. One day, former CEO Charles Conaway directs his company to underprice Wal-Mart on thirty thousand staple items, even though Wal-Mart can't be bested in that category. When that doesn't work, he proudly proclaims his store to be "the authority for moms, home and kids," and proceeds to enlist the edgy Spike Lee to direct Kmart's next advertising campaign. Duh! Any organization that complicates things with too many man-made issues will eventually lack clarity of purpose.
We knew our observation that companies begin their journey to productivity with an across-the-board adoption of a simple BIG objective was significant. But it turned out an even larger lesson awaited.
Once a company's people have successfully developed and demonstrated their ability to master a simple BIG objective, it appears that their new skill set allows them to begin focusing on other BIG objectives as well. Yet there's an important caveat here. People can successfully focus on two or more objectives just as effectively as when they are focusing on only one, provided the new BIG objective or objectives are layered on or build upon the initial objective.
For example, once Lantech had mastered the art of productivity on the factory floor, they discovered it took the company a full week to enter an order for a machine they were able to build in just eleven hours. By focusing on order entry while maintaining productivity on the factory floor, they were able to reduce entry time to minutes. Next, they realized that even with a score of accountants they weren't getting a monthly financial statement until the twenty-fifth of the following month. That became an additional focus. According to CFO Jean Cunningham, the financial statement is now ready on the first day of the month, produced by an accounting staff one-third its previous size.
At SRC, once Jack Stack had taught everyone the basics of business, it was a natural progression to begin making the company more productive through the improvement of every line on the financial statement. As Stack says, "In twenty years we've had more than twenty different bonus programs, each based on what we needed to be doing to become more efficient and profitable." But he cautions, "We've only been able to have all those different bonus programs because everyone understands business."
Soon after Bill Zollars's proclamation that Yellow would no longer be a freight company but a service business, it became obvious, he says, that his lily-white, male-dominated company needed to diversify, and that became another objective to focus upon.
As long as additional objectives are understood by everyone as complementing or adding to the original simple BIG objective, the workplace won't become confused by mixed messages and signals.
Where Does It Come From?
How do leaders and managers go about developing a simple BIG objective that will allow them to focus the efforts of everyone in their store, department, division or company?
In all the companies we studied, the objective was born from a defining moment in the life of the person leading the effort. The same thing applies whether the leader is the CEO transforming her company, the production manager transforming the factory floor, the sales manager building a new team or the small business owner resurrecting a retail store. The simple BIG objective never comes from accounting, human resources or a centralized department of strategic planning, and it has nothing to do with the current quarter's profit numbers or the CEO's current hot button.
Pat Lancaster's defining moment came the day he lost his battle for patent protection before the Supreme Court. He could have sold the company, cashed in his chips and spent the rest of his years chasing the sun. Instead he chose to create the world's most productive factory.
Jack Stack's defining moment came with the sudden realization that with an 89 to 1 debt-to-capital ratio, there was only a slim chance his company would exist for long. He chose to teach everyone business.
The death knells were ringing for Yellow Freight when Bill Zollars stepped to the plate and said, "This company is going to be rebuilt on the kinds of customer service attitudes that made Starbucks so great."
All the companies we studied began their journey into productivity by adopting a simple BIG objective. It doesn't seem to matter what it is . . . only that one exists, that it's authentic, and that it fundamentally impacts the way business is done. Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNeely says it this way: "If you put enough wood behind the arrow, it will hit the target."
So what's the defining moment that's going to allow you to develop a simple BIG objective to serve as the strategy for driving your business, division or company to become more productive? And once you have it, how will you move it through the organization and have everyone believe and rally behind the quest for building a more productive enterprise? Read on.
—from Less Is More: How Great Companies Use Productivity As a Competitive Tool in Business by Jason Jennings, Copyright © November 2002, Portfolio Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission."
Less Is More Foreword
1. A Simple BIG Objective
2. The Hard Work Begins
3. The First Tactic: The Truth
4. Destroy the Bureaucracy and Make It Simple
5. Get Rid of the Wrong Executives and Managers... Fast
6. No Layoffs
8. The Real Financial Drivers
9. Systematize Everything
10. Continuous Improvement
12. The Plug-in Myth
13. Keeping Everyone on the Same Productivity Page
14. A Lean Spirit
Posted March 7, 2005
This book reads like a fiction novel while the focus is very much on the softer issues of productivity businesses. The well-written behind-the-wall stories and interviews with successful top executives give us insight to many issues that usual case stories do not explain. Business magazines often glorify top executives by telling about the grand strategic plan behind the success. This little book shows us a different story. It provides insight to the many seemingly small traits of the lean culture that only works because they taken serious by the organization and used in combination. These are the 11 traits required for the leader of a highly productive enterprise: attention to detail, high moral fiber, embracing simplicity, competitiveness, long-term focus, disdain for waste, coach leadership, humility, rejection of bureaucracy, belief in others, and trust. I'm sure you're really not impressed of this list. Neither am I. But try challenging some of the advice. Humility? When was the last time you saw a big company using this as a standard. When you hear the story of many head offices visited in this book, you'll understand humility. Often you'll find a very simple and humble office building for a huge company. No art on the walls! No lavish entrance hall! In these companies, you don't find huge corporate staff creating immense bureaucracy and all sorts of information requirements from their operating companies or business units. These organizations do actually 'walk-the-talk' on lean - unlike many fad-driven major firms who's paying lip service to a lean culture. PERSISTENCE is a word missing from the 11 traits, though attention to detail and long-term focus do include some of it. They never lose sight of their BIG idea or focus. It includes their performance measurement. 'Everyone who works for SRC gathers once a week in their respective lunchrooms and takes part in a review of the business's financial performance for the previous week. By DOING IT WEEK IN WEEK-OUT FOR MANY YEARS the exercise has also become a system'. Okay, I'm sure that the book's research on productivity could have been better. And some of the firms reported on may experience difficulties, though most are still flourishing. But don't read this book for the hard stuff. Read the soft issues that over time usually turn out to be the hardest to beat. I agree that it resembles 'In Search of Excellence' to some degree, but remember that this book is on the lean culture of Cost Leadership firms (my interpretation, not the author's). Peter Leerskov, MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-businessWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.