Content By Akhilesh Gulati

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

During a recent strategic planning session with a county’s leadership council, the participants were asked about their vision for their departments as they worked on a template for the strategic plan. Although there were many responses, one that stood out clearly came from the chief of one of the fire stations. “I see a fire station on every corner,” he said.

Although this certainly created a visual, it was somewhat uncreative and shallow, representing a rather expensive and limited vision. Here was a leader locked into a solution… locked not into a vision of service or success, but of doing more of the same. This statement clearly indicated the need for a change in mindset.

What sort of a culture do you think this kind of thinking leads to? How likely is it to lead to success? What is the likelihood of budgets being approved for such a “vision?” How likely is it to get buy-in from either the taxpayers or from the county leadership? It says nothing about what this would achieve. It says nothing about how this would be beneficial, or how that change would be measured. It doesn’t convey anything about underlying issues.

Such a vision often leads to a complaining culture rather than one focused on achievement.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Cooking is not my forte, but I try. I intended my latest concoction to be interesting, new, and easy. It was a soup, made with nontraditional ingredients, and it won rave reviews at a neighborhood potluck. No one could guess all the ingredients, so it won the “unique” dish award. When asked what inspired me, I had to be honest and say, “When you’re not doing the same thing day in and out—that’s when innovation and creativity abound.”

Think back to your first few jobs. Remember when you first started and what your perspective was during the first few months? Did you wonder why things were being done the way they were? Then, as time went on, did you become entrenched in the company culture and fall into the rut everyone else was in? Did you become so steeped in the daily reports, meetings, deadlines, and politics that you stopped thinking creatively?

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Wanting to be known for his hospitality in the neighborhood, a restaurant owner advertised take-out Thanksgiving turkey dinners, ready to go. With the holiday coming up, Joe planned to have friends over for dinner and decided to take advantage of the offer. When he called in his order, he was assured he’d get the turkey in time to pull it out of the oven and that it would be perfectly cooked.

However on Thanksgiving Day, when Joe went to the restaurant to pick up his order, the owner apologized, explaining that they had had some challenges. They were having a new cook come in shortly, and it would be just a bit more time. A few hours later, Joe returned to pick up his order. This time, instead of handing over a cooked turkey dinner, the restaurant owner had some questions as to the dinner’s requirements: what type stuffing, what side dish, what kind of gravy. Joe’s guests were due to arrive in less than an hour; in the end they had to settle for turkey salami.

As compensation for his inconvenience, the restaurant owner offered to send a free, if late, turkey dinner to Joe’s house. Six months later, the turkey dinner was finally delivered. Unfortunately, it turned out to be chicken and got sent to the wrong address.

Does this story sound improbable?

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

The concept of “pull” gained ever more ground with the publication of Womack and Jones’ Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealthin Your Corporation.  (Simon & Schuster, 1996). All this sounds terrific in theory and can be taught relatively easily through simple simulation exercises. Even one-piece flow systems can be demonstrated fairly simply. However, achieving this for most organizations is a different practical matter. In fact, companies that are leading their industries are moving beyond the folklore approach of push vs. pull and one-piece flow to achieve bottom-line results by focusing on the practical science behind manufacturing supply-chain management.

In implementing these practices organizations realize that whether it’s called push systems or pull systems, the intent is to reduce unproductive effort, not to become a slave to subjective definitions. The intent is to reduce work-in-process (WIP) inventory and cycle time while increasing throughput. Too low a WIP or too high a WIP can both be disastrous.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

A friend recently returned from a visit to China; his company had been acquired by a Chinese organization and he had gone there as part of the mutual due diligence. Not only did he come back impressed by their lower manufacturing costs but also with their technological advancements. While we in the United States hear of low quality standards of Chinese products, he was awed by the their adoption of current lean measures and Six Sigma, or a combination of the two as lean Six Sigma.

Most organizations that have adopted these methodologies will attest to the savings they have achieved via maximized productivity, improved product quality, reduced defect levels, and shortened cycle times. However, if we were to ask them about any competitive advantages these initiatives might have provided, we would get mixed responses. Ever wonder why that is so? How is it that despite the adoption of these approaches, many organizations are still unable to compete in world markets. Perhaps the world is coming to a new equilibrium.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Our country’s focus on cost-cutting led us to move manufacturing overseas and then outsource services. It has distracted us from adopting new technology and investing in innovation. Is this a serious mistake?

For many years, publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Business News, and Forbes have talked about how the United States has become a service economy, with manufacturing moving to underdeveloped and developing countries where labor is “cheap.” The trend has been touted as a natural progression of economies.

 We move manufacturing overseas so that a few of our esteemed and respected citizens can add obscene wealth to their coffers, while leaving Americans without jobs. We explain that rationale by stating that we are bringing them cheaper goods. We say that America has been moving toward a service economy and that it provides higher benefits. Do we really see that around us? Europe is a lot more expensive, yet the quality of service there is awful.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

The economy is uncertain, pessimism is rife in businesses, and many are standing around waiting for things to happen. However, complacency does not send a positive message to customers, colleagues, and employees. It is also not conducive to getting workforce input and buy-in to move in new directions. Consider the following story:

Long ago, in China, there was an old monk going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. Aged and weak, he was treading the long dusty road alone, seeking alms along the way. After many long months, one morning he gazed upward and saw the majestic mountain in the distance. By the roadside, there was an old woman working the field. “Please tell me,” he asked, “how much longer must I proceed before reaching the Holy Mountain?” The woman just looked at him, uttered a guttural sound and returned to her hoeing. He repeated the question a second and third time, but still there was no answer.

Thinking that the woman must be deaf, he decided to push on. After he had taken a few dozen steps, he heard the woman call out to him: “Two more days. It will take you two more days.”

Somewhat annoyed, the monk responded, “I thought you were deaf. Why didn’t you answer my question earlier?”

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

These days when the economy is uncertain, smaller organizations worry about survival while many larger, well-established organizations sit smugly, thinking they don’t really have much to worry about. However, some  of these large, well-established organizations are vanishing. How is this possible?

Perhaps, tales of yore will provide a lesson for us:

During the fourth century in China, states often fought with each other. During one particular skirmish, the general of the Chin state was seated in his chambers conferring with Meung, the incoming lieutenant general of the 3rd Division, when a lieutenant arrived with a report about the logistics of an upcoming battle between that division and another in a neighboring state.

The lieutenant brought good news stating that they enjoyed significant advantages: superiority in the number of troops, abundance of weaponry, superior experience, and a regiment that was well fed and taken care of. He assured victory for the Chin state.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Business owners get so engrossed in running their businesses that they get into a rut and wonder why they are not able to lower their “handicaps.”

Learning to lower one’s golf scores can be quite a challenging task. For most handicap players the short game presents the best opportunity to shoot lower scores. Mastering the wedge and putting may be the fastest way to play better golf.

Is there a short game that businesses can use to improve profits? Would mastering the quality game be the fastest way to “play better business?”

When we review the Toyota fiasco during the past few months, it may be easy to cite quality as the way to lower the handicap. It makes one wonder, though, whether this may be the only factor. Could there be other causes that inhibit business and trade growth?

For small businesses, the prosperity of owners is tied directly to the success of the businesses. In golf, despite the differing courses, some golfers are able to thrive. Similarly, strategies deployed by business owners directly affect their fiscal growth, despite the harsh operating environment. What are their secrets? Surely, it cannot just be about quality?

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Toyota’s name has been plastered in the headlines providing it the publicity no organization would wish for.

Historically, Toyota had achieved a global reputation for the production of very high quality vehicles. The Toyota Production System, or the Toyota Way, is being taught, learned, and implemented in a variety of organizations from manufacturing and service, to hospitality, health care, and education. That’s why the recent bungling over a spate of global recalls appears to be so out of character; did the giant blink?

While responding to the safety issues, Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota, acknowledged that Toyota had gotten too focused in gaining market share and becoming the largest auto manufacturer in the world. Apparently, it failed to practice what it preached and fell short in following its basic tenets of rigorous testing, managerial oversight, and valuing customers, thereby enabling problems to creep in.  

One lesson is obvious: Quality cannot be compromised; blink at your own peril.