Part of the personal growth effort of Cambridge includes encouraging each employee to feel more confident speaking in front of a large group and other public speaking opportunities. The "practice" of this improvement comes in the form of taking turns to Emcee the morning meeting that we hold out in the shop every day. Each Emcee can speak to whatever they'd like as the group stretches - some take the chance to talk about their families or hometowns, others give trivia and yet, others - like Steve, our Controller - take the opportunity to be creative. Watch the video below to see how Steve used his introduction time! 

During a recent visit in Rhode Island, a customer and friend of our organization complained about the features of our WiFi thermostat and Iphone App. He just didn’t like the interface with the control application. He struggled with understanding if the HVAC equipment was running and he didn’t like not being able to program the system settings directly from the Iphone App. Our phone interface bugged him. What happens when our customer’s get repeatedly frustrated with experiencing our product, services or people? You know the answer. They’ll be gone. frustrated We have been learning and growing in our LEAN journey at Cambridge. My key learning has come in the form of exposure to the energy and passion of our Operations staff for documented improvements in our plant. I’ve been drawn into the LEAN vortex in operations because of our people and their commitment to improving things every day. Unfortunately, the passion for LEAN has not translated to the same awesome level of enthusiasm and commitment beyond the factory floor. Like many in the sales, the customer service and the marketing departments, I have struggled to document meaningful process improvements. My focus on fixing what bugs me has yet to yield the transformational improvements that are possible for me and my team. While transformational improvements are not our stated objective, I find myself feeling reluctant to put forth additional 2-second Lean improvements. Others in my organization have shared similar frustrations. Paul Akers, the author of the book 2-Second Lean, details that every organization hits plateaus in LEAN and persistence is needed to push through to another level. My perspective on LEAN shifted during this Rhode Island trip to VIBCO, a family owned U.S. based manufacturing organization. I want to share my perspective shift in hopes that it might unlock more people regarding how LEAN practices can propel all of us forward into closer relationships with our customers. I am shifting my thinking from fixing what bugs me to fixing what bugs my customer. Over the last year, I have spent the majority of my time looking at my processes, my environment, my efficiency, my organization, my wasted time and energy. As I reflect on the power of our Customer Service team, I believe their stellar reputation in the HVAC industry is built upon this hard wired philosophy of helping customers solve problems fast. They strive to support the customer quickly. Both on the phone and on site, our customer service squad supports solving issues that bug customers. Within our technical advisory team, they support our Reps and contractors with information, analysis and design to make their customers more effective with their customer. They have a guaranteed 24 turn around commitment to their customer and typically deliver in less than 4 hours. LEAN beyond the manufacturing plant dock doors is all about fixing what bugs customers. happy I’ll report back on the progress we make creating our own LEAN Sales Vortex. We are building our 15 minute daily stand up meeting agenda now. It will include building and fixing customer issues and new ideas for customer improvements. We will be discussing our “Go and Watch” plans for cross functional team learning and customer centric improvements. Finally, we will be outlining our Revenue team external exposure plans so that we can provide an environment to unlock everyone’s genius for fixing what bugs our customers. Is it not true that what bugs the customer, likely bugs us the most?

Our Senior Leadership team recently returned from Japan where they were on an educational journey to bring back ideas from Japanese businesses that had been working on LEAN initiatives for many decades. Their trip included a visit to Lexus, the luxury car maker and part of the Toyota family of brands. As they were departing for their trip I asked that they solicit feedback from the Japanese companies regarding LEAN and it’s applications to sales organizations.

One might describe the Sales Cycle as the time it takes to obtain an interested prospect through a customer purchase order and finally through the ongoing post-purchase customer engagement. If you look at the Sales Cycle in 3 stages, you may find it easier to look for waste in the sales process. Waste will reveal itself in time, motion, over processing and/or wasted human potential of associates. The Sales Cycle -3 Stages: Pre-Sale Activity / Direct Selling Activity / Post Sale Engagement Pre-Sale Activity Building interest with prospects takes research, dedication, focus, creativity and a concise definition of value for one’s target audience. Marketing and Sales teams work closely to refine these target audiences and the messages that will drive desired customer response; typically outreach, raising their hand in some fashion for contact or more information. Eliminating waste from these processes can be accomplished through building a standardized approach to the various activities required to deliver in clear, simple language – Who is our target? What is our value proposition message? How will we communicate it internally & externally? How will we measure our success? Who is accountable for each pre-sale activity? What are the desired timeframes or deadlines? A clearly defined launch formula shortens the cycle. Compressing the time it takes to complete these pre-sale activities is LEAN applied to the sales cycle. Each delay, restart or off track adventure eats time and energy. What areas of your process can be leaned out? Direct Sales Engagements The Sales Team has a prospect, whether obtained through the marketing engine or through direct sales customer prospecting. Are your sales team members capable of building instant rapport and interest? Do they have the skills necessary to do so? Were they measured in the hiring process or ongoing performance evaluations against a standard in order to predict their success in their role? Have they been educated on a definitive sales approach? Is leadership spending the right amount of time, watching, listening and coaching sales team members? Show me a sales person with a rich pipeline of business and I’ll bet money that they have done the hard work of preparation, outreach, communication, post visit follow up and continuous touches necessary to close deals. Direct selling without a process, a script, a consistent message, a consistent list of questions, a consistent approach to customer engagement will result in the absence of results. LEAN thinking applied here in the sales process is as applicable to sales professionals as it is to operational, manufacturing personnel. What standard work or best practices can you point to formally in the sales process that are evident across the sales team? Post Sale Engagement Now that we’ve received a purchase order, what systems, processes or steps do you have in place to communicate with your customer? Do you have in place automated order confirmations detailing shipment dates from the factory? Confirmations of product shipments and anticipated arrivals to benefit the customer are a great way to communicate order status and shipment. Whether invoicing at time of purchase order or at shipment are those communication automated, manual, efficient, clear and understandable? Does your marketing team then continue to touch your customer with the correct frequency according to plan, to stay in front of the customer base with information that is relevant to your customer segment? Are there opportunities (waste) to streamline these, speed them up, to eliminate time and multiple touches. MRP systems and CRM systems offer solutions in automated workflows to eliminate time spent on these activities. LEAN and it’s application to the sales cycle is self-evident. Seeing waste in the process is certainly the hardest part of the journey. I am hopeful that this breakdown of the process might trigger thoughts for continuous improvement. I would love to hear about steps that you’ve taken in your own sales process to eliminate waste. Thank you for any insights you can share on your own journey that have helped you LEAN out you selling cycle.

Recently, in my first blog post, I asked the questions, “Why do financial executives so frequently find themselves following, rather than leading, during a LEAN initiative? Has your company implemented LEAN in the finance/accounting area? If not, why not?” It is my experience that the single biggest obstacle to a creating a truly LEAN culture in an organization is the character of the leaders tasked with implementation. And, among the character traits that we will discuss in these series of blog posts, I truly believe that HUMILITY is at the heart of, and foundational to, any successful effort at LEAN leadership.

If you are like me, a leader who has reached a senior level in their career path, you know that personal ego is no small thing when it comes to your leadership. Properly managed, it can be an effective force in leadership. However, more commonly, it is a destructive force. And, even worse, one that most of us, as leaders, fail to acknowledge or even recognize, LEAN is about acknowledging that our work, no matter how good we feel it is, is NEVER finished. It is a mentality of constant, never-ending improvement. Ego is our natural state. In other words, we constantly seek to reinforce what we already think we know. LEAN leadership is embracing the knowledge that we must constantly work to break out of our natural state. It is changing the assumption that I will be considered talented and intelligent if I can simply come up with unique ideas and then protect them jealously. C.S. Lewis said that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” LEAN leaders know that their talent is to be deployed not for their own individual good, but for the good of others before themselves. LEAN thinkers know that they are in a battle against waste, and they look out for the fellow warriors on their right and on their left, no matter what position they hold in the organization. They say, “Look, I had a great idea! Now, how fast can someone else improve on it?” And, most importantly, they CELEBRATE that next improvement. This is particularly important for financial leaders, as we are the “gatekeepers” of an organization. We can, very quickly, bring things to a screeching halt. While the “gatekeeper” analogy is appropriate for much of what we do, I would rather we focus on being fellow warriors in the battle against waste. Only a HUMBLE expression of our leadership will allow us to do so.

As a leader, I have been on a LEAN journey for a number of years. But it was only within the last 12 months that I have been exposed to the concept of LEAN accounting. As my interaction with other LEAN leaders has intensified, I have started to ask the question, “Are you doing anything with LEAN in your accounting area?” And, almost without exception, the answer is “no,” or “not yet.” However, this isn’t surprising, as had you asked me the same question just 6 months ago, the answer would have been identical.

My role at Cambridge is unique in that, as COO and CFO, I have a leadership role in both operations and finance. In the world of LEAN, the operations folks are generally the most rapid implementers. This has been true in our case, and most of my LEAN learning has been on the operations side of the business. However, once I was exposed to LEAN accounting, it became clear to me that, absent considerable leadership changes on my part, I was going to quickly become a liability, vs. an asset, in our LEAN efforts. The reality is that any LEAN journey that does not include the accounting and finance areas of an organization is bound to be severely limited in its ability to deliver on all of the wonderful promises of LEAN. The experts in this area like Brian Maskell, Jean Cunningham and Orry Fiume are all passionate in their pointing out that traditional accounting does a poor job of accurately reflecting a company’s financial performance. And that when a company decides to truly embrace LEAN principles, the financial executives are frequently not prepared for how these principles will impact their areas of responsibility. However, this lack of awareness is not the worst part. They point out that the lack of preparedness in the accounting and finance roles will actually HINDER the pace and effectiveness of any LEAN initiative within an organization. So, the obvious question is “Why?” Why do financial executives so frequently find themselves following, rather than leading, during a LEAN initiative? Has your company implemented LEAN in the finance/accounting area? If not, why not? This is intended as the first of a series of blog posts that consider the leadership characteristics that, I believe, are required for a financial executive to move from following to leading a LEAN transformation. Or, at a minimum, if not leading, then acting as a key participant in a LEAN leadership team. First up in the next post…HUMILITY.