Sustainability and the Humanization of Work

Sustainability and the Humanization of Work

Joanie Mann Bunny FeetFew problems in business are truly solved simply by throwing more money and resources at them.  Certainly, having the people, tools and supplies to get the work done well is a business requirement, and many organizations take a “building out” approach to addressing growing workloads and customer demand.  On the other hand, there are business owners who recognize that things can always be accomplished better and more efficiently, and that improvements in these areas can make the difference between ending up with an overburdened organization with more mass than agility, or a lean organization with the ability to sustain itself while continuously adjusting to meet changing internal and external challenges.

It is said that the only constant is change, and businesses must find a way to effectively and cost-efficiently meet changing demands and conditions in order to survive.  What frustrates many business owners is that change is generally disruptive to the business, representing a significant challenge when it comes to the re-development of internal processes and procedures.   At issue is the understanding that proven, structured and repeatable processes help to improve efficiency, yet changing conditions often require changes to these processes.  In many cases, businesses find that the requirement to structure and document activities is work that must be re-done in the event of broad changes.  Too often, the work falls by the wayside because the minute it is completed, some change comes along and renders it obsolete.  It is somewhat like the child who questions making their bed each day, as they’re just going to sleep in it again and make it messy.

There may be a solution, and a lesson to be learned, in the “kaizen” approach to change and improvement.  Wikipedia’s entry on Kaizen identifies the meaning of the Japanese-Kanji word as simply “good change”.  Similar to the English word “improvement”, kaizen does not refer specifically to any single or ongoing change.  Rather, it has come to describe an approach to business which recognizes the potential for improvement – improvement in work product, work conditions, worker satisfaction, and worker performance – at all levels throughout the enterprise.  Further, kaizen does not describe change as being broad-ranging or particularly intrusive.  Beneficial (good) change may come at any level and may be identified by almost any source.

Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (“muri”), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.

The ultimate business goals are, of course, improved productivity, product quality and profitability.  A “Kaizen” approach to business recognizes that these goals are often met through gaining the participation of the entire organization.  Whether approached as individual effort, small or large group, or via suggestion system, the purpose is to nurture the company’s human resource and help focus it towards making improvements in work environment and activities which lead to improved productivity.  After all, the most valuable asset a business has is its people.  It is logical to apply this individual and collective intelligence and source of business knowledge towards making the company better – and a better place to work.

Make sense?


Lean and Mean – Improving Sales and Distribution Performance

Lean and Mean – Improving Sales and Distribution Performance

It is surprising that, even in this world of Internet marketing and online commerce, many businesses are operating at levels far below their potential.  Reliant upon people rather than information and process, these businesses are weighted down by their legacy approach to getting things done.  They throw money and personnel at the problem, adding more “fat” to the business and making sustainability just that much harder to achieve.  The right approach, and the mantra of all manufacturers and distributors, should be to work “lean and mean”, applying technology and business principles which support agility and improved process efficiency.

The center of lean business is in operations, and includes all aspects of the “order” processing and support systems.  From the point where an order is sought, to the point of order entry, and through to delivery and service – all aspects of the operation must be addressed for the business to achieve maximum success.  Innovating in operational areas, such as in order management and distribution, can help the business rise above others in the market and create a significant competitive advantage.

What becomes challenging for many businesses is the fact that years of working in established “silos” often makes it difficult to introduce the cross-functionality necessary to support lean operations.  It is not sufficient to simply suggest that the organization work collaboratively to streamline processes from order through to service and support.  Work groups and team members must work together and adapt to delivering process improvements, following through with the actions necessary to turn the philosophy into bottom line results.  Good support is required to keep customers, and a good product is necessary to support increased sales.  No aspect of the operation stands alone, so each is necessary to participate in making end-to-end improvement.  Additionally, back-office processes must be aligned to work collaboratively where required, supporting efficient operations rather than creating unnecessary bottlenecks or delays.

The key to developing a lean and mean, high performance operation is applying the technology and principles which translate into improved profitability and customer retention.  In many cases, the same solutions which create customer “self-help” capabilities are also solutions which can address similar needs for internal business users. Ultimately, the goals are elimination of redundant or error-prone processes, establishing the sharing and secure collaboration of information throughout the organization, implementing integrated systems which allow users to efficiently perform their particular tasks, and working cooperatively with others in the supply chain to maximize the real-time capability and efficiency.

Rather than continuing to utilize basic record keeping solutions, or accounting products which aren’t prepared to address the specific operational aspects of the business, owners and managers should be looking to the tools and solutions which will help them develop the framework to support improving operational performance, turning people knowledge into sustainable business profitability.

Make Sense?


Accountants and Small Manufacturers: Getting in Front of the Ball

There’s a lot more to accountability in a manufacturing or inventory-based business than simply keeping track of money in and money out.  Particularly in an economy when nobody can afford to build or stock products too far ahead of demand, it is essential that these businesses have a means to not only track and manage purchasing, manufacturing, distribution and stocking activities, but to understand conditions or trends which impact the flow of materials and cash through the business.  Read more…