Posts Tagged ‘business’

Elderly Worker 1

It was a beautiful morning as I enjoyed my cup of coffee at a local Panera Bread waiting on a friend.  Next to me sat four gentlemen, all of whom were in their sixties, talking about how much they missed working.  From what I could tell, one had been some type of manager, one an engineer, another a salesman, and the other, I believe, a teacher.

My friend, a small business owner, arrived about fifteen minutes later.  Eventually, our conversation wandered into what I see as a major concern for companies today.  They can’t find qualified employees.  Tragically, one of the top reasons is they often fail drug tests.  In general, his business requires an average level of computer competencies, a college education or applicable experience, people skills, and self-motivation.  He will train the right people.

As we were talking about this challenge, I pointed over at the next table and asked, “Would you hire any of those men?”  His face said it all.  They are old and probably retired.  “Same question.  Would you hire any of them?”  “Probably, if they were qualified and wanted to work.”

I told him about the conversation I overheard.  At least three of these men are probably qualified to work at his company.  When it comes to the “age” thing, it is amazing how dismissive hiring people are of this group.  Maybe many of them do not want to work full-time but would work part-time.  Maybe they need some small consideration.  But most importantly, maybe they are exactly the type of employee you need.  (The lady who waited on me had to be in her seventies; working right next to someone in their twenties.)

Years ago, I was teaching a management class at a local university.  One class I devoted to “generational diversity” and how it can enrich a company culture.  They may not be as ‘up-to-date’ as younger generations but I guarantee you they are way ahead of the curve when it comes to experience.

I find it interesting that people, without hesitation, would vote for a Senator (6-year term), Congressman (2-year term), or President (4-year term), that were in their seventies, or even eighties, but wouldn’t hire someone of the same age group because they were ‘old.’

To the seniors who want to work, don’t hesitate to let people know.  To the companies desperately looking for qualified employees, reach out to this group.  You will be amazed at what is available.




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In 1987 a super computer could process 2,000,000,000 calculations per second.  Think about that for a ‘second.’  In other words, this is the processing power of two billion people for one second.  That was a big deal.

Fast forward thirty years.  On June 8, 2018 the US Department of Energy introduced a new supercomputer from IBM that could perform 200,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second. Using all of the humans on earth (approximately 7.0 billion), it would take every human doing a calculation each second for almost a year to match what this new supercomputer could do in one second.

Take a look at the following chart.  Note the numbers (powers of 10) along the bottom.  During the late 1980’s the personal computer could perform around 12 million calculations per second (126).  Look at the current time period; about 100 billion calculations per second (1011).  To put this in perspective, the IBM super computer mentioned above is (1017).  A gigantic difference.

Information Data Transition


In a decade or so, the ‘calculations per second power’ of super computers today will be available to every day users.  You may ask, what does this mean to me?  My business?

Have you been reading the articles on Artificial Intelligence?  Virtual Reality?  Block Chain?  Data Analytics?  This is an incredibly important transformation and it is going to impact everything you do.  And, it is happening quickly.  You cannot ignore the impact this is going to have on your business.

Therefore, understand the advanced technologies that will impact, or are impacting, the critical components of your business (manufacturing, distribution, logistics, marketing, etc.).  Then, find ways to utilize that power for more effective decision-making.  Don’t wait until you have to; catch-up is very expensive.


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One of the greatest lessons I ever learned, was dealing directly with people in a difficult situation.  It did not matter if it was difficult for me, or difficult for them.  Face to face, or on the telephone; nowhere to hide situations.  The more I had to live through these occasions, the stronger I became in dealing with adversity.  I learned early on that it is almost always better to deal directly with someone in a difficult situation than trying to handle it from a distance.

Today, with the exponential increase in messaging (email, voice messages, LinkedIn, Facebook, text message, etc.) it has become too easy to avoid people in uncomfortable situations.  Send a text, email, form letter, or better yet, if it is difficult for you, avoid it all together.

The difference between someone who plays on the field of adversity when necessary and someone who sits in the top bleacher of the stadium avoiding the conflict, is confidence and courage.  You cannot gain confidence or build courage from the bleachers.  Some of the most successful people I know would go out of their way to have a face-to-face meeting in a difficult situation, even when a phone call would have worked.  Why?

I have seen a CEO meet with a supplier who lost in a major bidding contest that had an adverse impact on their business.  What did he do?  He delivered the bad news and provided words of encouragement.  I have also seen a CEO avoid a minor difficult situation, by not answering telephone messages and emails.  He didn’t know what to say.  In the first example, the business is flourishing, in the second, the business struggles month to month.  Think of the example being set by these CEO’s.  Which company would you rather work for, buy from, partner with, or supply?

This is not just a message for CEO’s, it is a message for anyone who wants to strengthen their brand.

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Outside the Lines

Have you ever watched a small child who was learning to craw go exploring?  They move about three to five feet, stop, look back to see if you are still there, and then take off again.  The more comfortable they become, the less they look back.  Somehow, many of us as adults, have lost that drive to “explore.”  Why?

Obviously, a young child doesn’t know when they are moving toward something that will cause discomfort.  Over time, they will learn, and become more selective about what to explore.  In any case, during the maturation period, they will lean toward exploring, and not worrying too much about discomfort.  They will grow up in a world riddled with rules, limits, and restrictions; even so, they will continuously test the rules.  By the time they are adults, they know where the lines are and have a predilection to stay within them.  –  Whoa, I better not go there.  It’s comfortable here.

From a business perspective, we need to operate more like an exploring child, than someone who lives within the lines.  Often the ‘fear of failure’ is the deciding factor in trying something new.  However, if you want to survive, you must go outside the lines.  And believe me, from a resource (time, people, and money) perspective, it is much better to choose to explore, than to be forced by outside forces to cross the lines.

While there are many processes that business owners use to play outside the lines, most can be narrowed down to a few simple steps.

  1. You must understand your comfort zone, AND why you are comfortable there. This is your first line to cross.
  2. Determine the best and worst-case possibilities for your journey. What is the best thing that can happen to your business and what is the worst thing that can happen to your business?  This is your second line to cross.
  3. Visualize what success looks like. This is more than a glossy picture, or sketch, of your business.  You must identify the most critical attributes of that visualization.  It’s like, being able to describe your (future) business to a new acquaintance.  Mentally, spend time there.  This is the third line to cross.
  4. At every step of the journey, you must capture the learning process.
    – What resources do you need? (time, people, and money)
       – What did you try? Did it work, or not work?  Why?
    – What competencies and capabilities are you building?  What are you going to
    need when you get there?
    – What is happening to your base business as you move along?
    –  In other words, craw three to five feet, stop, look back, and then take off again.

To create that future business, you must play outside the lines.  Successful businesses who succeed in this transition will be those that follow a plan that enables them to manage risks and seize opportunities along the way, while continuously pushing their organization forward.

It is an exciting journey; enjoy the trip.

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Maineville Manufacturing (FICT) was a medium size second generation company producing metal parts primarily for a handful of larger companies.  While competition was challenging, their long-standing reputation for quality and service usually placed them near the front of the line with their customers.  Like many privately held companies their supplier base, for the most part, had grown up with them.  One of their oldest suppliers (OS) was also a second generation business whose relationship was established by the founders of both companies.

After a long battle, Maineville Mfg., finally landed a large customer who needed a sophisticated component part for a new product.  The new customer would generate very good volume but with much smaller margins than Maineville Mfg. was accustomed.  They knew that they could build the capacity to produce the component part; however, it required a very high-quality precision fitting.  (The prototype component part was internally produced by Maineville at a very high cost, primarily the result of the precision fitting.)

Maineville Mfg. had identified two outside suppliers that could produce the precision fitting; one was highly recommended by the new customer.  Their only existing supplier that could produce the precision fitting was their long-time friend OS.  All three provided a good sample fitting during the development stage.

Maineville’s problem was that OS was excited about possibly being part of the new venture.  However, Maineville knew, based on experience, that OS might not be as reliable as the two outside suppliers.  Over the years, Maineville had developed internal quality control processes, at their expense, to occasionally catch and fine-tune parts received from OS.

Now that Maineville had landed this new customer, they had to lock in their precision fitting supplier.  The next step required Maineville, within sixty days, to produce a test batch of component parts, validate engineer processes and quality control standards, and confirm reliable sourcing relationships and specifications.

Which supplier should Maineville choose to produce the precision fitting, and why?  What did Maineville do?  What would you do?  — This might surprise you.  They worked with OS to put in place a rigorous quality control process at OS.  Their long-term relationship was that important to them.

Looking back, it would have been much better if Maineville had addressed the quality issues with OS when they first started, rather than covering for them over the years.  Don’t worry about “hurting feelings” when business issues are at hand.  Be respectful, be considerate, be understanding, be fair, but most of all be honest about the situation.

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Recently I observed a conversation between two business men where one individual was trying to sell the other.  It was obviously a first meeting.  Out-of-the-gate, the seller took an aggressive posture hell-bent on closing the deal.  He was dead in the water and didn’t know it because he violated some fundamental lessons that I learned many years ago when I worked for Dun & Bradstreet.  It turned out to be a short meeting.  What were the lessons?

Lesson 1.  Do your homework before the meeting.  Know everything you can about the company, its owner(s), markets, industry, etc.  This gives you a foundation to understand comments made about the business.

Lesson 2.  Get to know the person you are talking to.  Ask them about their company, what they do, what they make, who they sell to, their competition, etc.  Also, ask personal questions.  Tell me a little about you.  Why did you start your business?  What keeps you up at night?  Questions that promote insight and discovery.

Lesson 3.  Be very clear about your purpose for the meeting.  For example, ‘my purpose for meeting today is to take a little time in understanding your business and the issues you are facing to determine if my services/products can help you.’  Establish a constructive foundation for the dialogue.  You want to help the buyer see their issues from a different perspective.

Lesson 4.  Get the owner’s permission to ask certain questions.  For example, can I ask you about your biggest challenge today?  Would it be okay to talk a little about ……?  Establish a safe environment for dialogue.

Lesson 5.  Determine as quickly as possible whether your products/services can help the buyer.  Identify how you can help; be clear in your explanation.  Provide tactful suggestions.

Lesson 6.  Determine if the person you are talking to is the decision-maker for buying your products/services.  This includes having the authority to spend the funds.

Lesson 7.  Listen, listen, listen, listen from the perspective of Lessons 1 and 2.  Stay connected; don’t drift off into your own world.  Listening establishes the foundation for advanced discussion.

I can’t say for certain whether these lessons would have gotten him the sale.  But I am certain they would have gotten him the conversation.


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Last year, the Future of Jobs Report developed by the World Economic Forum identified the Top 10 Skills in 2020.  The top six were:

  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • People Management
  • Coordinating with Others
  • Emotional Intelligence

Finding this very interesting, I did some research to see if I could identify critical skills identified in 2007 to see what has changed in just ten years.  Here are a few:

  • Communication Skills
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Strong Work Ethic
  • Computer Skills
  • Teamwork
  • Analytic Skills

While there is some connection between these two sets of skills, the change is telling.  Let’s look at a few:

Complex Problem Solving.  According to the World Economic Forum report, complex problem solving is defined “as the capacity needed to solve new, poorly defined problems in complex situations.”  It is the ability to solve real-time problems that are not clearly defined in a dynamic and complex world that cannot be addressed by routine actions.  Whoa!

Critical Thinking.  According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, critical thinking is defined as “… that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it….”  The focus is on objectively analyzing a problem by assessing evidence (data), patterns, relationships, etc. in order to arrive at an informed decision.

While the skill definitions seem overwhelming, in the simplest of terms, both are ‘mind sets.’  It is how we think about the problems/opportunities we are facing.  In other words, recognizing that many of the problems/opportunities facing business are not only below the observed surface, they are also complex, dynamic, and often obscured by fuzzy signals.

Compare these two to the 2007 skills, which are important, and think about how we have been educating and training our workforce for the last ten years.  Interestingly, the number one challenge I hear from business owners is that they cannot find qualified workers.  So, how does someone acquire these skills?  How does a company even begin to interview for this talent?  Where does it begin?

It begins with the leadership of the company “challenging the conventional thinking” within the organization.  It is a new mind set; it is a culture.  The first step is recognizing you will often have to dig below the surface of the observed problem/opportunity in order to grasp the substance/complexity of what you are dealing with, ‘before’ applying resources (time, people, and money) to act on it.  The descriptions say it all, we live in a more challenging environment than we did just ten years ago that requires a different skill set to survive and prosper.  Your move.

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