Summertime, and the working isn’t easy

Last year, we should have maxed out August. Ended up being one of our lowest months because of vacations, one guy on light duty then didn’t come in, second guy struggling with shoulder problems. We were counting on this revenue, and now we don’t have it. Can’t let that happen again this year. What should we do?

Thoughts of the day… Make a plan for what’s expected. It’s important to know how long each job will take. Weekly calendar adjustments are essential. Have a plan for making the last hour(s) of the day productive. Make time for downtime. Work with sales to maximize profits.

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Prioritize the workload and distribute it fairly

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At certain times of the year, the people in the field aren’t working as much as we would like them to be. When things pick up, we find certain people who are doing a lot more than others. This has to be addressed, but we’re not sure how to fix it.

Thoughts of the day… Who is in charge of distributing the workload? What projects can get accomplished in slow times? What’s the reward for showing initiative? Make sure everyone understands what has to happen to make the company productive and profitable.

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Staying on top of projects requires communication and accountability

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We found out projects that we thought were done, weren’t. Other projects weren’t done profitably. How do we get control?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Build tools to track your work. Use checks and balances. Hold a weekly project review meeting. Formally hand off every job at the beginning and at the end. Make profitability an accountability with teeth.

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Eliminating Disruptions in Shift Work

We run a couple different shifts most days. We’re finding information doesn’t get shared. We end up duplicating effort as one shift re-does what another shift was supposed to take care of. Not everyone gets here at the same time, so it’s hard to have a meeting. What suggestions do you have to make this work smoother?

Thoughts of the Day: Plan out the work schedule. Plan out what to do when someone inevitably doesn’t show up for a shift. Use notes that turn into checklists to document what’s been done and what still needs to be done. Assign shift supervisors with overlapping check-in and checkout times who must clear up any issues before heading home. Finally, think about a different approach.

Scheduling is both art and science. If possible, buy some scheduling software. Most industries have systems that have been customized. Check with your national industry association to see if they have any recommendations.

Have a go-to person who oversees and approves all of the schedules. It’s this person’s job to match workload and personnel. Make sure this person is good at providing write-ups of what has to happen since they won’t always be on site and the shift supervisors need direction on what work they’ll have to handle.

Put one person on each shift in charge of quality and compliance and another person in charge of inventory. These two also need to be able to work with software to track and report. If possible get an inventory system in place that the scheduler and inventory manager can both look at to know what’s in stock and what needs to be ordered to help them plan out what each shift needs to work on. The quality manager checks that work is completed on time, is error free and provides feedback to shift supervisors. Make it clear what has to happen if employees want to swap shifts. Who do they go to for permission and how does permission get recorded so everyone is on board? What do replacements need to know and how are they informed? Is there any specific training /certification needed for a replacement to be eligible? What does the original shift worker have to do to ensure their work is properly covered?

Keep a schedule that everyone can access. If everyone doesn’t have access to a computer, post a daily roster — looking ahead at least two weeks. Show replacements by crossing out the original worker’s name, so that everyone knows who is responsible for ensuring the shift is covered.

In case of breakdown, make it the original shift worker’s responsibility along with the person who agreed to cover the shift to diagnose and prevent problems in the future. Meet with both to discuss the breakdown and ask them how they could have avoided the problem. Put suggestions in writing and make them part of the policy manual, which gets distributed to everyone.

Set aside time to cross train people so they can step into each other’s jobs. Have day-shift people train on the evening shift, and vice versa, as there’s a different boss, rhythm and set of tasks that have to be dealt with on each shift.

As much as you want teams to be self-managing, you still need points of contact. Make shift supervisors the primary point of communication between shifts. Everyone feeds them information about what’s going on before, during and after each shift. It’s their job to work with their teams and each other to smooth out disruptions.

Any time there is a change in shifts, that’s a disruption to work flow. Disruptions equal loss of productivity. Investing in equipment necessary to have more people work at one time may be less costly than dealing with constant interruptions from shift changes. Think about asking employees to work longer hours but fewer days — people may enjoy having more days off during the week and can be more focused during the concentration of work days.

Looking for a good book? Try “Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead” by Laszlo Bock.

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How to Please Big Clients

We have been struggling on the big accounts — not understanding their needs well enough, not profitable enough, not on time and coming in over budget sometimes. Big clients aren’t especially happy with us these days. How do I prevent this from seriously damaging our business?

Thoughts of the day: Correctly diagnosing the situation is crucial. Symptoms often show up internally as the producing company notices problems before the recipient buyer sees them. There are real dollars attached to ensuring customers are satisfied.

Make sure to follow these rules for diagnosing the situation. When clients speak, hear them out, as you listen in order to understand, not to rebut. Restate what you heard in order to verify understanding. Ask clients who don’t say much to give you feedback and reassure them that negative feedback is as welcome as positive feedback. Get to work on permanent solutions.

Sometimes the most obvious question is the one that delivers the most actionable information. Ask clients what it would take to make them happy. Just because clients ask for something, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea for your company. Set aside time to figure out if you can deliver what they’re asking for or not. Vend out or refer out things that you’re asked to do that don’t make sense for your company.

When your staff tells you there’s a problem with a client, pay attention. Often your people will know that something is wrong long before the client identifies an issue. Look for themes and one-offs: Is the current issue similar to other situations you’ve encountered, or is it unique? Prioritize fixing the repetitive issues. Occasionally look at the unique issues for opportunity to take the business in a new direction.

Always question the source of the problem. Did the issue crop up because of who was buying, how it was sold or the way the solution was delivered? Think through whether this client should have bought from you or whether the solution was oversold. Or, was there a problem delivering something your company produces regularly and should have done a better job of delivering this time.

When looking to expand, remember to sell new products to existing customers. You can trade on a long-standing positive relationship. Existing customers who know and respect the work of your company are more likely to cut you a break if things don’t go well. On the other hand, existing customers may get tired of the same old product and look for new innovations. Keep the relationship fresh with additional offers that will help to keep that client coming back for more.

Use existing products to lure in new groups of clients. Figure out who else might want what your company has to offer. Start off new clients with a strong relationship because you’re offering a product or service that’s well tested and proven.

One researcher, looking at a Fortune 100 company, equated a 1 percent increase in satisfaction to $13 million in increased service contracts. That’s powerful. While your numbers might be smaller, it’s important that everyone in your company understands the link between satisfied clients and continued revenue flow to pay the bills, including everyone’s salary and benefits.

When looking to ensure customer satisfaction, look for consistent holes. Decide if it’s due to a lack of management and oversight, lack of proper planning as to how work will be handled or lack of production skill, quality materials and deliverability. Tackle the problems now, rather than avoiding them, by forming a team of people to work on diagnosing and solving the problems at hand. Make satisfying customers everyone’s job.

Keep in mind that the bigger the client, the bigger the opportunity and the bigger the risk if things don’t go well. Big clients can help your company grow as long as their needs and yours are well-aligned. Make sure the clients you’re struggling with aren’t predators looking to pick apart your company for all it’s worth before moving on to do it to someone else. Instead, look for big clients you can partner and align with to help you and them succeed because of mutual interest and goodwill.

Looking for a good book? Check out… Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic Framework by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers.

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