Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

In the timeless—and ever-pertinent in business—words of Vanilla Ice “Stop. Collaborate. And Listen.”

In this blog, we’ll quickly cover a 3-point exercise that all leaders should run through regularly with their team.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen  STOP – As a leader, take a step back.

Being stuck in a daily routine and mountain of meetings, this is the life of a leader. Many leaders get so comfortable in their roles, their team and their processes that they don’t ever take the time ask “Why?” they are doing the things they are doing.

As a leader, it is important to take a step back and overview not only what you do, but what it is your team does and if there is room to change, improve, and grow.


Stop, Collaborate, and Listen  COLLABORATE – Ask the people who do it every day.

While it’s great for leaders to take the initiative to suggest and implement changes in processes and production lines, there is nothing better for buy-in and research than asking/consulting with your staff and team, who do the bulk of work.

As a leader, your role isn’t just to MAKE the changes, you also need to FIND the changes. Collaborating with your team and other similar teams will provide you with the insight required to make an informed decision, ensuring the biggest impact.


Stop, Collaborate, and Listen  And LISTEN– Keep an eye and ear open for feedback.

Once you’ve collaborated on potential changes, and maybe you’ve even done a cost-saving analysis, don’t just push it off to the side and expect that you’ve “done your job”. Instead, keep an open mind with your team. Listen and look to see how the changes are working out. Maybe they are cost-saving, but are they hurting staff morale or productivity in the long run.

As a leader, there is a need to consistently cycle through changes and not be upset or discouraged if one of your changes has negative feedback or outcomes. Take that experience and knowledge and learn from it.

As a leader you should use the Stop, Collaborate, and Listen (or Vanilla Ice) approach with your team. Stop and find a process or cycle that you find to be old, inefficient and/or wasteful, and reach out to your staff. Collaborate with them on ways they think it can be improved and take the time to better understand their point of view. Then, once implemented, listen to the feedback of the changes. Were they good or bad? From there, take that feedback and use it in the next cycle.

By: Andrew Martel,  Senior Business Analyst

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen


How CEOs spend their time

Have you ever wondered what a typical CEO day looks like? The highest rung of the corporate ladder has always held mystery and respect for ordinary people. The face of an organization must understandably be very busy with meetings, trips, and other commitments. did a survey of 256 CEOs to determine what a typical CEO day looks like.

How CEOs spend their time


How CEOs spend their time


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017

With 2017’s Q1 behind us, it’s time to look back and reflect on some of the big pushes happening in the business world this year. While this list doesn’t focus on any specific industry or any specific company size, below are some key components we believe will lead to a successful workplace and happy team in 2017, no matter your size or industry.


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  1. Time to go digital

Since Y2K, one would assume that investment in the digital sphere is not only a safe bet but one that most companies have already made. However, there continues to be a need for digital innovation and upgrading in most companies. The use of video, either for clients, internal training or townhalls, has created a greater global reach for many nationally focused clients. Whether you’re a CEO or a month into your entry level role, take a step back and ask yourself: “Do I see any opportunities to grow the company’s reach and service through evolving digitally?”.

The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  2. Stop playing “Broken telephone”

Most people remember the broken telephone game in school. Say a message to one person, they repeat it to the next and so on, by the end, the message is generally distorted or incorrect. The same seems to go for internal messaging and communication. Too often,  executives send out directives to leaders  – with the intention that those leaders will then relay the message to staff. While this may work for some updates, don’t dismiss the power of “face-time” and communicating person to person. Hold town halls, meet with people, invest in the human touch.


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  3. Wellness is the new dental

In the past, companies could win over potential employees with health & dental coverage.  Over time, the term “wellness” has emerged as the key to recruiting and retaining top staff. Ranging from physical wellness, such as gyms and yoga memberships, to mental wellness, such as personal time off and company events, there has been a shift in the “perks” that not only draw, but also ensure companies to retain top talent.  What can you offer your staff to keep them happy, and feeling valued from day 1 straight through to day 1000.


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  4. Allow people to lead themselves

We’ve all grown accustomed to the traditional pyramid structure of reporting; 10 staff report to 1 team leader who reports to 1 manager who reports to 1 executive, with slight variations. With the growing drive to be more self-led and self-developed, many new hires are looking for the opportunity to prove themselves in a less constricting environment. Consider your star players, perhaps it’s time to give them some freedom to lead, even if it’s just themselves. The only way you will develop tomorrow’s leadership for your company is to start empowering them now.


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  5. Where is the next rung on this ladder?

It’s important to acknowledge that not all people strive to climb the corporate ladder. Here, I like to use the analogy of people climbing the “corporate scaffolding”. Many employees want options to move laterally and climb their own way and at their own pace. It may take more time for them to reach the top, but when they do, they will be exceptionally well-rounded and well-versed in their functions and the company. Do you think you have staff that fit this profile? Ask. Provide staff with understanding or future opportunities and see if they’d rather climb the ladder or traverse the scaffolding.


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  6. Learn & earn

While wellness is crucial and so is personal development, many companies have begun to explore external learning opportunities for their staff. As the digital age has created an exponential learning cycle, your staff will need the ability and tools to continue to learn. As staff attain new skills they’ll apply them in their roles, ensuring your company’s innovation and success. Consider local or online resources you can direct staff to, or are there training opportunities you can perhaps subsidize? Can you host lunch and learns, or have guest speakers come in for a day? Any one of these investments will pay for itself with an increase in staff engagement and personal development.


The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017  7. Open concept workforce

As a team member looking up or an executive looking down, everyone in your company should have a better idea of what different teams or groups do. Either to better understand your business service or simply to better understand your company’s internal work. Having clarity between staff roles and executive roles creates a more open workforce.  If you are going to make crucial decisions, either as an executive or a new hire looking to grow in the company, understanding what is in front of you, and knowing what brought you here, gives you the informed guidance to make the best decisions.

By: Andrew Martel,  Senior Business Analyst

The 7 Things Your Company Should Be Doing in 2017


Middle Management – An Unsung Rung

Middle Management - An Unsung Rung

The emergence of the modern day corporation in the last century has coincided with the gradual migration of executive-level management further and further away from the front line. While at some organizations there are processes in place that allow frontline staff to communicate directly with executives, (i.e., a question forum on the company intranet), visibility of executive leaders is still an ongoing concern. This lack of visibility and connectedness between the front line and executives has prompted a focus on preventing mixed messaging and disengagement to keeping companies moving forward. For leaders, a connection with the front line can provide better insights into their customers’ pain points, and front line staff can gain clarity on high-level strategy and see their leaders as “part of the team”. Middle management serves as an essential bridge between the two.


Who Are Middle Managers?

Occupying a critical point in the hierarchy of an organization, middle managers supervise the majority of staff while simultaneously acting as a lifeline between executives and front line staff. In a typical large enterprise 10%-15% of staff are “executive”, while remaining staff fall at the middle management level or below.

Despite being distanced from the top and enjoying limited facetime with executives, middle management is called upon to organize the front line to execute and deliver when a direction or new strategy is passed down to them. This is a progressively challenging space to work in as executives set ever tighter objectives, financial and otherwise. Optimally middle management acts as a bridge between leaders and staff to communicate and coordinate changes effectively, to coach staff as required, and to report meaningful insights back to the top.


What is the Issue?

Despite this key role in an organization, middle management receives significantly less recognition than even frontline staff. Much like the old adage, the middle child often gets overlooked. In a recent survey conducted by BCG and the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA), 64% of the executive respondents said that middle managers were more important to team member engagement than top management. In a secondary survey comprising more than one million data points from large corporation staff, respondents were particularly dissatisfied with the following areas:

Performance Management
•  Systematic performance tracking, setting targets, and receiving feedback
•  Public acknowledgement of strong performance to solidify desired behaviors
People Skills
•  Soft skills like communication, coaching and teaching, change management, etc.

To reinvigorate this integral layer of an organization middle managers need to be provided with new opportunities and freedoms, rewarded for tracked achievements, and offered leadership skills training where applicable. Empowering managers with the requisite authority to make decisions within their purview inspires interest in true management of their teams.


Case Study

Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processing and trucking company is an example of empowered managers. Created in 1970 by an MBA student at UCLA, the company has achieved double-digit growth of shipped product, revenues, and profits between 1990 and 2010 while industry average sat at ~1% per year. One must ask how the company has managed to keep up such incredible growth rates amid a close to stagnant industry. Morning Star’s organizational structure is unlike most others in that all staff are given the utmost freedom to achieve their targets, and are termed “self-managers”. Each individual creates a personal “mission statement” and negotiates a Colleague Letter of Understanding (CLOU) with those most affected by the staff members’ work, all to satisfy their goals within their role which are in turn decided collectively as a business unit. Employees can expand their responsibilities as their skill and knowledge set increases, as there are no centrally defined roles. Rather than a title or office denoting prestige, the collegial rivalry is instead based on who can contribute more to the company, and how efficiently. While the Morning Star model is a drastic departure from the traditional hierarchy, it is a clear example of how empowerment creates capacity for staff to focus on the business rather than the “red tape”.


Coupled with widening roles and increased autonomy, middle managers need to know their work matters. This must take shape differently than a yearly performance conversation. Middle managers should:

•  Have monthly touchpoints with their manager, and do the same with their direct reports
•  Know what is expected in terms of knowledge level, soft skills, and work completion, and do the same with their direct reports
•  Receive training on effective management skills
•  Have access to tools and data that support developing a rigorous and supportive management environment
•  Be recognized publically for great performance, and do the same for their direct reports

Middle Management - An Unsung Rung  Many companies promote staff who have great technical abilities into management roles and then hope that leadership and coaching skills magically materialize. Strong organizations know that they must invest in building good managers with the levers listed above; with the right training, coaching, tools, and infrastructure strong technical performers can grow into excellent middle managers.

Eager as we are to push our businesses forward by gaining new clients, accounts, and locations, we must remember to first look within to keep middle managers engaged. We must remember that middle managers are indispensable in ensuring executive strategy gets properly implemented on the front line with customers. We must also remember that due to their unique position of having access to both the front line and senior management, middle managers have a unique point of view that can generate novel and creative solutions to issues, and directly influence the performance of the organization as a whole.


By: Shane Nightingale,  Senior Business Analyst

Middle Management - An Unsung Rung


4 Essential Steps to Lean Six Sigma Success

4 Essential Steps to Lean Six Sigma Success  1. Assess the current state of your operations

The first step in any Lean Six Sigma project is to take stock of your current operations. In this phase of the project, the leaders will evaluate any data pertaining to your processes looking to understand demand and output. This is done by discussing the nature of the processes with process owners, and working with teams to map out and measure current production practices, identifying areas of waste/rework that can be streamlined. Analysis is key in this stage of the project, what is the data telling you about your current processes and how can they be improved?

In order to go lean and stay lean, you need to understand your customers and what they value. To satisfy your customers you will need to eliminate or at least reduce the wasteful activities that your customers would not wish to pay for.

2. Determine the Future State

When driving organizational transformation, the future state is the specific route defining the changes and strategies needed in order to ensure you achieve your targets. One of the most critical elements of an effective Lean Six Sigma strategy is ensuring that you’ve set a direction that is clearly aligned with your organization’s whole business plan so that all changes can be approached in a holistic manner, ensuring both employee and customer satisfaction.

It is also important at this stage to consider where technology can be leveraged in your Lean Six Sigma strategy.  Today’s robust software solutions integrate industry best practices, which are designed to help users manage even the most complex tasks at today’s rapid speed of business. Are any of the processes you currently perform manually better suited to automation? Global visibility and the flexibility to respond to economic and market changes in real time are among the most strategic initiatives any company can deploy in their future state plan to remain efficient and competitive.

3. Create action/implementation plans

Here a structured improvement effort is developed and put into action. Identifying and eliminating waste is the most fundamental step in the Lean Six Sigma process. However, on its own, it is rarely sufficient. Improved work streams and defined project schedules lead to leaner operations. Constant vigilance and weekly progress touch-points help to ensure consistency and expose further waste and quality problems ensuring processes can continue to be streamlined.

4. Measure post implementation success

What cannot be measured cannot be improved. By creating a measurement system, you can determine baseline performance and use the data in objective decision making and analysis post implementation. With data in hand, you can now communicate your findings (increased savings, lowered processing times, less FTE effort, happier customers etc.) to your key stakeholders and celebrate the successful outcome of your Lean Six Sigma initiative.


4 Essential Steps to Lean Six Sigma Success


Lean vs. Six Sigma: What’s the Difference?

Lean vs. Six Sigma: What’s the Difference?  There is an ongoing debate in the business community about which program, Lean or Six Sigma, is the better system to implement when it comes to streamlining business processes and eliminating waste. In order to view this debate in the proper context, however, you need to understand the differences and similarities between the two systems in order to determine what’s right for your company.

The Lean Approach

Lean is a production practice whose key principle is speed and streamlining processes. Operations that fail to add value for the end customer are deemed “wasteful” and removed from the equation; reducing production times and costs, and leaving streamlined and profitable processes in place.

For Lean to be successful, it has to permeate all aspects of a business. Think of it like recycling – for it to work, it has to be more than an arbitrary process, and actually be engrained in society.

Why would you use it?

Lean’s strength is its fast implementation. Immediate benefits relate to productivity, error reduction, and customer lead times. Long-term benefits include improvements to financial performance, customer satisfaction, and staff morale.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a production practice that seeks to improve the quality of the output of a business process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.

While it was first designed for use in manufacturing, today, Six Sigma is applicable throughout all aspects of business – from customer support to management to service delivery – and can help a company to achieve real and measurable results.

Why would you use it?

Six Sigma is a multifaceted methodology. Broadly speaking, it’s a quality improvement methodology that provides a framework for a company to train its employees in key performance areas, shape strategy, align its services with customer needs, and measure and improve the effectiveness of business processes. Fundamental to the latter is the identification of KPIs, and a focus on process quality variation.

Comparing Six Sigma and Lean

Essentially, both systems have the same goal. They seek to eliminate waste and create the most efficient business processes possible, but they take different approaches toward achieving this goal. In simplest terms, the main difference between Lean and Six Sigma is that they identify the root cause of waste differently.

Lean practitioners believe that waste comes from unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product, while Six Sigma proponents assert that waste results from variation within the business process.

Of course, there is truth in both of these assessments, which is why both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies have been so successful in improving overall business performance in a variety of fields. In fact, these two disciplines have proven to be especially successful when working in tandem – hence the creation of Lean Six Sigma.


Lean vs. Six Sigma: What’s the Difference?