Monday, October 19, 2009

It’s the people stupid!

New York, Munich, Ankara, Eskisehir, Ankara, Munich, Warsaw, Rzeszow, Mielec, Krakow, Krosno, Rzeszow, Warsaw, Helsinki. I’m half way through a half globe-trotting It has been a few months since I’ve been on a global supply building review trip, but like riding a bike, one does not forget. There are always plenty of planes, airports, factories, conference rooms and dinners. Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t do this profession if that was all I remembered.

It is about the people you meet with and along the way. The striped haired girl with piercings in the Rzeszow airport that explained to me what was being announced during the fog delay. The two young professionals in Poland that are taking the lead developing complex supply chain management metrics. The highly trained, Turkish machinist demonstrating the improvements on his statistical process control charts. And, the well intentioned waitress in Turkey that brought the boss a martini that was like no other. Sometimes we forget through the meetings and shop tours, but it is all about the people.

Have you found yourself at times focusing more on the task that the people? How do you remind yourself to refocus?


Ashutosh Agrawal said...

I know! I am not stupid. I know its about people. But sometimes I get so involved in work that everyone around seems to be a machine which has to do a specific task. One just wants compliance then.

But its commitment which gives exceptional results, not compliance alone. And to gain commitment, one has to focus back from machines to people. In my opinion, it takes a measure of self discipline to step back and recognize contribution of people.

I learned it hard way when one of my good technician had dropped his performance. It was after 8 months that I finally sat down with him and was shocked to find that how insensitive I have been to his contributions and have failed to see wherever he had gone extra mile. I had taken things for granted.

Anonymous said...

I would think that it would be exceptional to have the perfect balance. I also think that depending on the particular task or job, you are likely to biased one way or the other. Frankly awareness may be more important than arbitrarily shifting focus.

Just as you have reminded us here, we need to challenge ourselves to be aware and assess our focus in each of these contexts.

Suman said...

John, well said about meeting interesting people who make all the difference and even change our attitude and lives. I just met a woman from Tibet and I will never forget her and what she told me about simple people yearning for free and unoppressed lives!
Just dont forget tho that the great airports, planes, factories...all have the mark of many people working together to try and do their bit towards a common goal and getting it done with quality! Time to party and rejoice and appreciations comes after the work is done, isnt it? The multi-colored lady did help you which makes the memory an enjoyable one. We leave our trail so its better to make it memorable! :)

karavickrey said...

When we are faced with so many e-mails, voicemails, and meetings each day it is sometimes difficult to remember the people are what drive many of us. I recently came back to work from a vacation. I had a lot of work left of my desk from the past week, so I shut my office door and started working away. When I left my office at the end of the day I was exhausted. I walked around the office and talked to the team and a few customers, and I was rejuvenated. I don't do the job I do because I love writing e-mails, I do it for the people I see everyday, and the customers we are get to meet each day. The people are what make my job worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I just wanted to give a huge BRAVO to your posting today. When we're in the business of reaching out to - and connecting with - a whole ton of people, it becomes all too easy to forget that this is all about relationships (even fleeting ones). And I find that in this highly networked, online world, it's even more of a danger. When a name on the screen becomes an 'abstract', it's time to re-focus.

So to answer your question - how do I remind myself to re-focus? Well, for me - being in sales (as we all are) - I try to look at my mission statement every morning 1st thing when I get to the office. It's something I wrote - just for me - but it reminds me of what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it. Underlying the sentiment is that I'm affecting people's lives - and that those people are the key component to making this happen.

Anyway - GREAT post! Best of luck with the globetrotting!

- Mark.

Matt Dooley said...

As an Engineer it is easy to focus on the technology. In my job I evaluate how to make power generation facilities more efficient. In the end it is the people who operate the equipment and their superiors who are the most important element. Educating, cajoling and motivating them is key to success. And remember one, ah **** wipe out 10 atta boy's. Again it's the culture.

David Buley said...

In the end, you can't motivate a task or idea, only a person or a team. I remind myself that every day.

Earlier in my career, a leader about 3 levels up made a point to send me a personal note after his infrequent visits. This meant more to me than any bonus could, and I have those notes to this day. I adopted his strategy in subsequent roles, and take the time to send these little handwritten notes. Not emails, not tweets. Real pen on real paper notes. It reminds me that people are real.

For those I see frequently, I make sure to schedule "no work conversation allowed" downtime with them.

Tasks, strategies, and initiatives come and go. Build your relationship strong enough, and people will accomplish the impossible for you.

Scott Griffin said...

Uhhhh ... sorry, Iwas focusing on the "striped haired girl with piercings" ...

Truly I tend to focus on the people and how proficiant they are at their job/tasks. I tend to overlook people's appearance - I'm more interested in what is in people heads!

Joe Nihill said...

Always keep the presence of mind to remember that everone has something to contribute!

Edward Tierney said...

We are entering a world/era/time in history in which "people" will matter far more than any process. "People" are moving towards being more creative, innovative, collaborative, self-motivated and intuitive. These skills are not taught at most of today's universities (especially highly technical schools) nor are "people" trained in them by the businesses they work for.
Clarkson alumni, students and the educators who run our great alma mater need to start preparing for this. Two books to read are Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class and Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.

David Herriott said...

Focusing on metrics, processes, computers, etc. likely aided in both space shuttle disasters. We tend to focus too much on the bottomline and not enough on the users of our aerospace products. I hope that trend changes, but sadly, even changes after such tragedies has not been long lived. Teleconferences and emails also helps to further isolate us all from the people we work with and work for.

Philip Seufert said...

liked this quote so much I put it on my LinkedIn status: "All lasting business is built on friendship. " - Alfred A. Montapert

John Bushling said...

I make it a point to talk to the people. Ask questions (like Why?) and then LISTEN. I ask about the process, the operation, even personal questions. Look them in the eye and LISTEN.

When I tour a facility during a Lean assessment, I want to know what the people know, not what the suit is telling me. I want to understand the human perspective. I wander off the beaten path and ask the guy in the corner.

Sometimes watching the process is like looking at one of those mesmerizing pictures that just draws you in. Shake your head, step back and see the big picture again.

Combine what the people tell you and the metrics and you'll get a real picture.

I'm with Ada. I'll go.

Michael Pitcher said...

A few months ago, I decided to run for Township Trustee. Our township really needs someone to better organize meetings and to improve our service level to the community. The real treat has been re-introducing myself to my community. I lived in the township for 15 years, but did not know my neighbors very well. Like many of you in this group I travelled exetensively. I recently made a commitment to myself, my family, and my community to travel less. And, because of my campaign activity, I have met a wide range of people including school teachers, principals, nurses, pastors, engineers, farmers, runners, hunters, and motocross racers of all ages. Many of my neighbors volunteer their time beyond what I ever imagined. This has been a terrific humbling experience. Yes, it is about people. There are a lot of good ones where I live. I bet there are a lot of good ones where you live too.

Ada Gonzalez, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for sharing and for the reminder John! In the business world it's easy to forget the human side of things. The way I remind myself is my totally focusing my attention in whomever I'm interacting with at the moment. That helps retain the sense that people design and help keep machines going, people make processes easier or a disaster, and people (unlike machines and procedures) can become friends!

Keep enjoying your glob trotting (do you need assistance with anything so I can share your trip? lol)


Michael Chevalier said...

I've spent some time in the military and most of my work time in manufacturing. I've never seen a ship sail, a repair done or a product of any kind made by the machinery around us. People do the do. Young sailors and Marines did things their parents could not have imagined them doing, mind boggling actually. Young workers, along with old grizzled veterans, pulling firms out of discontinued status, with just the right backing, freedom and leadership. It has always been and will always be about people.

Joe Chase said...

Good point John. I'm in sales and I am more effective when I can focus on the person instead of the "potential sale". I make it a goal for every meeting, whether it is my first meeting or 100th meeting with that person, to find a new way to help them. For me, it takes away the pressure of "selling" and replaces it with a focus on being creative and helpful.

Ken Kuang said...

John, great insight!
Yes, it is all about the people!
I started Torrey Hills a little over five years ago. In the very beginning, a season sales friend pulled me aside and told me that the business is all about people. We do not just manufacture and sell products, we sell ourselves, our team, our supply chain and our relationship with the customers. Many times we found ourselves focusing too much on our process, products and process, our customers had to tell us what is important to them!

Herb Briggs said...

I don't think you can do it short-term. No quick fixes here, because it's got to come from the inside out. You either care about other people or you don't. And if you don't care, you won't notice or engage yourself with others. As Covey says, "How you feel about the 1 is how you really feel about the other 99."

John Haran said...


As I work in Customer Service everyday and I train employees, I 'm reminded each day that it is about people. My belief that all people want to win - be appreciated and respected and that we need each other to progress reminds me that people make this world what it is. I simply say "no one cares what you know until they know you care." It works for me.


Daniel Pothier said...

John you are absolutely right it is the little things that make all the difference. Seeing the faces and the subtle details that remind us. Well put.

David Auxier, said...

I agree.
My consulting experiences and "expertise" in the areas of Supply Chain and other areas, have always been centered on and for the people. The software systems can be downloaded in a matter of minutes. Data conversion may take another week. But success lies only with the people. If they don't succeed, then everyone fails.

Other sonsulting firms and business managers too often forget that the only resource that can make the business succeed is the people. Ask Sprint executives. Sprint, as you know, is famous for constantly jerking their people around. Never the less, laying them off in times of need. What kind of support do you get here? I know of a small aerospace parts rebuild facility in North Kansas City that lays many of their employees off just so they don't have to pay for Christmas and New Year's holidays. A lot of loyalty there. Some of these rebuilt components have been in the jet engines that have been exploading during flights. I would never consider sabotage.

In comparison, look at the clothing manufacturer whose plant burned down a couple years ago. The decision was to continue to pay the employees so they would not get negatively impacted while the fleece factory was rebuilt. This choice almost bankrupted the firm. But, the employees have since made heroic strides to repay and rebuild their company to even more profits and market than before. Two extremes maybe. Bur remember the point, it is the people.

When I am asked about my long consulting career what are my most prized achievements (and I often am asked that), my response has always been, "The People that have been so gracious to allow me to show them another method. It has always been and will always be, THE PEOPLE.

Matt Dooley said...

As an Engineer it is easy to focus on the technology. In my job I evaluate how to make power generation facilities more efficient. In the end it is the people who operate the equipment and their superiors who are the most important element. Educating, cajoling and motivating them is key to success. And remember one, ah **** wipe out 10 atta boy's. Again it's the culture.

Andrew "Red" Miller said...

Good morning, Sir

I am a manufacturing supervisor in West Palm Beach, aspiring to follow in your footsteps, among some of the other great people I have worked with, to the likes Don Bossardet, Rob Trimbecki and Pete Ladyko. As they all did as well, I monitor my relationship with the people closely .

I have always held a picture of a pyramid as the organizational depiction, only with the structure going the other way. I feel the people, and those otherwise considered the "lower" part of the organization, to be the most important of the company because they have the largest impact on the overall company; their actions can affect everyone in the company. Therefore, I place the people at the top of the pyramid and the management at the bottom. We do, after all, support them and they are the ones that make the product move.

In saying that, I always try to put my people first. Currently, I work for a small team of 27 people. I try not to lose sight of my people in the completion of their tasks because without the people, the tasks become barriers and the milestones become dreams. I work for them and in turn, they work harder for me.

I agree, it is easy to get caught up in the deadline and lose sight of the process, but I am reminded continually that the process is what obtains my deadlines and my people are the vehicle. I am also reminded that I am one of those people to someone else and I need to ensure I am one of the people that do not get overlooked. As Stuart said, it is all about perspective.

Stuart Schwam said...

I like your perspective...I like your blog...for me it has always been the people...


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