Just as the team was high-fiving each other from successfully implementing a massively difficult project in just 100-days, someone pulled me aside. "Most people won't tell you this to your face, but they're not impressed with the results. It was just a pilot and, basically, this was a layup."
Reality check: Isn't it great to know that in every change initiative, people are silently hoping you will fail? How could I make it so it wasn't about me? I had to find a way for lots of people to do the heavy-lifting. After all, even if I worked 120 hours per week, if I was pushing alone, I would fail. In this case, I had to find a way for people to care about the initiative's success more than I.
I sat down with my mentor and boss, Bill the wise-sage. "Shall we engage our CEO on this?" Bill was sitting on his pilates-ball, peeling a hard boiled egg, shoes off thinking reflectively. "No, no, it's not his style. You can do top-down if the CEO has absolute power and he's ruthless in applying it. What I want you to do is start an 'insurgency.'"
Insurgency - I liked the sound of it. They say that generals are constantly fighting yesterday's wars. The corporate equivalent of that is the CEO-led company transformation. In swoops dozens of consultants with their slide decks. The CEO hires scores of ex-military types to implement the transformation using a full frontal assault. Naysayers are publicly hanged. People start scrambling frantically and the transformation happens. That's what happened at Home Depot with Bob Nardelli. He successfully implemented his transformation, but the culture revolted in the end. Bill must have been thinking about Home Depot when he told me to start an insurgency.
Where do I start? I was the only person working full-time on this initiative. The previous initiative had 40 open personnel requisitions. We spent most of the year just trying to fill the req.'s and the initiative never got off the ground. Bill wasn't going to give me any FTE's. Well, I had Shiv in my corner. Our resident master black belt was leading the overall lean-sigma implementation. He had a PhD and was ruthlessly cunning and brilliant. You could often overhear him in the hallway ripping someone apart. Remember the line from the movie Princess Bride?
"Never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: 'Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!'"
Our equivalent was, "never get in a battle of wits with Shiv." Shiv would just wear you down with his intellect and statistical knowledge. He would say things like "expedites are the transactional equivalent of Brownian motion." People would nod their heads in stunned silence. How do you counter that?
We also had Fab, a bonafide kaizen-master. Fab was an ex-TBM consultant with literally, thousands of kaizen events under his belt. I called him the "drill sergeant." To see him whip people into shape during a kaizen was a beautiful thing. I often wish I had a bowl of popcorn as I watched him. However, in order for this massive transformation to occur, we needed dozens of people who touched our enterprise process end-to-end to be part of this. I thought of the Haitian proverb: ÒMen anpil chay pa lou,Ó, which means "many hands lighten the load." Let's see: no one reported to me. I had no say on their performance goals or incentive plans. Everyone was fully employed on their day-job and most were still silently skeptical about this initiative. Sounds like a piece of cake?
I decided to massively recognize people every time I saw them doing something, anything, that positively moved the ball one-inch in the direction we needed to go. In my view this was slightly counter-intuitive. To create great change, I would focus on what people were doing right and have the good overwhelm the bad behaviors. I started with Starbucks cards. Most people at our company were heavy coffee drinkers so I chose to use $5 cards. Now a $5 card represents a glorified pat-on-the-back. Unlike giving large bonuses, it's too small to engender the evil-eye from others. Since I gave them liberally, the Starbucks card represented good will. Boy, did this work. You see, our company has a "suck it down" culture. The amount of positive recognition or feedback people received was generally nil. So, I had no competition. Between constantly getting praise and recognition and getting nothing, people started incrementally working on my project.
I coupled the recognition with pointing out specific behaviors. We had a huge breakthrough of empowerment during the first project. The team had spaghetti-mapped the supply-chain movements of materials. WIP inventory was shuttling back and forth between facilities. The team suggested consolidating several manufacturing steps under one roof. In our traditional, consensus oriented environment, getting to a decision usually took 6-months. We would form committees, task forces to "study" the problem. Someone would object and say he didn't have enough data and so we would "study" the problem even more. Suffice to say, as a culture we didn't make decisions quickly or very well. But this time we had a relative newcomer at the table, Ricardo. Ricardo was our materials director in Mexico. He was like the character "Mr. Wolf" from the movie Pulp Fiction. Impeccably dressed, Ricardo carried Tumi bags, wore Louis Vitton eyeglasses, and drank Maker's Mark whiskey (not at work). This debonaire side of him masked the fact that he had brass cajones and was a butt-kicker. So, while the team reviewed the supply-chain spaghetti Ricardo broke in: "we don't need to study this. We'll just do it and I will brief the plant manager." Decision made.
I used his story in every meeting as an example of the kind of behaviors we needed to see more of. Slowly but surely, others began to act with initiative, élan, and dare I say, audacity. Mary in customer service, Tyler in functional support, Cheryl in material planning, Kim and Melissa in master scheduling, Joy in supply-chain planning. All demonstrated the kind of everyday heroic behavior that set our initiative apart. They acted independently, guided by a vision and a clear understanding of end-state. I adapted this idea from the Army called Commander's Intent (though I never used the term at work). Commander's Intent defines what success looks like so that if all the officers get killed, the lowest soldier can complete the mission. We defined success as: customer asks for quote, we provide quote immediately; customer places order; we confirm order within 24-hours; we book the order and convert into a production order; production order gets worked on first-in, first-out within 14-days; we ship the order.
I know based on what I wrote this sounds so elementary that you'd think "duh?" but in our case, we literally had no standard processes. We processed tens-thousands of orders per month, each one treated as a unique event and handled differently. In six-sigma speak, we had a -0.2 Cpk, it was that bad. So, to clearly spell out what success looked like and allow people to incrementally get there freed them from the former way of doing business by committees. We used to meet for months just to "name the initiative." All the VPs would get passionate; "no you can't use the word 'cost' in the title." "Well, that's exactly what we're doing; let's not hide behind words." This time around we freed our people from those banal, nonsensical corporate huddles that resulted only in frustration. All I asked was that we continually communicate upstream and downstream our actions so that we could stay coordinated.
We set another 90-day line in the sand to increase the number of SKUs on Pull-Replenishment. We increased the volume 100% over our Wave 1 part numbers. And just like clock worked, our template worked. The moment we hit the "execute" button, we shut off expediting, enabled our kanban-bins and saw our ship-to-target skyrocket from 70% to 96%. The sales team was ecstatic with the results. "Go faster" they kept urging.
After each wave, I decided to copy the green jacket ceremony from the PGA Masters Tournament. We had our "white lab coat ceremony." For those who participated in each project wave, we held a ceremony and had the business unit president award the team a customized coat with our own unique crest. This was especially powerful in Mexico, where the factory workers wore a lab coat or smock every day. People started asking me "how do I get a lab coat?" I told them, "work your butt off on a Pull Replenishment project and I'll be happy to give you one." We awarded 30 jackets in Wave 1 and over 150 in Wave 2.
Our CEO had invited Shiv and I to speak at the company Town Hall event. In slide after slide, we showed pictures of people who worked on this initiative and told their story. As I spoke, I had the theme song from "Saving Private Ryan" playing in the background. People craned their necks as they looked for their own face to show up on a slide. Our communications manager Helen came up to me afterwards. "David, everyone was just mesmerized as you spoke." I said "people have to feel like they are heroes and no good deed is going to go unrecognized."
I don't know if we converted all the naysayers, but by now, momentum was on our side. Excitement was in the air. Every week Shiv and I were releasing podcasts, Fab was producing a video, or internal communications was writing a story about the success of the Pull Replenishment Initiative. But still, we were only at 5% of overall revenue mix. We needed to get to a tipping point. How do we both sustain success and rapidly scale the results?