An issue that is commonly raised and discussed at networking and OpEx industry events is how the support of senior leadership is vital for Operational Excellence roll-outs. Without this support the rest of the organisation perceives OpEx as ‘extra’ work and the Continuous Improvement (CI) Managers are fighting the battle of resistance alone.
While leadership support is crucial, there are two roles in particular where the support /commitment will make the difference between producing transformational results or just ordinary results – the GM and the CFO. The following is an actual case study that I was involved with demonstrating how OpEx can be a powerful vehicle to deliver business strategy and extra-ordinary results.
Case study: FMCG Business (approx. $100M per annum turn-over)
This is a business that has been there for many years with a well established household brand. The business was going through a huge growth phase – well at least in terms of the volume that went through the plant. This growth was a strategic move to reduce the impact of depreciation costs of some major investments the business had made in recent years. The business also had idle capacity not being utilised at the time.
While the growth strategy was well executed, the team lost sight of another key factor – net profit, which was rapidly declining. Although this may seem like financial management 101, the disruption of a few key organisational changes distracted the executive leadership team leaving the business in this situation.
When the margins were examined, it was clear that gross-margin was the main contributing factor. Operational margin was also in decline, but more or less it was parallel to the gross margin decline rate. So, at least other operating costs within the business appeared to have maintained appropriate margin points. The declining gross-margin was the root-cause and this business had a grave problem to solve – and they had to do it fast.
What would you do in this situation?
A clear vision
In response the General Manager held multiple communication sessions, where the gravity of the situation was made clear to all employees.
The GM announced that the CI Manager would hold multiple sessions to identify improvement opportunities. This is not a ground-breaking strategy. In fact, most would agree that this is the normal role of the CI manager. What made this scenario different was the clear alignment between the GM and the CI Manager. The vision that these two came-up with was simple, “reduce the cost of goods sold” in order to increase the gross margins. The caveat was that safety and quality standards should not be undermined.
“The CI Manager was in a pivotal position to help navigate this business out of the storm. Executing the GM’s strategy and implementing a good financial governance framework with the CFO, the business managed to turn around swiftly, saving the livelihood of nearly 1000 employees.”
I remember reading about a similar case study where the head of exploration for British Petroleum in 1989 challenged the oil-well drilling team to increase their 20% success rate, which was considered to be the industry best benchmark at the time. By year 2000, they had increased it to 66%. He achieved this by creating a simple and clear vision called “No Dry Holes” [i].
Defining a governance framework
The CI Manger then worked with the CFO to define a governance framework. It is easy to improve processes where the benefits are either: theoretical; serves as a cost avoidance strategy; or increases capacity to increase future sales. The issue with these improvement initiatives is that none of them reduces the P&L costs immediately. So the CI Manger and CFO identified specific gates where they would assess each initiative based on one major criterion – must provide immediate P&L relief.
I am happy to report that this story has a happy ending. The site made significant improvements and managed to secure the jobs of many employees.
I’ve seen many instances where the CI manager has to plead for resources and time. However, CI managers are in a pivotal position to deliver exceptional results. My advice to GM’s and CFO’s…make sure you get the most of your CI manager.
If you haven’t partnered with the CI manager of your site, maybe you should buy a coffee and have chat. Let me know how you go…
If you’re ready to harness the full potential of your organisation, let’s have a chat. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Source: Chip Heath & Dan Heath, The Switch, Crown Publishing Group, 2010, pp. 87-93