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Leadership opportunities arise in times of crisis

Editor's Note: Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement, determining the elements necessary to thrive in the modern marketplace. The Long Lake retiree now shares those insights with Enterprise readers.

Every leader should be able to answer the question, "What are you doing to make your organization stronger coming out of the crisis?"

It is true we are in a period of economic crisis. Fear and paranoia have set in because of layoffs, lower revenue, over capacity and financial institution problems.

One thing leads to another and we find ourselves in a downward spiral.

However, we are not alone; it is a worldwide problem. Unemployment is twice that of the United States in some countries like China. How we act now will determine our relative standing when the crisis abates.

We are being asked to do more with less. Is that all bad? The work still has to be done and perhaps hiring has been frozen or we have had layoffs, so how do we do it? We either take shortcuts, which might result in poorer quality, or we find better ways to do the work while maintaining high quality.

Obviously, if we take shortcuts, we will get into further trouble. So the question is, how do we continue to do quality work in a simpler way?

All work, whether it is in manufacturing, service, non-profit or in our home is made up of a series of processes that we do in a repetitive way. Each process contains a series of steps.

Let me give you examples of processes that have been improved.

An automobile manufacturer was observed unloading pallets of new transmissions and storing them outside the production building. When asked what happened to the transmissions next, the tour director said they were moved inside the building and run through a sandblasting machine to remove the rust accumulated while sitting outside the building.

The next question asked was what would happen if the sandblasting equipment was removed from the building and the answer was, "I guess we would have room to store the transmissions inside the building."

The interesting thing about this story is the company executives walked past those transmissions every day from their parking lot but never noticed them because they were accustomed to seeing them in that spot. That was the way it had always been done.

Could you be guilty of perpetuating bad processes in your organizations just because that is the way they have always been done?

Another true story is an electronics company had complaints from divisions that it took too long to get approval to purchase capital equipment.

When the steps were written down, it showed 21 approvals were required. By fiat, it was immediately reduced to 5, still not optimum but much better. After more study it was reduced further.

All work is a series of processes and if we simply write down all the steps in the process, the work staring back at us from the paper will invariably reveal ways to simplify and improve. Reduction of waste, rework, redundancy and overhead will help us continue to produce high quality products/service with less work is indeed and opportunity.

(Questions or comments? Issues you'd like to see addressed in future columns? E-mail Schultz at