Letters to the Editor For March 2009

Continuous Improvement; CEO greed

A Winning Proposition

Ralph Keller is dead on ("Continuous Improvement -- Taking the Long-Term Perspective Will Pay Off," Feb. 2009). One factor that I would emphasize regarding the need to create value is that heretofore value has been a difficult concept to measure. That is why many practitioners fall back on customer satisfaction even though it has little relationship to the organization's performance.

Now, however, there are methodologies and techniques to measure value, and with this capability comes the capacity to manage value. This makes CI initiatives even more robust and powerful. Understanding how markets define value and using this information to drive CI links the organization's value proposition directly to the markets it serves. And that is a winning proposition.

Eric Reidenbach
principal
Market Value Solutions
Hattiesburg, Miss.

Siphoning Off the Top

Re: Jerry Carlew Jr.'s letter to the editor, Feb. 2009

These high-paying [automotive industry] jobs had a huge multiplying effect in spending and bringing up other wages (this is good, right?). We're now seeing what happens when these jobs disappear.

Jerry Carlew Jr. forgets how many millions are siphoned off the top by some executives. In some cases CEOs make more than the company while shedding jobs and riding the company to the grave (then just moving on). I don't understand getting a bonus for downsizing a company.

Henry Ford was not wrong when he thought he would sell more cars if his employees could afford them. How many $30K plus vehicles does Jerry think are bought on $12 an hour?

David J Trader
Amherst, Wis.

Drawing the Line on Bailouts

Re: "Just In Time -- The Big None," Jan. 2009

I too am a sucker for Christmas movies but we all need to be reminded that in "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" it was individuals acting upon their own free will that saved the day, not the government. [Editor's note: Actually, it was Gods heavenly messengers that saved the day in those films.]

It's unlikely that "The Big None" will happen even if the government fails to come to the rescue. Whoever does survive will likely emerge much stronger. My problem with bailouts is that they are not fair to everyone or really anyone.

The corrugated container industry of which I am a part is at least in as bad a shape as the auto industry. We are not as glamorous or visible or employ as many people as the auto industry but imagine what might happen if there was no packaging to transport goods from coast to coast and border to border? Are we likely to see a bail out? Probably not. Where do you draw the line? What if big tobacco, big alcohol, Hollywood or porn industries show up asking for help?

Some say they just want to level the playing field. What a crock of you know what! Anyone who is honest wants the playing field slanted in their favor. We spend resources on advertising, the latest technologies, training and improved business practices to gain an advantage over our competitors. That is as it should be and is also why the government's only responsibility should be to bring to justice and swiftly punish those who violate principles of proper business practices. That is the only way all can be treated equally.

Jory Gromer
general manager
Green Bay Packaging Inc.
Chickasha Container Division
Chickasha, Okla.

Maximizing Operational Improvement

Re: "The Soft Side of Lean," Jan. 2009

Articles like this may actually do more harm than good. Readers who have not deployed programs or are just beginning tend to get discouraged if they're unable to undertake a wholesale lean leadership effort. Too often companies look at these lists and think that if they can't do everything, it's better not to go down that road at all.

Don't make that mistake. A 50% improvement is notable. Start with those efforts that can maximize operational improvement. In our first year of lean Six Sigma deployment, we had only $1 million in hard dollar savings with three Black Belts and 10 Green Belts. If we stopped there and conceded failure, we would never have realized an additional $19 million in savings over the next four years.

Of the habits listed by McKinsey, start with "creating clear performance expectations." Tie performance goals to strategic imperatives for internal cohesion and developing a culture of employee ownership. Once you introduce reports and transparency, people will gravitate to those initiatives. Supervision is easier, buy-in is enhanced and the likelihood of achieving organizational objectives increases.

The next prioritized lean principle should be "connecting strategy to tactics." To achieve it, I recommend employee recognition and empowerment. It's important to give people opportunities to participate in decision-making. Nothing makes someone feel more connected to and responsible for an organization than affording them meaningful input and responsibility. Provide that, and you'll generally improve their performance.

Lisa Davis
senior director, quality & continuous improvement
Siemens IT Solutions and Services Inc.
Mason, Ohio

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