As I write this, we just completed our fiscal year. It proved to be among our busiest to date with two acquisitions, the sale of our office furniture division, and the ground breaking of our new corporate headquarters.
I am pleased that Marco grew over 30 percent both top and bottom line. I credit our commitment to the discipline of “Lean” continuous improvement practices for these results.
There was a time when if you asked me what our core competency at Marco was, I would have said a thriving sales culture. Marco is definitely rooted in sales. Our founders were salesmen and I am a sales guy. Even today, you’ll often hear me say, “Until we sell something around here, not much happens.”
That sales culture served us well when our organization was at the entrepreneurial stage of development (and I still consider it a key strength today). But as we progressed toward a managed organization, it became apparent that our dominant sales competency may drive revenue, but it is our process improvement that will ensure customer satisfaction and enhance profits.
Our Journey of Process Improvement
Our journey started when we became ISO-9001 certified. The ISO 9000 family of standards relates to quality management systems and is designed to document processes. Marco was one of only a handful of organizations in our industry to become certified.
The certification proved we had the discipline to document processes – not easy for a sales culture like Marco’s. But the “aha” came when we realized that we had some pretty poor processes. Over the years, we have learned that when we fall short in customer satisfaction, we almost always can tie it to a faulty process. We introduced Lean to improve our processes and support an infrastructure for growth.
Here are a few of the practices we have implemented to foster a culture of continuous improvement:
- Train employees. Ensuring employees share a common understanding of what continuous improvement and customer satisfaction mean and how it applies to their jobs is essential to being a high-performing organization. When we first initiated the quality process, our co-founder Gary Marsden led a “Quality 101” workshop for all employees. Still today, new employees are introduced to continuous improvement as a part of their orientation. In addition, we use a consulting firm to support our VP of Operations in his leadership of our ongoing commitment to Lean practices.
- Identify specific areas to improve. As part of our annual strategic planning process, we identify and prioritize a list of initiatives that, if improved, will have the highest impact on our performance. Then we commit to focusing on one of these initiatives each quarter.
- Conduct focused process improvement events. We host three-day “Kaizen” events as our method for effectively resolving problems. Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better” and is a part of the Lean philosophy. It refers to the activities focused on improving all aspects of the process. We host several Kaizen events a year in which a diverse team of stakeholders work through a sequence of steps. They come in with a problem and in 72 hours, leave with a resolution.
- Acknowledge success. One of the biggest motivational factors for continuous improvement is success. After three days of hard work, the Kaizen event teams are proud to present their recommendations to the leadership team and begin implementation. The team conducts monthly follow-up sessions to ensure success. Participants also receive a $50 gift card in appreciation for their contributions.
I’m confident that our improved processes and commitment to continuous improvement (Lean) ensure we have the infrastructure in place to support our growth and profit objectives. So this year when you do your strategic planning, don’t overlook the importance of process improvement in your performance matrix.