A lot of people have a false idea about “power” in their ideas about authority at work.

And from what I can see in the run up to this election, the false ideas aren’t just limited to the business world.

Power must be directed to a purpose to provide useful work.

I have worked for Absentee bosses.  Authoritarian bosses. Benevolent bosses.  Frighteningly competent bosses. Incompetent bosses. Knowledgeable bosses. Machiavellian bosses. Respectful bosses. I have learned a lot from each.

What to do, from some.

What not to do, from others.

I have concluded that the Responsibilities and Authorities that define a managerial position are not about “power.”

At least not “power” per se.

The purpose of the Responsibilities and Authorities that define managerial positions are to assure that the managers clearly understand that they “have both the power and duty to make a difference.”

Power and duty to make a difference is a very different thing from power.

Anybody would want the power.

What separates the great bosses, the true leaders, is that they understand that it is not about the power; it is about the power and duty to make a difference.

Are you empowered?

Do you have what it takes as well as a duty to make a difference?

You see, from my experience, it’s really not about the power. Or the title.

It’s all about results.

Arc photo

A colleague asked me this question via email the other day.

Actually, he asked: “Simple question for you this morning- what do you consider to be the most important piece of the puzzle when quoting a precision machined component?”

What would your answer be?

Cue Jeopardy theme song here…

I responded that there were two equally crucial pieces of the quoting puzzle:

  • Confidence in my process cost data;
  • Confidence in my process capability data.

With inadequate process cost data, you die a slow death with every part produced.

With inadequate process capability data, you can lose a ‘whole lot of money’ if the capability isn’t there and you are forced to abandon the ‘as quoted’ process path.

My colleague agreed:

“Exactly! Cycle time (for each of the processes) and how much you need to charge per hour. Then you can take those numbers and put them into cells and have one operator running two or three machines and include automation and do the 5S and Lean and Kanban and paint lines on the floor and all the other things we do. But the bottom line is you better pay attention to your process!!!”

His comments about cells, automation and painting lines give us insight into the fact that his world of precision machining is a world of  low mix  and high volume. But even in  a lower volume and higher mix shop, making a mistake on either cost to process or capability of process  on a quote is a great way to make a small fortune out of a much larger one…

What do you think? Are process cost and process capability the two most important aspects of your quoting process?

Jeopardy photo

I know some folks who have an uncanny ability to predict the future. They are not psychic, indeed, they are the kind of people that discount that sort of thing out of hand.

The secret of these folks is that as critical thinkers, they are able to recognize the assumptions of the present state, AND MAKE INFERENCES from the data that they have.

They make these inferences by not being slavishly tied to the present assumptions.

12 page pdf about your impending future. Scarier than Stephen King.

The folks at the National Association of Manufacturers (PMPA is a member) have issued a new report fiscal shock: America’s Economic Crisis Executive Summary.

8 bullets that tell the future your business is facing:

  • Absent legislative action, large spending cuts and large tax increases will hit the economy at the same time, causing a total fiscal contraction of $500 billion, or about 3.2 percent of GDP.
  • Washington’s failure to address the pending fiscal cliff is already having an impact, cutting 0.6 percentage points from GDP growth for 2012.
  • The worst could be ahead. If the fiscal contraction happens, the economy will almost certainly experience a recession in 2013 and significantly slower growth through 2014.
  • From 2012 to 2015, the economy will lose 12.8 percent of the average annual real GDP it could have attained with moderate growth, sapping critical resources from all economic sectors.
  • Job losses will be dramatic. By 2014, the fiscal contraction will result in almost 6 million jobs lost, and the unemployment rate could reach more than 11 percent. (U-3 unemployment U-6? Too scary to contemplate!)
  • Households will take a big hit. Real personal disposable income will drop almost 10 percent by 2015.Reduced U.S. Standard of Living
  • Manufacturers of consumer goods and defense contractors likely will see large and durable contractions in their industries.
  • It will take most of the decade for economic activity and employment levels to recover from the fiscal shock. Another recession could deal a substantial blow to long-term economic potential, permanently reducing living standards in the United States.

These eight points document why manufacturers are worried about slowing economic growth.

You know what to do…

If you think that Hurricane Sandy is the perfect storm, wait until you see what happens when sequestration cuts, other federal spending cuts, and layoffs  hit at the same time that U.S. taxpayers- investors, businesses, employees get hit by a sudden increase in tax liability.

Get the report.


PMPA’s Business Trends Index of Shipments fell to 100 in September, a non-seasonal move that shows our industry shipments gain for the year slipping to just 102% year to date.

September shipments are just 88% of same month last year.

The slump in sales was widespread in September; of 92 companies reporting this month, only nineteen (19) were in positive territory, and just ten (10) of those in the double digits. Seventy–three (73) firms reported declines, and sixty-three (63) of those reported double digit sales declines compared to prior month.

You can’t grow faster than GDP forever…

The three month moving average (3 MMA) for sales has fallen below the 12 MMA for the second month in a row. This indicates that our industry’s shipments are no longer growing.

While we still have confidence in our industry’s ability to record a very positive increase in shipments by year end, we are aware of the “regular and special causes” that seem to be suppressing orders and shipments at this time.

The “regular causes” that we see operant are the stagnation of demand in the broad economy. We believe that this is exacerbated by the “special causes” of the present uncertainty of the 1) November election and 2) Spending cuts mandated by the looming ‘Fiscal Cliff.’

Precision machined products are crucial components that perform vital functions in critical technologies including anti lock brake, airbag depoyment, HVAC, fluid power, aerospace, and medical device (including implant) applications. According to the latest U.S. Census Report precision machining industry shipments totalled $13.3 billion in 2010.

See the full report for detailed outlook on Sales, Lead Times, Profitability, and Employment.

It is critical that those of us who provide technical support, advice, or counsel communicate clearly and accurately. And make certain that our message is so received.

Six seismologists  in Italy have been convicted on manslaughter charges because their advice was misunderstood and  miscommunicated.

An Italian court yesterday sentenced the scientists to 6 year sentences for “giving false assurances” about the risk of an earthquake in 2009.

There is a difference between advising that there is no risk, and that there is no certainty of prediction.

Humans have a difficult time understanding, communicating and dealing with risk.

Background: In 2009 a series of small tremors were detected leading to predictions of a large earthquake to be forthcoming. While the probablility of a large earthquake increased on evidence of the swarms  occurrence, it is impossible to “predict” an earthquake with any surety. Just as it is impossible to say that there is no risk of an earthquake.  The Italian civil protection authorities were asked their opinion so that a panic could be avoided about the claims of a large earthquake being imminent.

The seismologists advised the Italian civil protection authorities that the series of small tremors were not a sure predictor of a larger one to follow. This was relayed to the press by the authorities that the seismologists had told them that there was no danger– an assurance that led many Italians to stay in their homes where they were killed or injured when the large quake struck L’Aquila the next day.

Causality: Humans also have difficulty in determining “true causes,” or as we say in critical thinking ‘causa sine qua non’– literally the ’cause without which nothing.

The cause of the deaths wasn’t bad advice- the root cause was buildings that collapsed because they were built to building codes which were not adequate to withstand the unstable geology of the region.

(Think back to the Challenger disaster- the root cause wasn’t ‘Groupthink’ at NASA or its contractors- it was a failure of an O-ring at temperatures at launch day.)

The advice given to the authorities was not that there was no risk, it was that there is no certainty of prediction. The civil authorities misconstrued that into “no risk” resulting in improper assurances to the general public, who became victims of the governments faulty building code and false assurances when the buildings were unable to withstand the larger tremor that came the next day.

Ask the right questions: There is a lesson here about asking the right questions.  And this is is why I generally go back to first principles and assumptions when helping PMPA members solve a process problem.

The question should not have been “Will there be an earthquake tomorrow?”

The question should have been, “If there is an earthquake tomorrow, as engineers what do you think will be the consequences?”

When our client fails to ask us the proper questions, as technical professionals it is our duty to assure that the proper questions are brought up for consideration.

I am not surprised to find out that the Italian legal system managed to convict the scientists who gave advice which was not understood and miscommunicated.

Seldom are the courts courageous enough to recognize the fault of a government  authority of which they are a part.

The lesson of the L’Aquila decsion  for all of us in technical services is this:

It is no longer sufficient to answer the questions of our clients with factual renderings of our ‘science.’

As professionals we have an obligation to serve society by making clear that all relevant questions are asked and issues identified. And that our clients understand those issues, not just their question of the minute.

Protect the Customer: The first point of my moral compass is to “Protect the Customer.”

That definition is further amplified: Protect the customer from the organization and himself.

Failing to ‘protect the civil authorities and the L’Aquila citizenry from themselves’ is  the real ‘offense’ of the six convicted seismologists.

Failing to clarify that “no danger” is not the same as “we can’t predict the moment of occurrence” allowed the authorities and citizens to take false comfort and remain vulnerable.

As professionals we must make sure that all relevant issues are identified. And that we communicate clearly and accurately, making certain that our message is so received.

If not, precedent for conviction now exists…

Seismologists convicted

Feynman Root Cause

L’Aquila earthquake

Deploying what we have- our people, our talents, our assets- to their highest and best use maximizes their return and maximizes everyone’s satisfaction. Change happens in our lives, in our families, in our organizations. 

When change happens, it provides us an opportunity to reassesss our assets and redeploy them to their new “Highest and Best Use.”

Wonderful memories of holidays, birthdays, and special occasions.

The Family Silver

My parents married in 1950. My mom was Canadian, and she shopped at our local Loblaw’s, which was a Canadian grocery chain that had stores in Ohio. A familiar taste of home in her new country.

Today we have frequent shopper cards, frequent flier miles, and  store perks. In the 1950’s, they had S&H Green Stamps and Loblaws also had “PC’s”- Premimum Coupons. You could purchase these premium coupons based on the dollars you spent on your groceries. You could redeem those coupons for ‘Premium Merchandise.’  My mom stretched her budget and maximized her buying power with Loblaw’s PC’s which she redeemed for this 8-place setting of Rogers Silver flatware in 1953- just in time for Christmas!

Before there were frequent shopper programs there were other ways to reward customer loyalty.

The silver  and the fancy plates came out for every holiday, birthday, and happy family gathering.

Until my folks retired. They retired to Florida, half a continent away from the Ohio branch of the family, and the silver never again saw the light of day – or of candles on the table. It too was retired.

A few years ago, I helped my dad move into assisted living back in Ohio. I helped him clear out his home. He asked me to take “Mom’s Silver” and put it to good use.

But my family was already dispersed- both daughters married and out of state; my son at college. When they returned home  for holidays, we were so happy to spend time with them, that what is now the  “Family Silver” was the farthest thing from our mind.

Highest and Best Use

What is the highest and best use of this asset we now call the Family Silver?  For us, the joy of still having it connects us to memories of happy days of a different era. But our entertaining is mostly behind us. The silver is a wonderful trophy, not to the victors, but to the survivors. It is just a trophy. What  higher and better use could it have?

My oldest daughter and her husband have a great start to their careers. They have many friends, and do a lot of entertaining. They have a life ahead of them of holidays, birthdays, and other happy occasions. What is the ‘Highest and Best Use’ for “Mom’s Silver?”

Her sister is deployed out of country, she does not need more ballast from home at this stage in her life.

I think that its highest and best use will be with my daughter as she builds new traditions, and memories with her husband and their friends in their home in Wisconsin.

Change happens.   It happens to families. It happens to companies too.

Loblaw’s no longer has stores in Ohio. When my brother moved to Canada he met Bob Loblaw, of the Loblaw family. Bob Loblaw was designing left handed surgical tools for left handed doctors. I’m not sure how that worked out, but it is a far cry from the retail grocery business.

Change happens to families. When it does, we need to ask, “What is the highest and best use of our assets? Are they adding value to our lives? Creating lasting memories and helping us achieve what we want to with the people we love?”

Organizational Effectiveness

What about our companies? Are we deploying our company’s assets, both technical and human, at their highest and best use?

Like the family silver, they may be assets on the books, but if they are not being utilized effectively, if they are not deployed at their highest and best use, what are they really to us?

As a guy with more years in manufacturing and quality than I would care to admit, I would say this: They are a loss. A loss to society, a sub-optimum arrangement that prevents your company  from achieving its highest and best.

This story about the ‘Family Silver’ isn’t just about the family silver. It is a lens to help us understand that the idea of ‘Highest and Best Use’ is the way to maximize our effectiveness.

What ‘Family Silver’ do you have that is effectively retired? Sitting out of sight and out of mind? Not just machine tools, processes, materials. What about your people? Are they each operating at their ‘Highest and Best Use?’

Jim Collins talks about having the right people on the bus. Then on the right seats on the bus. Assuring that your people are operating at their ‘Highest and Best Use’ is another way of getting at the truth behind Collins’ point.

I hope that you are operating at your highest and best use. And that the people and processes under your authority are too.

Highest and best use. It is the key to happiness, success, effectiveness and satisfaction.

Oh- if you read this post, please don’t tell my daughter… we’d like it to be a surprise when she visits next.

Presenteeism (coming to work while ill) is estimated to cost employers more than $150 billion per year.

We’ve seen estimates that $10 billion in lost productivity is a result of people working less effectively while suffering from flu in the workplace.

Providing and encouraging flu shots is one step to take to help reduce flu among our workforce.

Here are 5 more steps to take to intelligently manage the risk that this year’s flu outbreak can have on your crew:

1) Make it clear to your employees that coming to work sick is not acceptable. Infecting coworkers is not a “Yay team” moment.

Presenteeism- Yay, team- NOT!!!

2) Safety first- instruct employees to use medications that do not cause drowsiness. If the warning says do not operate equipment, that means if you are taking that medication, don’t come to work!

3) Instruct your janitors and housekeepers to use virus killing products on publically shared equipment– copiers, microwaves, refrigerators, etc.

4) Provide disinfecting wipes so employees can minimize their (and their co-workers) exposure.

5) Communicate! Explain to your team- supervisors and crew leaders especially- about the risks  and costs of flu and the need to not bring it to work. Sit down with your HR people to figure out how to intelligently manage this for your shop.

The average flu related absence  lasts almost three days- do you really want that first person to come in and spread the flu and cause loss of work to the balance of your team?

It is 2012. We can figure this out.

It’s a difficult balancing act to promote attendance while discouraging presenteeism…

It’s a difficult balancing act to promote attendance while discouraging presenteeism.


Balancing act

We like graphs because they tell the story without spin.

These trends are NOT being adequately discussed on the news.

Three out of three indicators agree, openings and hires are  down, while separations are increasing sharply.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the number of manufacturing job openings dropped from 273,000 in July to 255,000 in August.

This is its lowest level since December 2011, with job postings declining for three straight months.

The other big headline for manufacturing is that net hiring turned negative. The BLS employment report  (link to NAM summary) showed that manufacturing jobs decreased in September for the second consecutive month.

In August, manufacturers hired 233,000 workers, down from 244,000 in July. This number is the lowest since June 2009.

At the same time, separations rose from 228,000 to 248,000. Separations include layoffs, quits and retirements.

This suggests net separations of 15,000 workers in August, a reversal of the net hiring of 16,000 observed in July.

So when you hear the rosy numbers from the media trying to “educate” you into thinking their way, why not ask them-

“Can I have a graph with that?”

“I’d like a Graph with that.”

Fast Food Worker Photo

Graph Courtesy of Chad Moutray, Chief Economist at NAM.

24-1/4 miles high- great altitude to jump! That is quite a first step!

Sunday,  Austrian Felix Baumgartner rode a balloon to the edge of space, stepped off his balloon- borne capsule into a 128,100 feet, 830 mph, 4 minute, supersonic free fall.

It was the highest jump ever recorded, and at Mach 1.24, the fastest descent.

Temperatureminus 70 Fahrenheit.

Pressurewithout the pressure suit, his blood would have vaporized.

This is just one example of the existential joys of engineering.

  • Having a dream.
  • Understanding the challenges.
  • Engineering solutions.
  • Daring to test them.
To those who dream, who know, who engineer, who dare, to these is Victory.

This is how science drives human progress.

In the future, astronauts will be better protected  due to the lessons learned from Baumgartner’s Jump.

Congratulations to the Team at Red Bull!

Mission Accomplished!

You built that! With the help of a lot of skilled engineers, technicians and manufacturing talent.

We wrote about the Red Bull Stratos Project’s preliminary test flight earlier this year here.

Redbull Photo Pool