Monday, August 8, 2011

IDENTIFYING YOUR FACTORY'S WEAKEST LINK

Since 2007 when the housing bubble started to implode on itself, I have watched modular home factories that had been in business for decades close their doors or cut back operations to the point where they are no longer any factor in this industry.

Recently I've been noticing another worrisome trend.  The people that brought down some of these factories are now being hired by other modular home factories and given top positions within their organizations.  Not only that, they are bringing along with them the same problems and habits that closed the first factory. 

There are many things that contribute to a modular home factory closing its doors forever but I have never heard of a building or trucks or materials being the deciding factor. 


What causes the closing is when the weakest link in the survival chain breaks and everything starts to fall apart.  Finding that weakest link before the disaster is extremely tough but somehow everyone knows what it was after the factory shuts its doors....forever.

Who is the weakest link?
Where do I start?  Is it the owner that refuses to make the hard decisions and hides behind his/her office door waiting for something..anything..to make those decisions for them?  Is it the Sales Manager that hires second rate sales people because they themselves were second rate when they were in direct sales?

Then there are the members of the Board of Directors (if the factory even has one) that want results but have no input on how to get it.  Comptrollers that are so worried about the financial condition of the factory that they alienate the very people that could help...the modular home builders.

And let's not forget the sales reps that still haven't decided that they are in this business for their builders and their factory and continue to only look at what they, personally, will get out of every transaction.  Oh, I almost forgot the factory workers and their supervisors that do the real grunt work in the factory.  Are they really on the factory's side or is it still the old, us against them attitude, that has prevailed for years in industry?

What are the weakest links?
Procedures!  Every successful factory needs them but most procedures are the result of someone screwing up a process and a new rule being written to rectify it.  There are procedures for every aspect of the construction and assembly process but beyond that it gets a little fuzzy around the edges.

I only know a couple of factories that have procedures and metrics in place for their sales people and Sales Manager.  These are usually smaller, regional factories that keep tight reigns on everything from their builders to their janitors.  And guess what, most of them are weathering the downturn just fine!  But what about the the factories that play fast and loose with rules?  Is your factory actually reviewing and keeping accurate records of all the sales calls made and does your factory have a service department that actually fixes problems or does it simply wait until the builder stops calling.  Sort of like the guy that's drowning and nobody jumps in to rescue him until the bubbles stop.  Oh well, he was drowning anyway.

When do the weakest links appear?
This is a very tough one to identify.  Everyone guards their little fiefdom within the factory and a lot of finger pointing happens when something screws up.  But you have to ask yourself, when did the wheel start to wobble on the wagon?

Did it start with the builder when they decided to make change after change to their quote and the sales rep started to get tired of it?  Maybe it was the Sales Manager having a bad day or week and taking it out on their sales reps.  What do you think will happen to an organization when the owner or President of the company gets the call from the bank telling them that their credit is shut off?

The weakest link isn't always a person, sometimes it was just a small ripple in the business that became a tidal wave by the end of the week.

Why can't we identify the weakest links early?
With the exception of a couple of obvious ones, like a fire or tornado, most weak links look just like every other link in the chain until it snaps

I started to wonder how to look for them and settled on how amusement parks look for weakness in their rides.  Every day inspectors walk and inspect every part of every ride, especially the roller coasters.  Do you ever think about the car coming off the tracks or the entire ride collapsing while you're on it?  Maybe a little but no so much really.  The reason you should have no worries when you get on the ride is because someone has looked for the weakest link before you got in the car.

That is what should happen in every modular home factory.  Someone should be in charge of ferreting out the weak links within the organization.  Someone should have the power to tell the emperor that he has no clothes.  Someone should be there so that the factory doesn't jump the track and crash.

We all have 20/20 hindsight as to why a factory closed its doors but what is needed is 20/20 foresight and that is lacking in many industries including the modular home factory.

I always smile when I think of the story of the Psychic Network Television show.  The owners were crooks and the federal government shut them down in one day.  When the women, that were the actual psychics, were asked if they surprised about it, they answered, "we never saw it coming." 

There is no magic bullet that will identify your company's weakest link(s) but any effort put into trying to find it will unearth some things that might save your factory and your job.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Coach,
I have been in the industry now going on 20 years and It is more apparent now than ever that we need a change. The change I speak about is not Product Related, Pay Related or Economy Related. I am speaking about the treatment of our employees, especially in the sales and management area. Over my career I have encountered numerous times when Reps get together at Industry functions or run into each other during normal road travel work where they all do the same thing. COMPLAIN! This is not criticism, it’s a real warranted way to feel and I completely agree with why they do this. I have heard these same things, time and time again as the reasons why!

1. We don’t have a backlog, so we have to work late every night and Saturday.

2. My boss calls me on the phone constantly to see where I am and what I am doing when I am on the road.

3. When I need to off for either my kid or myself being sick, I am made to feel like the biggest piece of garbage on the Earth.

4. I worked 8 weekends in a row, but they make it clear I better be in the office on Monday Morning bright and early. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t seen my family much or may need a mental break.

5. They give us all tons of reports, such as Budget and Sales Goals to do. The reports are OK and somewhat necessary, but they are used against you to show how lousy you are doing. When its favorable for you, nothing is said.

6. I have even heard about a sales guy in our Industry who’s Grandmother died and his boss wanted a copy of the obituary.

7. I was given a verbal agreement of approval about what days meant a lot to me to have off every year without using vacation. That person no longer works there and current management now says, sorry, you should have gotten it in writing.

WAKE UP! THIS IS HOW IT WORKED IN THE 70s AND 80s PEOPLE!

With today’s technology, I am certain the Reps/Managers speak on cell phones, e-mail on Blackberry’s/iphones, etc. after hours. Making the sales/management team stay late and work Saturday’s is counter-productive and is just a punishment. It’s all just for a show to impress someone. For the bosses who are still calling Reps while on the road to check up on them (Let’s be honest, that’s what you are doing), STOP IT, they don’t feel trusted and will not perform nearly as effectively, everyone likes to be trusted. As far as a sick day goes (Well, #1 they should be called PTO days) Sometimes a person just needs a mental break, it doesn’t mean they have to have the FLU and fake cough on the phone to prove they are sick. Let them send you a Text Message, with complete honesty. Or, Boss, I haven’t spent any time with my family, I need to use a PTO (Personal Time Off – in case you didn’t know that) day to spend time with them. After all, their families are much more important than you. ANY ARGUMENTS WITH THAT? If you have a guy or girl who extended themselves beyond normal work functions, reward them. Give them a Comp Day, tell them spend the day with your spouse! Don’t let them ask you! It will go a million miles if you do it! The wonderful reports are necessary, but use them wisely, constructively and reward people who exceed goals. I have heard so many times how, “I hit budget this year” and may receive a whopping – Nice Job and a pat on the back! When I didn’t hit budget, I was crucified and made to feel like my days were numbered. Asking for a copy of an Obituary from a sales person to prove they needed to be off is INSANITY and should be disciplined for that one! This one really gets under my skin!! If someone honored a request when they were hired, you should honor it too. What if that was you, how would you feel?

Anonymous said...

Coach, here is part 2

This culture exists throughout our industry and we are being passed by every other industry out there. Most people 35-50 in this industry just kind of go along with this mistreatment and baby-boomers are nearly gone. Here is what will happen IF we do not change now. The current sales reps/managers in this industry are kind of used to this way, but are starting to get a little fed up with it. Once they move along, do you think kids out of college who are learning today’s world of business and how to get the most out of people and be profitable, happy, having quality of life with family and are trusted will want to work in THIS industry, the answer is NOOOOOOOO!

Which one of you MANUFACTURERS will start this movement now? One question: If you had happier people, do you think you would get more quality, loyalty, efficiency & dedication out of them?

Read this Book: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Work-Sucks-How-Joke/dp/1591842034#reader_1591842034

A friend of mine recently attended a SHRM Conference in Las Vegas where they gave this book to nearly 60,000 business and Human Resource Professionals from successful businesses around the world. It should give you all the information you need to help you make your business more successful in today’s world.

Let’s leave the Stone Ages behind US!!

Anonymous said...

SOMEONE FINALLY SAID IT AND I AGREE 100%, SOME COMPANIES JUST CAN'T SHAKE OLD HABITS! I COULDN'T AGREE MORE, NICE POST.

Anonymous said...

COACH YOU ARE 100% CORRECT - MANAGEMENT AND OWNERS ARE THE TOP TWO REASONS FOR BUSINESS FAILURE. YET WE SEE THEM BEING RECYCLED TO OTHER COMPANIES. WHY? BECAUSE THEY KNOW THE OWNERS OF THE COMPANIES HIRING THEM AND CAN GIVE THEM ALL THE BS STORIES ABOUT WHY/WHO/HOW THEIR PREVIOUS COMPANY FAILED, HOW THEY TRIED TO SAVE IT BUT NO ONE HELPED THEM.

Heywood said...

Coach,
I think there are several weak links in our success or failure. I do think if any factory would operate as if every home ordered, produced, delivered and serviced was being sold to our mothers, all the weak links would be gone.
It is called pride in our work. That is what we lack.