This morning, the message on my Yogi tea label was, “To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.” The more I live, the more I find this to be true. When we are calm,  we can see more clearly. With a simple breath, we can stop the waves of emotion that can threaten to take us over and make us erupt like a volcano. But we can only stay calm in the realization that there is a Power greater than us at work. And we can smile in the knowledge that this Power is operating for our highest good…whether we understand that at the moment or not. When we are calm, we can solve any problem.

I am supremely fortunate in this life to have wonderful and dear friends with whom I’ve really shared life with over the years. When a person really trusts you, opens their heart, and really values your insights, that is a rare gift indeed. It is the greatest honor to be in a situation to help another. I typically give the disclaimer that I could be right or wrong (but truly, right and wrong always depends on the viewer) in my suggested approach, but I’m happy to share my thoughts. In the end, I can only hope that any sharing I do might help others find their center.

I had such a full conversation with a dear friend yesterday, that it will be challenging to turn it into a post. But I really want to…and I thank her so much for allowing me to share some of the essence of our discussions…so I’m going to give it a go ;)

Without a real place to start, I’ll begin by saying she is (thankfully!) a supporter of this site. She said to me, “I know you said, ‘Just do it’…but how do I do that?!”

I think we’ve all been in that place where we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t even know where to start. The emotional and psychological weight of all we need to do can wear on us and, indeed, paralyze us. We see no clear path for progress and we just don’t want to do anything! And then some Selena Sage character comes around and tells us to Just Do It!…but that just doesn’t cut it..haha! We want to know the prescription…the steps…the how! Specifically, How do I get out of this mess?! I totally get that. And I respect it. Every situation is different, and there never is one size that fits all. But let’s give it a try! :)

Since my dear friend reads the site and know how our story goes, I don’t want to bore her by telling a similar tale. Instead, if you’ll allow me, I’m going to put on my Engineering cap. To me, being an Industrial Engineer is just a fancy way of saying, “Problem Solver.” So, like I did countless times in Engineering school, let’s visit the Widget Factory! haha

Sage Sprokets

Sage Sprokets has so many problems! The company is losing money, making the sprokets is taking too long, employees are unhappy, and customers are writing angry letters about broken sprokets. Sage is overwhelmed. She looks out on the sproket factory and it’s a mess…parts are everywhere and she sees a forklift driver almost run over a maintenance man! Oh my goodness, how did it all go so wrong?! Sage goes back to her desk and plops her head down onto a stack of papers on her desk. She thinks, “This is the end. It’s over, I’m going out of business.” Sage decides that while her head is down, she might as well take a nap. (It’s ok to laugh at this story, I’m laughing as I write it haha!)

But then Sage hears two firm knocks on her door. Startled, she approaches slowly. Could it be another employee stopping by to quit?? As she opens the door, in walks a well-dressed and professional woman…complete with pants suit, high heeled pumps, stylish specs, and a clipboard. Before Sage has a chance to say anything, the woman hands over a card and says, “Hi, I’m Selena. My mother, Loretta, knows your mother and she asked me to come over to help. I’m a Consultant and I rescue ailing businesses. I’m here to change your life. Let’s get started. Tell me what is going on.”

Sage’s jaw drops…she’s agitated and upset. How dare this woman storm into her office and talk to her in this way?! Who does this Selena person think she is?! I don’t need help! I can fix this myself! Just as Sage was about to tell the woman to get out and call security, she remembered the Security guard quit the day before. And then she looks out again on the factory floor and sees several sprokets bounce off the line. Sage takes a deep breath, sits down in her chair and says, “You’re right, I need help. I do not have the budget for a consultant, but if you have any ideas, I would appreciate them.” Selena smiles and says, “That’s what I’m here for.”

Sage tells her story while Selena takes her notes. When Sage begins to complain about the worker’s lack of loyalty and initiative, Selena stops her and says, “Sage, attitude reflects leadership. This is not about them, it’s about you. So now, let’s talk a walk on the floor and see what’s really going on.”

Selena trades in her pumps for steel-toed boots and they take a walk. Selena notices that there are no walkways for pedestrians, safety lights, or clearly marked work areas. The floor is not organized and sprokets and being moved all around the site to complete production. There does not seem to be a process in place…and then Selena notices a worker eating lunch near the assembly line! Selena stops the tour and says, “Sage, what is going on here?! Nothing makes sense.” Sage responds, “Well, the workers were so unhappy that I decided to give them more freedom to boost morale. They take breaks when they want and eat where they want.” Selena silently shakes her head and continues the tour, making more notes along the way.

After several hours of this, Selena requests a quiet office, lunch and tea to fuel her brainstorm. Sage complies and then notices that Selena turns off her cell phone and starts eating her lunch before the door closes. Sage feels some relief from talking about the problem and feels motivated to make some changes. But again, she doesn’t know where to start. Sage remembers that Selena kept saying, “Start small,” and wonders if maybe she should clean her desk. But then cleaning the desk would mean seeing angry letters and bills, so she takes a nap instead.

Sage is awakened again, this time by the factory bell, signaling shift change, ringing outside her office. She looks around, feeling disoriented, and then hears two firm knocks again at her door. Selena walks in with purpose and says, “Sage, the first thing you must understand is that you will have to save this company yourself.” Sage nods and says, “I understand.”

Selena continues, “Seriously Sage. There are a lot of issues here. And I’ve just spent one day in your factory! I don’t know the full extent of the problem, but I have a good idea. What I’ve put together here are high level opportunities and a place for you to get started. You must keep going if you want to save your company.” Sage sits up a little straighter, grabs a pen, and says, “Ok, I’m ready…I am going to do this and I appreciate your help with getting me started.”

Selena takes a deep breath and begins, “Ok, first, you have to be honest with your employees. You must meet with them all and let them know that unless things change, you will all lose your jobs. You have to let them know that you don’t want that to happen and you’ve come up with with initial changes. Let them know that you need their help to save the company. Then you will outline the areas that need changes, determine leaders for those teams, and describe the reward structure. You will set targets for each team, and whichever team exceeds the target the most will win a trip to Hawaii…each team member gets to bring a loved one.” Sage interrupts, “But we don’t have money for that!”

Continuing calmly, Selena says, “Ah yes, I’m glad you brought up money. To pay for incentives like a trip, you will need to make Sales a part of the target. The trip is a way of sharing the profits with the employees in a different way, while motivating them to perform beyond what they think is possible. But there is something you must do first….Before going home tonight, you must go through all of the paperwork on your desk! I’d hoped you would have done that while I planned, but the reality is that you must do it today! You will throw away the trash, prioritize the bills, and separate out the angry customer letters for your employees to read and address. You will work with your accountant to create a true financial picture and understand how much your company must bring in to afford the incentives I’ve described. Here is a framework of the teams you need to create:

Customer Service: Figure out what your customers want! Understand what is going wrong. If you lose your customers, you lose your business!

  • You and your team need to read all of the letters (plus anything you find on your website, blogs, etc.)
  • Call back all of the angry customers and understand the issues…Then make it right!
  • Adjust your business model and production issues to properly address the customers problems.

Process/Re-organization: In order to improve efficiency, you must create standardized processes and flow to achieve production goals (i.e. figure out how fast the process can go if everything is done perfectly)

  • Determine each step of the process, assign owners to each step
  • Establish a schedule (with breaks and work plans) that creates overlap to allow for the process to continue despite breaks
  • Layout the facility in the order of these steps with added safety features (see below)

Safety: You owe this to your employees. If you don’t get this right, you will go out of business because you will get sued. Fix this right away!

  • Create designated walkways for pedestrians with a separate path for forklifts and equipment (and restrict eating and breaks to the break room)
  • Add lighting and signaling in dangerous high traffic areas that are accident prone
  • Create and post rules for all employees concerning safety

Financial: Last, but not least, money enables your business to be a business. If you are too afraid to address this area, your business will crumble. You need to face it head on and develop a plan!

  • Work with an accountant if you must to determine all of your assets. Where do you have sources of money? Not only in your bank account, but what can you sell?
  • Then go through all of your bills (account for your liabilities) and prioritize! Which bills must be addressed first? Among equal bills, which are the smallest that you can pay for fully? Pay those in full first!
  • For bills that you can’t afford right now, get on the phone with those creditors! Help them understand your situation and what you are doing to save your business. Ask for help and try to work with them to achieve more favorable payment terms (or a payment plan) that will allow you to pay off those items as quickly as possible.

“Sage, this is the beginning. But if you really commit to these areas and keep following through on each area, you can truly save your business.You cannot hand over all of the work…you must get deeply involved and demonstrate leadership by working with your team! You must be committed to making the best sprokets on the market. Through prioritizing Customer Service, you can win back all of your customers and gain the reputation as a brand that really listens and provides products that meet the real needs. Then you will gain new customers and set your business on a growth trajectory. I will check in with you from time to time, but this is your company…now go lead!” Selena concluded with a smile and Sage ran around the desk, with a tear in her eye and a big smile on her face, to hug her. All of a sudden, everything felt possible! Before Selena left the building, Sage had already started going through her papers, motivated by the thought of increasing Sales enough to send Selena on a trip to Hawaii with the winning team! ;)

from sprockets back to life

I hope you enjoyed the journey through Sage Sprokets! What I described was completely made up, but loosely based on my reality as an Industrial Engineer. So what I’m saying is that you can actually apply those ideas to your business!  Hopefully you also drew some parallels to your life. In life, we can have obstacles that seem insurmountable. We do not see away around or over them. We may want to just throw in the towel. But the reality is that big problem is really just a lot of other smaller problems. Your job is to figure out the smaller problems so that you can knock them out one at a time. Here are some guided questions for you:

  • What is your biggest problem? (Write it down.)
  • What are the smaller pieces/underlying issue of that problem? (Write those down.)
  • What do you need to do to address each smaller problem? (Create an Action list!)
  • What are some ideas that you have on how to address those problems? (Brainstorm!)
  • Identify parts of the problem that you have no control over…write down, “Not my problem” next to each of those items. These are areas outside of your control!
  • Get started on the smallest parts of your problem.

Here’s a simple example.

  • Biggest problem: I have a transportation issue.
  • Underlying issue: I need an extra $100 this week to allow me to get where I need to go (using taxis, Uber, etc.)
  • Brainstorm:
    • Can I save $100 by not doing something else?
    • I can sell something in storage on Craigslist; or bags/shoes I don’t wear on eBay, etc.
    • Are there odd jobs I can do for extra cash? Can I dog walk, or mow lawns, or clean a house?
    • Contact a temp agency for something short term
  • Note to self: I have no control over people saying no! That is not my problem. I only require one yes and I will keep going until I find a way!

With all things, you can only do what you can! I personally believe that God/the Universe/the Creator assists those who step out there and begin! The journey of one thousand miles really does begin with the first step. And I sincerely hope that this crazy post will give you some insight into how you can Just Do It! ;)

It is possible to turn around any perceived problem. Just stay focused in the present (the past is a powerful distraction and depressant…and the future can seem so gloomy that it can paralyze you with anxiety) and do what you need to do now to get you where you need to go. If you listen to the voice inside that keeps telling you what you need to do, and you actually go do it…I promise you’ll get where you want to go ;)

Namaste :)

Photo source: bike 3 by chris mcclanahan

P.S. I just happened to read this article after finishing this post. How would you address service issues? Is there a way that you might set up a photo area or have someone else take the photos to speed service? :) People kept complaining this restaurant sucked…here’s what they found out