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About ERP Systems

Two Minds Thinking Alike

Michael Roman - Friday, May 03, 2013

Two years ago, I wrote a blog about working smarter and harder (READ THE BLOG).  At that time, the economy was in the dumps, gas was approaching $4 per gallon ($US), unemployment was in double digits, and the economic outlook was grim. My suggestion in the blog for improving bottom lines in manufacturing operations was to improve their use of the ERP Systems. Late last week, I heard a report on Public Radio that the real unemployment today is above 17%. Gas is still high ($3.35 for low grade blended fuel in Atlanta), and the economy does not seem to be picking up with any apparent speed.  Small and midsized manufacturing companies (my focus) continue to struggle.  They are still looking for help, and they still need to improve their bottom lines.

 Recently, I read a report by Simon Macpherson, Senior Director Operations, Kronos EMEA (READ THE REPORT) that mentions that managing people is a big concern for a number of manufacturers.  It makes sense; manage the people, and manage the processes.  Those activities have the effect of making improvements, which improves the bottom line. I liked the report and Tweeted a recommendation to followers to read it.  Surprisingly, it mirrors my blog from two years ago, but it has a tighter focus on managing the people in the company.  I would expect that from an operations man who works for a company that sells workforce management solutions.  His report did an excellent job, and in my opinion, he made his points very well.

 My work for the past 20+ years has been helping companies focus themselves on properly deploying another type of management tool – specifically ERP Systems, the toolsets that manage businesses.  Like the proverbial blind men describing an elephant by touching different parts of the animal, Mr. Macpherson and I are describing a different part of the same creature; EXCEPT my work manages the workforce AND the organization.

 So, what’s my point? The short answer is the same old song and dance; that is, focus the organization on properly using the ERP System, and profits will follow.  Our formula to achieve that effect is simple.  We start with education, which explains what the ERP System is and is not.  Education clarifies what the ERP System will do for your organization and to your organization.  Our education includes both management and other company personnel, though not at the same time.

 After education, our next step helps the organization remove the non-value added activities from their processes.  We call that implementing LEAN, and that occurs both in the shop AND throughout the organization. As that occurs, the processes that still take place add value to the organization.

 The next step is to complete the ERP implementation, during which time we identify the KPIs that management wants to use to measure success throughout the organization.  Defining the KPIs is a critical step in process, because it measures how use of the system contributes to the success of the organization.

 A more detail explanation of our process exists in our blogs and on our website.  If you want experienced, professional help in finding the right way to implement or re-implement an ERP System, just ask. Even in difficult economic conditions, you can still improve your bottom line.

ERP Success and Gardening

Michael Roman - Friday, April 26, 2013

I was working in my yard the other day when I heard the phone ringing and hurried inside to answer it. The call was from a potential client, a CEO who explained that some people in his organization had read my blogs posted on the Manufacturing Practices website. He was particularly interested in the idea that by fine-tuning their ERP System, they might find additional revenue, better throughput in their plant and better customer satisfaction. He asked some very good questions, and specifically asked how he could know whether they were using their ERP System effectively. I responded by asking him if he was a gardener or plant fancier. Surprised by the question, he admitted he really did not have a lot of time to devote to that these days, but when he was younger, he and his wife loved growing plants and vegetables, and had won several awards from the homeowners association for their rose garden in the front yard of their home.

I asked him how much time he had devoted to that activity, and he responded that it had been the focus of many Saturdays over the course of a year. I then told him the story of Jesse’s award-winning tomatoes, the subject of a previous blog.  (ERP Is Like Growing Tomatoes)  Jesse’s secret for success went beyond simply choosing a good location, rich soil and the right fertilizer. He also invested an inordinate amount of time measuring and recording the effects of ALL the different gardening activities (watering, weeding, pruning, etc.) to know whether they contributed to the success of tomato output.

The CEO got the message.  In the discussion that followed, he acknowledged that their ERP System needed more constant focus and attention. I explained that when the people in his company tried something new, they should measure success in terms of whether there was an improvement in the information available about that activity from the ERP System. Activities not part of the ERP System but contributing to the company’s success need to be incorporated into the ERP System to standardize that work and ensure its proper and continued use. Just like in gardening, you have to have all the information readily available to know what is working and what is not working.

Before we ended the call, he thanked me for my time, said he would have someone contact me soon, and congratulated me for coming up the gardening analogy because it helped him drive home the point. I thanked him for his interest, hung up the phone and hurried back outside to finish planting my new hydrangeas in the front yard.

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Michael Roman - Friday, April 19, 2013

I love meeting with my business advisor, but after eight years of working together, I still walk away marveling at his process – which never feels like a process at all. If I ask him a question, his reply is a question, which starts a conversation, which leads to more questions, which creates insights into an issue I am attempting to understand better.

Our last meeting was kind of like that. I mentioned that I was having difficulty coming up with a blog topic, so he asked if putting together a list of advantages/disadvantages about leading ERP systems would be a benefit to future clients. With no hesitation, I said, “Not really. But I’m still open to ideas.” Ignoring the fact that I was ready to move on to another idea, he asked why the list would not be a benefit, so I gave him the long answer.

“The reason,” I explained, “is that most ERP systems handle most types of manufacturing, i.e., make-to-stock, make-to-order, configure-to-order, and engineer-to-order.  A few packages specifically address repetitive or process manufacturing.  Also, there is no good definition about what the words ‘advantages/disadvantages’ mean.  In addition, the list might be outdated as soon as my opinion emerged, as well as the fact that I had little time to offer my opinions. Companies need to have their own opinions about the advantages/disadvantages of ERP packages because the advantages/disadvantages are based on their processes in a review of how the software performs those processes.”

Pressing on, my advisor then asked, “Should a company just review how their processes function within an ERP System to know if it is a good fit”? 

“No, they should first remove the non-value added activities in their current processes; review these ‘Lean’ processes as they are performed in the candidate ERP systems; and then determine what process inherent in those candidate ERP systems and not currently utilized in their own organization would be of benefit.  But this requires education about what an ERP System ‘is and is not’ – education that does not come from the software vendor.”

 “Is that all”, he asked?

“No, two more measures should be taken into consideration, but most clients do not go that far before our teams arrive to rescue them.”

“And they are?” he asked.

“There are two quality measures that explain where each department or employee is, in relation to where they should be toward contributing to the success of their company; namely the lower, upper, and middle measures of where their performance goals are in performing their required duties for the jobs they are paid to perform. That’s first. The second is to ensure that their work is performed using the ERP system, which allows the organization to use the system to report their KPIs. Companies just do not think to use their ERP Systems to report KPIs, but that is a simple measure of how truly integrated an organization is. Unfortunately, that eludes so many companies.  Most clients become overwhelmed by the ERP system implementation, and they lose sight of the goal of implementation. It is like that old cliché, they are so close to the trees they cannot see the forest.”

I finished my point and noticed my business advisor smiling.

“What?” I asked.

“Looks like you just wrote your next blog.”

I hate it when he does that.


Changing Corporate Culture

Michael Roman - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Years ago, as Operations and IT Manager for a small company, I was charged with finding a consultant to help us through an improvement project. One thing that I found surprising and entirely counter-intuitive over the course of that project was how easy it was to change the corporate culture (to work together in information sharing) – and in less than a year. The consultant implemented a process to measure individual performance within the company, and the positive transformation in the organization was truly remarkable.

The process was a deceptively simple, inexpensive, and powerful tool called Key Performance Indicators (KPI).  KPI help change the way people do their jobs, approach their day, and deal with daily roadblocks.  KPI help people focus on the BIG PICTURE.  KPI help people distinguish the important from the trivial, the “must be done” from the “could be done”, and allow employees to set their own priorities.  When the boss reviews performance charts, questions follow.  People begin to learn the importance of those measures.  When people focus on activities and apply what they learn from the KPI, good things happen. 

KPI differ by industry; and KPI are not just for individuals. 

  • Inventory Turns is a very important KPI for manufacturing and distribution companies.
  • For telemarketers, the number of phones calls made is an important KPI. 
  • For retail, the average dollars per sale is a good KPI.
  • For accounts payable departments, the number of AP Days outstanding is important
  • For accounts receivable departments, the number of AR Days outstanding is important.
  • For managers, employee turnover is an important KPI. 

Using KPI reaps great rewards, and the secret lies in its focus on the business scorecard activities of revenue, costs, and cash.

Displaying KPI results is a vital part of the process.  For example, some companies post the results of inventory accuracy counts with several positive results: 

  1. People understand that the activity is an important company function. 
  2. People take pride in their work, because everyone knows how they are measured. 
  3. KPI provide a level of control that is not apparent when those values are not measured.

During our implementation, everyone including the president had KPI, and we posted performance to the KPI. The fact that the “person at the top” reported measurements had a unifying effect on the entire company.  We all understood that everyone had a role to play, what the role was and how we were being measured. Everyone!  We felt that since the “BIG GUY” showed us his, we would show him ours, and we accepted the fact that things were changing.  We wanted to join the crowd; consequently, the corporate culture changed almost overnight.

The easiest way to implement KPI is to start slowly.  Choose a couple of performance measurements that are important to your practice type and make sure that they produce the desired outcome.  You can always add additional KPI after this simple tool demonstrates its value.  Sometimes you will find KPI that fit your practice type through a professional society.  Sometimes you will find KPI for your practice type on the web.  If you cannot find the correct KPI, please contact me.  Together, I know we can determine what will work for you.

Build Trust

- Monday, April 08, 2013

In part 3 on accountability, we talked about the importance of clarity--making sure people are clear about expectations and gaining alignment in everything including mission, vision, values, standards, your peculiar worldview, and the specific goals to be accomplished. 


In surveying more than 300 leaders from Fortune 500 companies, I learned that two of the attributes they valued most from their leaders were “They supported me.” and “They helped me develop.” Thus, some of the most important aspects of leading people toward success--the ultimate goal of accountability--are mentoring and coaching.


Mentor by Example


It’s more important than you can imagine to lead by setting a good example of the behaviors you want to see in others. Leaders actions speak much louder than their words, and those that demonstrate the following characteristics set the standard without having to say a word –


·         Respect

·         Collaboration

·         Teamwork

·         Commitment to Precise Execution


Likewise you’ve noticed that the habits of bad leaders (and bad parents) are often replicated by those who come behind them. As is often the case with children, the rule of “monkey see, monkey do” plays out in the workplace. It’s hard to be good role model, and it’s one of the greatest challenges of leadership. 


Recently while sitting in with a group of senior HR managers in a Fortune 500 company, I listened to a discussion about a particular manager in the company whose behaviors were routinely rude and bullying. Surprisingly, the senior VP spoke up and shared the shocking comment, “I used to behave like that routinely.” Heads snapped around with looks of disbelief and even some comments like, “No way.” But the courageous VP came back, “Oh yes I did. That’s how my first boss operated, and so I thought that’s the way leaders behaved.  Eventually, another boss saw what I was doing, got my attention, and then mentored me on the power of respecting others. I learned that I could be kind and firm to get much better results.” 


Your example as a leader sets the context and boundaries for accountability. You’re modeling what you want to see in others, and you’ll reap what you sow.


Coach from Your Experience


Typically, leaders have accrued knowledge and honed skills that need to be passed along. It’s the most effective way to increase productivity and build confidence in others. It takes time and patience, but this kind of support of a leader is powerful. The best athletes in the world have coaches, so it makes sense that coaching in the workplace is also crucial to high productivity. Many years ago as a young Air Force officer, I was assigned to a major command headquarters in my first staff job. To put it mildly, this flyboy was inexperienced and still ignorant about staff work.  It was a workplace highly populated with colonels and generals, so the margin for error was slim. Unfortunately, my immediate boss seemed quite disengaged from work of any kind.  He was either clueless or scared of messing up, because he seemed to always be hiding and not helping at all. Fortunately, a seasoned veteran took the time to coach me as I faced new challenges. The skills he taught me about staff coordination and collaboration kept me ahead of the curve and really laid the foundation for much of the work I’ve done in my career ever since. 


Sure, we need to learn some things by trial and error, but in a demanding, fast paced workplace, accelerated learning means success for both the individual and the organization. I could’ve learned by trial and error, and I did some of that; but mostly I was mentored and coached by a very busy person who cared enough to spend a few minutes here and there to show me the ropes in my first staff rodeo.    


Now you may be thinking, “I thought this blog series was about accountability, but it seems like you’ve turned it into a focus on development.” Let me share a couple of thoughts on that –


·         Always remember that every person is unique.  Some people will need more of your time and support and some will need less.  Figuring that out is part of your job. 

·         You should always be developing and positioning your people toward success. Sometimes that means supporting them with mentoring and coaching and sometimes it may mean standing back and watching them explore on their own. It’s easy to stand back; it takes more commitment and initiative to get involved and own your part of this accountability equation. 


Look at the entire process of accountability as a journey--we’re moving down a path that gives the best results for you--the leader, your followers, and the organization.


Consider your mentoring in light of the example you set. Are you modeling the behaviors you expect in others?  Do you walk the talk of your values? Regarding coaching, do you focus on the assignments and capabilities of each person uniquely? How are you bringing them along to be as skilled as or even more so than you?


Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC® & FreedomStar Media™.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments

Embrace Your Dark Side!

Michael Roman - Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Plan, Execute and Control!

Most companies are reluctant to change their business management software, and rightly so.  Nobody likes change. It is the scary unknown -- the Dark Side, where evil monsters and murderers lurk. Taking the plunge into the deep well of an all new system is a frightening prospect to a business leader, and it is not surprising that many companies choose to continue using old systems, old ways, and old assumptions.

We know that fortune favors the brave, but bravery isn't enough. The real challenge is to journey down the right path and understand what to expect along the way. Choosing the right path means choosing the right business management system, and that is a critical first step that I covered in a previous blog (Wishes). But once you make that step, that's when the journey toward your fortune begins, and you need to be sure you are prepared for what lies ahead. It's time to plan, execute and control!

Below are a few challenges you can expect on your journey:


"Grow or die" is not just a cliche. Every company must move beyond its beginnings to remain competitive and profitable. Operationally, that means finding proper tools to plan, execute and control future events. Companies that do not plan their future are setting sail across a vast ocean without charting a course, risking everything on an uncertain implementation that cannot be properly executed and controlled. If growth is causing execution and control concerns in your processes, your toolsets or the manner in which your people use the toolsets may be the cause.


Properly managing financial, production, sales, inventory, and labor information allows a company to know when they are on course with their goals and objectives -- and when they are not on course. If information is not timely, if information is not consistent, and if conclusions about what data means are not accurate or impossible to create, your toolsets or the manner in which your people use the toolsets may be the cause.

Coordination of Effort

The manufacturing process leads to conflict; it is the nature of the beast. To seize investment opportunities, finance teams want inventory investment dollars to be minimal, while sales teams want inventory stacks above the rafters so that all inventories are available at all times. The production teams prefer to run without changes to earn efficiency, but management often intervenes to change the schedules. And when schedules are not followed, or when schedules are inaccurate, everyone suffers. Sales cannot make their numbers, and production chases its tail trying to make the right thing at the right time.

Such activities are a red flag and a signal that it is time for something different. The problem is that a proper plan-execution-control system does not exist or is being under-utilized.

Duplication of effort

In a proper plan-execution-control system, there is one set of numbers and that data are always shared by all. The planning system creates data for the execution system, and the control system alerts planning and execution when the organization does not follow the plan.  More than “one set of numbers” is an indicator that a new method must be found.


So... Now What?

These issues are all signals that indicate it is time to do something different. But what is that "something different?" Does your current system need replacing?  Is education and training the solution?  Are system-tuning actions the right thing? The answers are not readily evident until your company more clearly defines its journey and ultimate destination. You may be brave enough to seek your fortune, but what does that fortune look like? Once your company knows where it wants to go, you can then assess whether current toolsets will provide the best light to illuminate your pathway -- and eliminate the Dark Side altogether!

Who's on First?

Michael Roman - Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Consultant’s Role

Helping clients clarify who does what during an ERP Implementation is one of my first responsibilities as a consultant.  I like to describe my role as a “business capabilities architect”, because I essentially develop the blueprint that each person in the organization can use as the new (or upgraded) system is built.  In his book, The Executive’s Guide to Successful MRPII, Oli Wight stated that a consultant “should be the catalyst, not the reactor” during an implementation.  I play that role.

Oli was one of the best at ERP Implementations, and he stressed that consultants should act as an agent for the organization but not accept ownership of the project.  Ownership of an ERP implementation rests squarely on the shoulders of the people in the organization.

Consultants also facilitate change, an important facet of a successful ERP Implementation.  Everyday functions by everyone in the organization must change, but all too often, people are reluctant to alter their traditional roles and habits.  People are not inclined to change unless they see a compelling reason.  So one of the first orders of business for a consultant is help them understand why change must occur and what their specific roles are.  Change must occur because an ERP system is a management tool for guaranteeing the future success of the organization, and it functions as an integrated toolset.  People in the organization need to learn how to perform their functions within the new system.

I recommend that clients post the following as a reminder: “Change is going to happen.  The question you must answer is to what degree you will participate.  Are you on your knees praying for it to pass, or are you standing on your feet leading the charge?”

The Client’s Role

There are two internal groups working on an ERP Implementation, each with a different directive.  The Users comprise the departmental teams who must learn to use the system efficiently, and the Steering Committee is comprised of the project sponsor (usually the head of the operational arm), key executives and the consultant.


Users are the key to carrying out the details of an ERP System.  They must understand that they are leading the charge for the company’s success.  Their willingness to embrace change and learn their specific roles are critical to prevent ‘silos of information’ from becoming bottlenecks within the organization.  Bottlenecks will eventually cause the downfall of the organization.  Two main targets arise from this effort, users apply their procedures during the use of the new ERP System, and one of user from each departmental team becomes the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for their group.

They develop the formal the formal procedures within their departments.  Users must be committed to using the system.  James Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge and executive fellow at the Center for Innovation, recommends that leaders make users part of the company vision as a first step in getting their commitment.  Seek their input and assistance.  Let them see how their dedication to understanding the system and deploying the necessary changes will make it a success.  Help users understand how their jobs will change and how that will improve the company and its future.

The Steering Committee

The Steering Committee’s primary challenge is to remove obstacles to the success of the project.  The departmental managers (middle managers) select the SME in the department or they accept the role for themselves.  They are responsible for two vital components.  They insure that procedures development which details the activities within their departments.  Additionally, they create the data for testing the activities within their departments.  Top Management plays multiple roles in an ERP System implementation, accepting project success or failure; setting proper user expectations and managing them; resolving intra-department conflicts because management directives do cause disparities; they prevent other company projects from interference with the ERP Implementation; they play the role of cheerleader, keeping the teams focused on the goal and working toward its success.

How important is management’s role in the success of an ERP Implementation?  Here is a parting comment to take to heart:

Management is entirely responsible for the success and for the failure of the ERP Implementation.  An organization that does not understand that responsibility should not implement an ERP System, since it has little changes to succeed.

ERP Orchestration (Part 2)

- Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis

Let’s continue developing a successful business model with Mike’s idea of the organizational leader being a conductor of an orchestra; or if you prefer, any type of team activity or sport creates the same set of principles. 

In the context of these articles, many of you are entrepreneurs who have done most or all of the work yourself in your business. It was small enough that you could walk the hall or breakroom, give quick updates when needed, and then move on to the next task. Your system of communication was largely one-on-one, and systems aren’t important in this early stage because only a few people are doing the work. Think of this scenario as a small music ensemble—just a few people making beautiful music together. There isn’t even a conductor standing in front the group in the traditional sense, but there may be a lead position playing an instrument (sound familiar?).   

 Over time if you’re providing a great product or service, hopefully your business will grow. Your hard work is paying off with more business. At some point, though, you’ll face a barrier to future growth. You can’t do most of the work anymore, and there’s so much volume that you and your colleagues barely find time to talk with one another. New systems and processes must be put into place to achieve that next level of growth; otherwise, quality will suffer and your growth will stop (or even decrease).

If you’re the leader of the organization, this is a critical moment in your career. Either you learn how to grow and prosper as a leader, or you delegate the leadership to a qualified individual. This new role may seem very alien and inefficient to you, but it’s essential that someone fill this spot.

Now the business has grown from a small music ensemble to a 100-piece orchestra. The leader can’t sit in the group and play as he’s done in the past. He/she must assume the role of standing in front and keeping the group on the same sheet of music (pun intended), keeping them on the same tempo, and ensuring that all parts are playing in harmony with one another.

 Here are just a few practical leadership lessons taken from my book, Leading with Honor – 

·         Know Yourself – Know your personal strengths and struggles, and surround yourself with people that can balance your deficiencies.

 ·         Clarify and Build Your Culture – Creating a mission, vision, and values statement for your organization shouldn’t seem like a waste of time. This mission/vision/values musical score is the page that everyone will play from. It doesn’t have to be a complex set of statements, but it should make it clear who you are, how you do business, and what’s most important so that everyone in the organization has a clear understanding of expectations and results.

 ·         Over-Communicate the Message – If you believe that you’ve stated a point, process, or objective enough, you haven’t. Don’t needlessly have meetings for the sake of meetings, but find ways to disseminate information in multiple ways that fits with your culture. Also, make sure that the communication isn’t all top-down; it should be reciprocal, and the culture you’ve created should make it safe to do so.

 ·         Develop Your People – You must be in the business of developing your people just as much as the business itself. If someone needs more practice to perfect their part in the orchestra, give them the resources to do it and build in a method of accountability to hear what they’ve learned in the process. In an orchestra, the leader must teach them how to listen to each other.

 ·         Build Cohesive Teams – Create an atmosphere of collaboration instead of fear and self-preservation. Allow mistakes to be made, give supervisors the latitude to help their people, and incentivize all staff in a way that builds a closer team.

 ·         Consider using an ERP – This substitutes standard processes and systems for much of the management of repetitive tasks. Rather than have to deal with each item every time, you now have a process that everyone can follow for 95% of the work to get it done In the most cost effective and efficient manner (read greater profit margin and less drama in the plant/office).

 I hope that this doesn’t seem like an insurmountable task to you. Many of the leadership lessons that I’ve described above have been tested, proven, and implemented many times over. Find a successful organizational plan or successful business, and build on an existing strategy. Don’t re-create the wheel.

 As you begin for create your own plan incorporating the lessons above, the over-arching leadership lesson that must be applied is courage—that is, doing what you know is right even though it doesn’t feel natural and safe. There will always be some element of risk in building your business, but being risky within a set of guidelines and principles is much better than being reckless with no plan or direction. Once the orchestra begins playing a piece of music, it takes courage to keep going. They can’t stop and must press through with confidence, watch the conductor, listen and communicate with each other, and collectively give the audience the best performance possible based on their passion, skill, training, and experience.

 You can grow as a leader of expanding business. Put the right pieces into place, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Trust me—you’ll have a team that can enjoy it with you and have the trust and confidence to follow no matter what challenges you face.

 Lee Ellis is a speaker and the author of Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he shares his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps.  As president of Leadership Freedom, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, executive development and succession planning.  For more information, please visit


ERP Orchestration

Michael Roman - Monday, March 18, 2013

A long, long time ago, William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, (1697) wrote:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
'Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv'd the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg'd
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?

Three hundred and fifteen years after their penning, these soulful, pleading words have application today, even in consulting work.  I frequently work with small and mid-sized manufacturing and distribution organizations facing the lack of “Harmony to calm my (their) Griefs.”  I hear less poetic words from company owners and managers who are attempting to re-implement a business management system, but the sentiment is the same: Why am not I at Peace?

In my never-ending search to find the best way to describe the challenges of any ERP implementations, I have used comparisons as obscure and varied as death and dying or growing tomatoes. But what would a successful stress-free implementation look like? My business advisor suggested we needed a better way to paint that picture, something that explains how there can be synergy and harmony among all the players. A couple of days later, when I was discussing analogies with a colleague of mine, I digressed by talking about the fact that when we weren’t fighting, my brother and I enjoyed a remarkable harmony when we played musical instruments together.

At an early age, when we were not fighting in the back yard, my brother Dan and I learned to play musical instruments. We practiced hard, and it did not take long for us to become skilled enough to play duets at the yearly church festival. Those duets were very intricate works, arranged by our father, and the experience taught Dan and me a lesson about how important learning your individual part is to the success of the group as a whole. Unlike playing in a band or an orchestra, having only two of us in the group meant there was no place to hide if one of us hit a dissonant note. Of course, even during an orchestral performance, a good conductor will recognize who hit the dissonant note. The lesson here is that, in any organization, everyone should learn, practice and perform their part without introducing dissonance into the mix of work. When we played well together, my brother and I found a peaceful harmony that was a sharp contrast to our tussles in the back yard. And we made beautiful music.

But that does not happen very often in many small and mid-size manufacturing operations. Typically, I do not see a lot of harmony in the work place. Dominant personalities (the squeaky wheel gets the oil), tend to rule the workplace, which leads to more disharmony through the organization.  What an organization facing that kind of challenge needs are:

  1. Leadership
  2. A business management tool that provides the leadership team with “state of the union” information

An ERP System is that proper business management tool, but just as an orchestra needs a good conductor, a properly managed ERP implementation needs a strong and capable leader, a conductor with a good ear who can identify where the dissonance originates. The orchestra conductor orchestrates playing of the notes, and at what tempo or volume. Likewise, the business owner needs to make sure his “musicians” are all well-informed, proficient with their “instruments,” and working in harmony with other departments and individuals in the organization.  The ERP System represents the notes on the sheet music.  Just as musicians play the notes written on the musical score, company employees must understand the roles defined by the ERP System, under the leadership of the conductor.

The benefits of a harmonious ERP system are numerous. Some of the specific successes I have witnessed include reducing the quote process time; increasing inventory turns; increasing plant throughput;  reducing the quote-to-cash cycle time; increasing percent-fill on customer shipments; and increasing the on-time customer shipments. In a properly implemented business management system, even the time given to creating management reports is reduced, simply because all the pieces are in place to get the reports directly from the ERP system instead of creating spreadsheets that pull data from various and independent sources into a reporting scheme.

So think of your organization as an orchestra, and know that regardless of personalities, internal squabbles, or tussles in the backyard, a well-orchestrated operation will flourish as long as leadership keeps everyone focused on their individual assignments and roots out any dissonance before it ruins the performance.

Lee Ellis will be discussing the full role of the conductor in the next blog.

Leading With Honor

- Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis

Are you alarmed by the frequency of ethical scandals in recent years?  No doubt, you have seen the headlines about Wall Street greed, but ethical problems are just as prevalent on Main Street where bookkeepers, purchasing agents, and business owners violate the trust that others have placed in them.  Think of the headlines in recent months: a highly respected coach resigned for covering up NCAA violations by his players; a Congressman is convicted of accepting bribes; a religious leader cheated on his wife, another is accused of using his authority to fleece the flock; teachers changed students’ responses on standardized tests and administrators collaborated in cover-up; a college inflated the average SAT score of their students to improve its image. 

 What is happening to our society?  Does anyone care about honorable leadership?  What can you do about it?  What have others done that might guide those of us who seek to turn the tide in this onslaught against character-based leadership?

 It seems ironic that some of the best examples of leading with honor come from the POW camps of North Vietnam, an environment so life-threatening that one might expect to see frequent examples of self-centered, self-serving leadership.  But when life and limb were on the line, these brave leaders chose honor rather than comfort, humiliation rather than cooperation with the enemy.  Their courageous service can inspire and show us what is required to lead with honor. Let’s look at some of the lessons they offer to us today.

 Know yourself.  The POWs leaders were experienced and strong yet they had no choice but to be humble.  The enemy used torture and isolation to try to break their will and force them to cooperate in making propaganda. They were vulnerable, stripped to their core; they could not pose or pretend they were something they were not.  Fortunately, they were solid—healthy people with a strong character that enabled them to lead with honor through the most unimaginable humiliation. 

 If you don’t know yourself and have a peace about who you are, your fears and insecurities will take you out.  Rather than pursuing your passion and purpose using your unique talents, style, and convictions, you will constantly be comparing yourself to others and trying to guide your life by someone else’s ways and standards.  Alternatively, when you know and accept yourself, you can be authentic, leading from your own true north.  Objectively knowing your strengths gives you confidence, while awareness of your weaknesses gives you humility.

 Few will ever be POWs, but eventually we will all face situations that expose who we really are.  Spend time with yourself and go deep. Accept who you are, but realize there is always room for growth; work every day to build yourself strong so you can lead authentically, from the inside out. 

 Clarify your values and standards and commit to them.  The POWs had a uniform code of conduct that everyone knew and was charged with following.  It acted like signs along the road giving direction and providing a framework for decisions, choices, and behaviors, helping them stay on the right path even in the most difficult situations. 

 Unfortunately, most people have only generic assumptions and a superficial understanding about their moral values and ethical commitments. Jeb Magruder, White House advisor who went to jail, said that he had been taught right but somewhere along the way he “lost his ethical compass.”  We are all cut from the same cloth as Magruder and without regularly clarifying our commitments, we will drift off course as well. 

 Confront your doubts and fears.  Fears and insecurities take out more leaders than anything else and they generally can be traced back to the first point above—your identity—knowing who you are and being comfortable with yourself.  Even the smartest, toughest, and best leaders face insecurities and fears. 

 The POW leaders were tough warriors but they all struggled with fear.  Commander Jim Stockdale endured frequent physical abuse and more than four years in solitary confinement, so naturally, there were fears, but he did his duty and suffered the consequences. Great leaders know that fear is the norm, and they know they must lean into the pain of their fears to do what they know is right.  Courage does not mean that you are not afraid, but that you do what is right when it feels scary or unnatural. 

 Connect with your support team.  In your struggle to lead with honor, you are like any other warrior—it’s not good to fight alone.  That’s why the enemy tried so hard to isolate the POWs in North Vietnam and why the POWs risked everything to keep the communication lines open.  Even the toughest POWs relied on the counsel and encouragement of their teammates.  Authentic leaders realize they cannot see every situation objectively.  On the tough choices, you will usually need the perspective of someone who is outside the issue to help you evaluate the situation. Build a network of a few key advisors who can help you navigate the treacherous waters ahead. 

 Our culture desperately needs men and women who will lead with honor. Don’t take it for granted that you will lead honorably. Engage in the battle required to guard your character. To be prepared, know yourself, clarify your values, standards, and commitments, confront your doubts and fears, and connect with your support team.  Then you are ready to face the giants and avoid the headlines of failure. 


 Lee Ellis is a speaker and the author of Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he shares stories from his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps.  As president of Leadership Freedom, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee has consulted in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, executive development, and succession planning for more than 15 years.  For more information, please visit