Finish Strong® Podcast Series The journey to excellence is not a simple one, nor does it follow a straight line. This podcast series addresses issues important to manufactures worldwide. Becky's insights include commentary on global, strategic, and tactical issues, as well as observations on current challenges and opportunities in manufacturing businesses. Feel free to suggest topics of interest to you; no doubt Becky will have something to say that will make you think.

Cross Training for Capacity Management

Most of us hire people to fill a slot — a given role. That happens all too often because we hire in a reactionary mode, to someone leaving or to sales growth.

We talk about cross training, but often don’t provide it for a number of reasons: no time, will have to pay person more, or not sure what we will need are just a few.

If your company talks about sales mix impacting productivity or other measures like on-time delivery, it often reflects a lack of flexibility or agility with our work force.

Cross training employees can be expensive, but can pay for itself every day. Random or time-filling cross training will likely be expensive and not pay for itself, ever.

Operations leadership are well served by creation and maintenance of a widely visible cross training matrix. The matrix starts with a picture of each employee on the Y axis, and the names of the various relevant skills on the X matrix. Where the picture and the skill intersect is the information about that person’s level of mastery of that skill.

Now review what that list of relevant skills should include. Some simply name machines, but often there are subsets of skills for a given machine that are important and not equally mastered by all. Rather than worry about perfect, create the list of skills that seem to make sense at the start.

Now, it’s time to indicate who (the pictures on the Y axis) has which skills (the X axis entries). Most find it helpful to define categories, like “run with supervision,” run without supervision,” “perform setups,” and “train others to operate.” These classifications will vary depending upon your business and staffing models.

It is time to fill out the matrix. You can look across and see who is capable of what, and look vertically to see who all is skilled in a specific machine or task.

You’ve created the “current state” matrix. That tells you what you currently have. What’s next?

How will you keep this accurate? The fact that John Doe ran a machine a year ago doesn’t mean he is still qualified at the same level to do so again. How does your re-verification effort work?

Similarly, you don’t need everyone cross trained in every machine or skill. How many do you need for flexibility and to support growth?

Each column should indicate a number for the goal skilled personnel. You may need 3 trained on Machine 1 and 6 trained on Machine 2. These numbers are based on product demand, engineering intentions, the number of shifts, and other factors.

Your current state matrix, combined with the target number for each skill, makes visible the needs of the organization for appropriate cross training. This is a live document, as new skills are added, people lose skills over time, and our expected needs change.

Operations is responsible for capacity planning and management of people, equipment, and processes. The cross training matrix I have just described to you is a simply and important tool in that effort.

Maximizing Profits is a Strategic Mistake

When I worked for TRW in the 1980’s, the company required everyone with purchasing responsibilities to take the Chester Karrass negotiating course. At that time it was 100% focused on the assumption of a zero sum game, where whatever the other “side” got came directly from you. Win-lose. Since then companies have come to understand that successful suppliers are required by successful customers, and vice versa. Win-win became the order of the day.

Unfortunately, that understanding itself often ebbs and flows with near-term earnings, and for too many companies it has yet to extend beyond the commercial supply chain.

Every business has five constituencies: customers, suppliers, employees, investors, and the community at large. The concept of community extends into the future. Every responsible company considers all five when making major decisions. Too many leaders focus first on investors, and then on customers, and then perhaps on suppliers. If there’s money “left over” the employees may get a raise or a bonus. The community? Well, if there’s still money left over, maybe we’ll donate to something or fix that fence.

Managing costs is integral to long term success. Managing costs is not the same as stretching payments to vendors, taking discounts not earned, or laying off highly skilled employees when times are tough. Poor processes, guestimate specifications, slow time to market and unverified products, ineffective onboarding and training, accepting bad orders or customers, staying with suppliers uninterested in improving your success, firing suppliers without investing in their success, ignoring local schools — these, and more, are all significant contributors to poor financial performance.

Consider what it takes to be a company that the best want to work for, suppliers energetically support, customers seek out, long term investors chase, and that the community is thrilled to have. You can’t get there without being profitable. But being profitable doesn’t put you there either. Profits are important. They can and should be derived from well considered decisions, not short term ones to maximize today’s numbers.

As you consider significant decisions, I encourage you to ask yourself: ‘what is the impact likely to be on all five of our constituencies?” If all five benefit, now and in the future, it’s an easy decision to make. If not, consider both the short and long term impact on each of them. Then make the right decision, which might well not be the one that maximizes profits.

To focus solely on maximizing profits is a strategic mistake that few of you can afford to make.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Phil Spector was a very successful music producer and songwriter, who was also convicted of murder and serving a long sentence when he died in prison.

Talented people can be bad people.

Talented bad people can also do good things.

Phil Spector produced the famous Ike and Tina Turner song “River Deep – Mountain High.” He knew how controlling Ike was, so he created a unique contract for this work, paying Ike Turner $20,000 to stay away while giving credit to both Ike and Tina Turner. That seems like a talented bad person doing a good thing.

We all know the story of Ike repeatedly beating Tina, until she escaped one night with no money and no where to go. Working long and hard at low-end jobs to keep herself and her children fed, she knew that she was a really good singer. Still under contract with United Artists she released solo albums, none of which succeeded.

The UAR contract ended; she signed with EMI in the early 1980’s, and as they say, the rest is history.

It is easy to be impressed by talent, even when that talent is covering significant character flaws, ergo Ike Turner and Phil Spector.

It is easy to overlook world-changing talent when it pushes a mop bucket, like Tina Turner.

How much talent do you reject because it doesn’t look like the talent you normally hire? How much talent do you keep, despite toxicity, because it can hit the high notes?

We all know, whether we like it or not, that culture eats strategy for breakfast.

So why do we live with toxic workers? Not one of them anywhere in any role for any organization is worth it. Many of us choose to be optimistic, hoping that the person will improve.

How long is enough? One day? One month? One year?

Every minute you accept toxicity as acceptable behavior you are driving away everything that is good about your organization. No level of skill can outweigh that.

Your organization may be filled with Tina Turners looking to escape because of the Ike Turner or Phil Spector you choose to retain.

What’s love got to do with it?

Why Seasoned Employees Don’t Share

Why would a senior employee keep tricks of the trade secret from others? For one reason only: a lack of confidence.

Someone who acknowledges his own talent and thinking skills would not be intimidated by others having the same abilities. Someone committed to team success would ensure knowledge is public — that is, known and available to many — and not private — that is, known only by himself.

In this podcast I provide examples of how and why to ensure the knowledge of your organization is not lost when someone walks out the door for the last time.


A few years ago I volunteered to support the Continental Cup activities in Cleveland. This is an international sporting event that included 2500 youngsters from ages 8 to 18 from 12 countries competing in a variety of sports.

My first day, I was an electronic scorekeeper / clock operator for basketball games, seated next to a young man who was to keep track of individual statistics, team fouls, and team time-outs on paper. I received 2 minutes of training on the equipment; not sure he received any on his role. We did have experienced refs.

Unfortunately, the court we were assigned was in the middle, with fans at one end and the scoring table (us) and the players at the other. With whistles blowing on courts on both sides and required to look at the far end of the court for half the activity, ours was not an easy assignment.

I had to rely on the scorekeeper to know when to light the bonus and double-bonus indicators for the refs. He needed nothing from me. We were individuals, not a team, in tracking the score. As is not surprising, during one game our scores were different. Additionally, he was confused on individual fouls and team fouls, which understandably frustrated coaches. He wanted silence, except when he asked me a question, so he could concentrate. I wanted to verbally verify which team scored so we could stay aligned.

That volunteer and I never became a team. We went through the forming and storming stages, but never reached norming or performing. The refs had the same challenge. They were to perform as a team, but were thrown into the game together just as my fellow volunteer and I were.

All 4 of us should have been a single team, but instead we behaved as 4 individuals each trying to do a good job. No one with bad intentions.

My second day I had the paper detailed scorekeeper job. My “table-mate” for that day and I had about 5 minutes before our games started. We talked about how to work together, she trained me on my new job, explaining “little tricks” that make it easier. Our team of refs had worked together before. We talked with the refs about how they could help make our jobs easier, and vice-versa.

While far from perfect, the four of us were a fairly effective team. When creating a small team to accomplish a task, plan time for them to get to know one another, discuss roles and responsibilities, and agree on operating guidelines.

No matter how smart, how experienced, or how caring they are as individuals, they will not suddenly become a team just because the game has started.

Listen for the Silence Too

A majority of adult Americans do not vote in our elections. Why is that? Simply because they don’t believe their vote matters. They believe nothing will change anyway.

Voting within your company happens. Any idea what the participation rates are? They are 100%, regardless. Some votes are simply more visible than others.

Why do some not vote in other countries? One recent Russian immigrant told me he never voted in Russia because he didn’t want to vote to support the existing government and he didn’t want to be caught voting for anyone else.

Voting in your company can be accomplished by leaving, or by staying.

The vote of staying may well be that of the Russian man or our unregistered and nonparticipative voters. If staying is a real vote it includes speaking up and the belief that input and ideas will be considered.

In elections we want to believe that our side may not win, but our vote counts. In companies, it’s the same thing.

How long is the line to vote within your organization? If turnout appears low, you know why.

Swamp Monster Got Your Tongue?

An effective operation may have bad days, but they are a rarity.

When you walk through operations, is the angst palpable? Clearly that swamp monster environment should be prevented, but it may happen anyway. How many times and for how long do you find that operational stress acceptable? How many times and for how long do your employees tolerate it?

Is meaningful progress being made and are employees involved in that? Manhandling a mess may shape-change the mess, but it won’t replace it with effective operations. Throwing resources at a problem may feel good but won’t get to root cause.

With an intention to “do something” executives can be tempted to dig in with their pre-leadership topic expertise. But seriously, does that make anything better for tomorrow? Leaders must successfully transition their thinking from tactical to strategic. Brainstorming is one thing; relying on leaders to provide tactical solutions in another entirely.

You can’t be sucked into the swamp monster without your permission. If you are expediting, something is dreadfully wrong. If you’re doing nothing long term of substance to kill the monster and prevent his return, something is dreadfully wrong.

Your job is not to expedite, not to do the jobs of others, nor to hope things will get better. Your job is to anticipate, invest, and ensure others have what they need for success.

It is routine for every employee to be aware of both problematic patterns and desirable patterns in effective operations. It is routine for those same employees to develop and implement fixes, prevent re-occurrence, or reinforce positive patterns through root cause problem solving.

When, for whatever reason, that is not happening, leadership has failed.

Or has not yet succeeded.

With that description as the objective, leadership must prioritize observing patterns and the processes to succeed within them: processes that exist, those that are not functioning well, those that should exist but don’t, and those that exist but shouldn’t.

If you can’t bring greater value to your organization by thinking, guiding, providing course correction, and giving the team what it needs than you can by taping boxes or carrying paperwork, your business needs a new leader.

Thinking may not look or feel like work, but it is usually the most important work a leader can do.

Arm wrestling the swamp monster is not work, but it is exhausting.


No More Excuses

Even the best of us can benefit from cold water to the face occasionally.

In mid-2022 I finally quit making excuses and enjoyed a 3-week trip to Greece, Türkiye, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. What shook me out of my “I don’t want to contract Covid” inaction was a friend’s story that he had recently returned from the Polish-Ukranian border assisting refugees.

Fully vaccinated and masked, why was I sitting on my hands? If I drive a car, walk across the street, and eat indoors at restaurants, what was my excuse for not “risking” travel? My colleague’s matter-of-fact response to my “done anything interesting lately?” query was cold water in my face.

I have since taken several trips and enjoyed each. Thank goodness for that cold water in my face.

It is easy to become complacent, over-estimate our current mastery, or let the potential downside of an action corner us into inaction. Those are rarely the mark of leadership we want to follow.

Your supply chain was never a fully visualized well-oiled machine.

Pre-Covid, you struggled to attract the workforce you want and need.

Customer expectations were never stagnant.

Investing in building muscle is an ages old demand. Details may be different now but taking decisive action to make giant leaps forward is an ongoing requirement of any business.

Consider these questions:

Supply Chain – What specific steps have you taken:

  • to simplify?
  • to increase responsiveness and resilience?
  • to rationalize products, parts, and suppliers?
  • to enhance multi-level visibility?

People – What specific steps have you taken

  • to remove toxic employees, regardless of their skillsets?
  • to capture and teach knowledge of departing workers?
  • to respect employees as individuals with individual needs and goals?
  • to emphasize characteristics rather than years of experience in new hires?
  • to speed the effective onboarding to the company and to new roles?
  • to develop training skills in knowledgeable employees?
  • to gather and leverage diverse backgrounds?

Strategy – How have you redefined yours to reflect current realities in

  • supply chain
  • people
  • global socioeconomics
  • technical advances
  • constituent expectations regarding ESG?

I could ask each of you hundreds of questions specific to your industry, size, and market position. I could help you develop and implement decisions.

But it is most important that you know it’s time. Time to quit making excuses, quit reacting like a pinball, and quit waiting for “normal.”

It’s here.

Your future is yours to create. It’s time.

Now dry that cold water off your face and start moving.

Determining Your Speed of Change

Excerpted From: © 2021 Manufacturing Mastery: The Path to Building Successful and Enduring Manufacturing Businesses; Taylor & Francis, Author: Rebecca Morgan

“I have long advised clients that together we will identify and implement new strategic capabilities as quickly as they can handle. One of those strategic capabilities is always the ability to effectively create and integrate value-adding change more and more rapidly. Why would any business choose to improve its competitive position more slowly than it could? Changing faster than it can risks breaking the company. As leaders we must master walking that fine line as we advance it.

“What does breaking look like?

“In the 1990s, Toyota decided to significantly expand its geographic footprint and number of operations. Unfortunately, it did so faster than it could effectively embed its business operating system, extraordinary design thinking, and expectations of working towards perfection in the new operations. That growth-oriented decision diluted those critical aspects of the company’s success worldwide. Its internal process performance standards effectively fell. Quality problems arose and other challenges, though less obvious to the customer, continue. Breaking doesn’t have to mean close up shop, but it certainly means a turn for the worse…

“Reacting with an on/off mindset–changing everything or changing nothing–fails without exception. Go fast, but not too fast. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that the organization responds smoothly to the requirements of change. At any point, an organization has a maximum rate of healthy velocity and then acceleration. To prevent breaking, leaders must establish a governor to ensure it is not exceeded. As the organization gains agility, the cap increases, and the business changes to reach the new capability. Finding that sweet spot is a requisite skill for leaders to constantly build and adapt.”

Manufacturing Mastery

Staying Busy is NOT the Objective

Your people are no doubt working hard to do a good job. The question is: Have you given enough structure for them to know what a good job really means?

Usually the weakness in that is a lack of sequenced priorities from leadership. How do they even know if they’re working on something that matters?

Employees cannot make good decisions if management cannot sequence the list of multiple priorities. Giving employees a list of more than one priority, without sequencing, abdicates responsibility.

If you can’t decide what’s important, how can they?

It is typically the unreasonable fear of leaders that nothing other than Priority #1 will be worked on if we let them know it’s most important.

Let me ask you: Would that be so bad? If every single employee can make #1 move closer to the finish line right now, why would you want them to work on something else right now?

I’ve yet to see an organization in which every single employee could positively impact the top single priority at all times. Have you?

By providing all employees with a sequenced list of a handful of priorities, each is positioned to make better decisions every single day.

If I can’t move #1 along, I should work on #2; if I can’t move #2 forward, I should work on #3; etc.

The fear that employees will do absolutely nothing if they can’t work on Priority #1 is silly. Think how powerful it is for your leadership team to help each employee see how their work supports priorities.

The goal is not for all of your employees to stay busy. The goal is for each employee to contribute to organizational and personal success by working on what matters most.

Isn’t that the purpose of strategy?