The Post-it® Notes System
Back in the mid 90's, selling for our printing company and, as many owners of small businesses are required to do, I landed a very nice account with a company that had 10 locations. It nearly doubled our company's sales.
We developed a good relationship with this customer's general manager, "Barbra," a very capable administrator and business person. All went well over the next five years, until another company in town that was planning to go nationwide, hired Barbra away to oversee the expansion project and head up their operations.
I was concerned for a while that we would lose the five-year account, until it became apparent we would be printing for both companies. In fact, Barbra informed me that part of her job negotiations was, if she was to take their job offer, she wanted my company to have all the printing.
Wow! Another confirmation that we were doing something right! My journey into the world of Quality & Service Control systems was still fairly new, but Barbra was a witness to these systems in action all those years and she had become a strong supporter, seeing how we had continually improved in serving her company's printing needs.
However, within days of Barbra's leaving the company, we began getting calls from the new General Manager—I'll call her "Judy"—also from the managers of our customer's various locations. "Where is the printing we ordered two (or more) weeks ago?" they would ask.
It seemed every day now there was a problem with them running out of printed materials, and our company was being blamed.
I made it an all out mission to find the ROOT CAUSE of the problem—why were orders NOT being delivered on time. Had we even RECEIVED all those orders?
Judy was not really cooperative in helping us get to the bottom of what was happening; however, as we still had good relations with some of the location managers who WERE willing to help us, we soon determined the cause.
We discovered that Judy's new purchasing agent from the main office had not been sending us the purchase orders she had been receiving from the various locations.
Fact was, the new purchasing agent was letting all those purchase orders stack up on her desk, and to cover herself, she had changed the dates on the orders to make it appear that our company was at fault for missing delivery dates. So, I called Judy and arranged a meeting to show her evidence of the changed—actually forged—purchase orders and to discuss many other issues that had been problematic lately.
We had never had such a problem with non-conformances, as by that time we were a systemized company with 99.7 percent on-time delivery. Our rework ratio was a pretty consistent 1.5 percent or less, which could be proven through our System Buster system that tracks ALL non-conformances and how we fix them permanently.
When I arrived at the meeting and walked into Judy's office I was stunned. I'm sure my shock was all over my face, and I couldn't stop scanning the room in disbelief.
I had been in this office several times when Barbra was in charge and, unlike Judy, she had always kept it immaculate. Now it looked like the aftermath of a hand grenade loaded with various colored Post-it® notes. The walls, Judy's desk and computer were covered in them, like a bad attempt at wallpapering.
I had never seen anything like this before, and I've seen some pretty chaotic offices in my time. In fact, I write in my book "System Busters" about my own cluttered office, years ago, and how I had finally found the cure for all that, using the power of systems and implementing what I call the "100% System of Cleanliness."
While Judy and I were discussing those pesky non-conformances, I showed her the original purchase orders with the CORRECT dates, and asked why the dates had been changed on her copies. I offered solutions to fix the problem that would take little effort. But, Judy seemed rigid and unable to recognize that, with just a few tweaks to their systems, we both could avoid all these problems, and she wouldn't be getting panic calls from her location managers—something that rarely happened with Barbra.
Apparently, Judy had joined that company hoping to bring her own print vendors with her, and I soon realized that she was looking to find fault with my company.
It was clear, our company wouldn't be her print vendor much longer, and I was getting nowhere offering suggestions for any improvements to their purchasing system. So, what did I have to lose, asking her about all those Post-it® notes?
Judy made it clear, that what I was looking at was HER system for having everything she needed to remember, posted all around her where she wouldn't forget anything. How do you argue with logic like that?
What was the result of Judy's Post-it® notes system?
The BAD NEWS was...we LOST a very good account—and I found out later, Judy had also LOST her job. A "LOSE LOSE" for all of us!
The GOOD NEWS for us? Barbra—having come to know the value of quality control systems—brought our company along with her to her new job.
Did I mention? Great systems work!
Philip Beyer, founder/president of Ebiz Products LLC and founder of Beyer Printing Inc. in Nashville Tenn., is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant. Author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business" and recipient of an InterTech Technology Award for the design and development of System100 business process management software. Beyer speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses. Contact him at (615) 425-2652.