Modern gurus of self-help have changed the narrative from “improve your weaknesses” to “play to your strengths.” However, the –abilities that drive performance in manufacturing and service operations require both approaches. A successful strategy includes extracting maximum value from well-developed –abilities and continually improving the weaker ones. The –abilities that drive performance include stability, reliability, profitability, and others. Some are more critical in a specific context; some have multiple interpretations; all deserve attention.
The –abilities that drive performance are straightforward concepts. The problem is that many managers and entrepreneurs lose sight of the basics while pursuing higher-level objectives. Let this post be a warning against this and a reminder of how solid fundamentals create a path to success.
There are several universal –abilities that are pertinent to all manufacturing and service operations; there are many more that are most relevant to specialized processes or industries. Some are closely-related terms, while others provide a broader view of performance. As you read this, you will probably think of some not covered here.
Reliability is a fundamental –ability applicable to multiple contexts. Typical usage of the term in a manufacturing context refers to the performance of equipment and relates directly to the availability component of OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness). The same is true in service operations, but an expanded definition of the term may be used to include all elements of the process used to provide a service. Reliability can also refer to the people involved in any type of operation – do they show up when expected and perform to standards?
Stability is a highly desirable characteristic of any process. A process is typically considered stable when it operates in statistical control and requires no extraordinary maintenance or adjustments. To achieve stability, reliability must first be attained. Again, the term can be used in a Human Resources context – a stable workforce is one that performs consistently with low turnover.
Speaking of statistical control, capability is a common measure of process performance. Process capability is a calculated value that indicates the consistency of the output of a process. Some capability calculations also indicate how close the output comes to the desired outcome or nominal condition. The flip side of this coin is variability. In its simplest interpretation, high capability is an indication of low variability in process performance. Of course, capability can be used more generally to refer to any employee skill or machine function that may be valuable to customers.
The significance of profitably hardly requires discussion. Simply put, a business’ profitability defines its viability. That is, of course, unless it is a technology startup with exuberant billionaire investors clamoring for affiliation. If you don’t have Warren Buffet on speed dial, beware the bottom line!
Many a business fail because its leaders do not pay sufficient attention to its vulnerability to risk. Relevant risks may take many forms – technological obsolescence, competitive products or services, changes in the regulatory environment, shifting trends in consumer preferences, loss of key personnel, and myriad others. In legal matters, a company’s liability for property damage or personal injury is correlated with its culpability.
An organization that maintains a culture of accountability receives dividends in the form of good will and loyalty. When employees and customers see a company’s leaders acting with integrity and humility, they are far more likely to forgive a minor indiscretion. The relationships that respectability allows a business to maintain could be the difference between an inspiring success and an abject failure.
In increasingly popular use, sustainability is a catch-all term for environmental impact, or more accurately, its inverse. A more useful definition of the word, in the context of business, would be much broader. It would include environmental concerns, of course, but it would also reflect the importance of the fundamental –abilities outlined above. After all, an organization that is not profitable or stable, exhibits high variability, is highly vulnerable to risk, and so on, will not inspire confidence in its longevity. A long-term mindset is inherent in an organization’s sustainability.
There are many more –abilities that could be considered, though with selective applicability (they’re everywhere!). A few are mentioned briefly below to provide just a hint of the wide range of contexts for which this simple exercise could help keep your business on track.
Have a little fun developing a list of –abilities that are important to your organization’s performance. Discussions of critical –abilities may arouse greater enthusiasm in your team than the usual charts, graphs, and endless metrics that haunt the agendas of typical business performance reviews.
As always, JayWink is here to help. Let our –abilities help you realize yours.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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