Friday, May 26, 2017

Follow the Leader

(What Happens When the Leader is Gone?)

By: Michael Beels

In the manufacturing industry, it’s desirable for family-owned businesses to be passed down from one generation to the next. Without a proper succession plan in place, a c-level family member’s sudden death or unexpected disability can cause a multitude of problems. Fortunately, proper succession planning—which strives to circumvent these unpredictable events by having a thorough program of plans and responses in place to optimally fill key leadership positions—can help lessen the disruption and deter family infighting. 

The following are some frequently asked questions I’ve received about succession planning and some helpful answers:

Q: Why do you need a succession plan?
A: There are more than 200,000 family-owned businesses in Michigan that do not have a formal plan to carry on the owner's vision after he/she is deceased or exits the business. With only 35% successfully making the transition to a second generation, both legacy and jobs are at risk. 

Q: What goes into a suitable succession plan? 
A: Above and beyond the need to find resources for financial planning, estate planning, business valuation, operating agreements, buy/sell agreements, trusts, etc., a business owner should consider the following: personal income requirements, future involvement, upcoming investments and legacy. 

Q: Who needs to be involved?
A: All family members, even those who are not currently part of the business must be privy to a succession plan. Key employees should be included, too.

Q: What strategies should be incorporated?
A: Tactics include any business competencies that need to be developed for key personnel to achieve strategic goals, planning the transition of roles and responsibilities of key management members, and determining whether the successor of the business will be found internally or externally.

Q: How often should it be updated?
A: At a minimum, annually.

Q: What should be top-of-mind when developing a succession plan?
A: The business owner must determine what they want to do with the business. Do they plan on handing off the business to a family member? Sell the business? Remain an active participant even after retiring? Answering these questions will lead ownership down the correct path for succession planning. It is highly recommended that business owner’s plan for “Emergency Succession.” What will happen if the leader were unable to remain in that role due to emergency purposes? What if they become disabled, incapacitated or even die? Would the business continue? Everything from key contacts to computer passwords must be addressed. 

Q: How can a succession plan positively impact customers?
A: Consumers become loyal to a company because of consistent work culture, efficiency of output and level of production. In order to meet and exceed current customer expectations, manufacturers must be able to maintain their daily routines no matter what the situation may be.

Q: How does a succession plan benefit employees? 
A: When a company’s culture, ethics, routine and rules suddenly change, employees may become flustered or disengaged, putting an organization at risk of making mistakes, decreasing levels of motivation and diminishing productivity. The abruptness of the situation may also result in an employee feeling disconnected, lacking support and left wanting to leave. Succession planning allows employees to adjust organically to the transition with gradual ease, while maintaining their level of productivity and motivation.  

Plan for the unexpected
Most importantly, don’t delay setting up a succession plan for your business. If you’ve already done so, congratulations! Keep in mind, however, it might be time for a review. To schedule your free assessment with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center), click here

About Our Expert

Michael Beels 
Lean Program Manager

Michael Beels has served as a Lean Program Manager for the Lean Business Solutions Team at The Center for more than 12 years. He a Certified Family Business Advisor and RAB/QSA Certified Internal Auditor. His areas of expertise include Succession Planning, Change Leadership, Workforce Engagement and the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methodologies. To read Michael’s full bio, click here. 

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 19, 2017

Be a Leader (Not a Boss)

Don't Follow the Example of Iconic TV and Movie Characters

By: Charlie Westra

What do The Office’s Michael Scott, Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, Office Space’s Bill Lumbergh and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada all have in common? They’re some of the most memorable bosses on TV and the big screen—for all the wrong reasons. From ultra-cheesy, mega greedy to super sleazy, there’s been no shortage of highly incapable, completely inappropriate supervisors to entertain us.

Fast forward to your workplace
While workplace hilarity is perfect with your favorite beverage on the comfort of your couch, can you imagine if one of these fictional characters was your supervisor in real life? I’m cringing just thinking about heartless micromanager Lumbergh at my office. (“Charlie, yeah, I’m going to need you to come in tomorrow and if you can come in on Sunday, too, that’d be greeaaaat.”)

Whether you work on the manufacturing floor or in an office, the importance of having an effective leader cannot be underestimated. A recent Gallup study found that 1 out of 2 adults had left their job to get away from a manager. The bottom line: Supervisors can make or break employee retention and job satisfaction.

If you’re a supervisor, ask yourself the following questions: Do you give your employees a case of the Mondays every day of the week? Are you bringing out the best in your employees or are you bringing out your worst?

What is great leadership?
True leadership is not just the ability to motivate a group toward a common goal—it’s the ability to cross over from a person employees have to follow, to a person they want to follow. Leadership is influence, and if the focus is shifted from traditional authority to true relational leadership—treating your team members as people first and employees second—success will follow. Develop positive employee-manager relationships and employee retention skills, equip managers with practical tools that can be used every day to attract new talent and keep the good people already onboard.

To simplify the process, I have boiled down three critical points:

Find out, and relate to, what your employees value. (Mr. Burns, are you listening?)
Sacrifice a little bit of time and energy to connect with each team member on a regular basis.
  (Yep, Michael Scott did this well . . . minus Toby and Meredith.)
Communicate appreciation. (All of the fictional characters need a crash course on this one.)

Enhance your skills and fill the gap with leadership training
The Center’s Supervisory Skills Workshop can develop, enhance and refresh your skills as a leader and offer a renewed outlook on true relational leadership. Have some employees with leadership potential or a newly promoted supervisor or foreman and want to give him or her some practical management training? This 32-hr. class is ideal for them, too. Among others, participants will learn how to:

Identify their leadership style and its strengths and weaknesses.
Discover different behavioral characteristics and determine the best method for each type.
Uncover communication barriers and listening/communication techniques to enhance interaction
  in all directions.
Examine how individuals are motivated and identify opportunities to encourage subordinates to
  achieve organizational goals.
Determine the most effective methods of delivering on-the-job training and apply them for
  increased competence in employees.
Pinpoint what causes conflict and how to mitigate and prevent escalation.

Be the reason talented employees stay with your company. Let’s leave the drama where it
belongs . . . on the screen.

Interested in learning more?
Click here to watch a short video about The Center's Supervisory Skills course.

Join me for the Supervisory Skills Workshop:

July 6, 7, 13 and 14, 2017
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Kalamazoo Country Club
1609 Whites Road
Kalamazoo, MI
Click here to register.

September 18, 20, 25 and 27, 2017
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
The Center
45501 Helm St.
Plymouth, MI
Click here to register.


Charlie Westra
Growth Services Program Manager

Charlie Westra is a Program Manager for The Center and teaches the Supervisory Skills class. He enjoys interacting with small to mid-sized manufacturers about how to improve morale, motivate effectively, reduce conflict and resistance to change. To read Charlie’s full bio, click here.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 12, 2017

Food Allergen Recalls: What’s On the Table?

By: John Spillson
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Food safety and food testing technology keep getting better, yet recalls have been on the rise. Why? While many recalls are for unsafe/contaminated food, many times it’s due to allergens. In fact, one third of all recalls are due to the mislabeling of allergens in food products.

The U.S. recognizes eight allergens that contribute to 90% of the allergic reactions in the U.S. They can be easily remembered by the following acronym—“NEWS”:

N – Nuts (Peanuts or tree nuts are species specific and must be individually identified)
E – Eggs/milk
W – Wheat/soy
S – Shellfish/fish –These are also species specific so the type of fish must be identified.

Canada also includes sesame seeds, mustard and sulfites as listed allergens. So, companies exporting to Canada must be aware of this on their labels.

Three Ways Allergens Get Into the Food Supply
Allergens can mistakenly get into food products by one of three ways: cross contact on food surfaces, cross contamination or mislabeling. Cross contact occurs when surfaces are shared between items with and without these allergens, when surfaces aren’t properly cleaned, or when ingredients might be substituted and labels aren’t checked for the introduction of new allergens. It’s important to remember that sanitizing surfaces does not remove allergens—only cleaning with proper cleaning solutions and agitation.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)—Proactive Instead of Reactive
The old food laws put the emphasis on controlling hazards through the use of “critical control points” under HACCP rules. The new FSMA has moved the emphasis to preventing hazards from occurring in the first place. The most significant factor is the requirement that every food processor must have a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) available to them. A PCQI is trained to identify food safety hazards and to develop and maintain a company’s food safety plan to control dangers that are likely to occur and that have severe consequences should they make their way into our food.

Under FSMA, the three biggest areas that companies have increased responsibility include: monitoring their supply chain, having proper sanitation programs and ensuring the accuracy of their labels. Supply chain controls involve getting written documentation from their approved suppliers that their products are what they say they are and that they have certificates of analysis, when necessary. Proper sanitation programs require segregating allergens in dry storage as well as during processing. These also include adequate cleaning and sanitizing between processing runs to reduce or eliminate the chance of leftover allergen residue being picked up by another product. The third area includes proper labeling of the final product. Labels of inbound products must be checked for accuracy to make sure any allergens are properly labeled before the product leaves the facility.

Simple Allergens Can Hide
Do you know that “sodium caseinate” is actually milk? Or that lecithin comes from soy? Not only do employees need to know about the ingredients, but they also need to be aware of packaging issues as well. Some lubricants and packages are made with ingredients derived from wheat and casein. Supplier verification and a knowledgeable, trained workforce is essential to catch these hazards before they reach the consumer.

For most people without allergies these problems will go unnoticed, but if you suffer from life-threatening food allergies, the results could be deadly. That’s why it's critical for food manufacturers to properly train all staff and ensure food laws are strictly followed.

In other news:

The Center is pleased to host the following food event in June:

FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food
This course is recognized by the FDA as meeting the requirements to become a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). Individuals successfully completing this training will receive a certificate from the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA).

June 2, 9 & 16, 2017
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
45501 Helm St.
Plymouth, MI

For more information, or to register, click here.

Meet Our Expert

John Spillson
Food Business Development Manager

John Spillson is a member of The Center’s Food Team. For more than 20 years, John owned and operated his own food processing company, taking a family recipe of rice pudding into five states. This experience has given him extensive knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. To read John’s full bio, click here.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 5, 2017

Operational Excellence: What It Means to Your Business and Your Customers

By: Anna Stefos

What exactly is Operational Excellence (OpEx)? It’s not easy to define since most people think only about the operational benefits associated with continuous improvement. In fact, true OpEx goes deeper and is designed to embrace an entire ecosystem of many interwoven roads of an all-inclusive, collaborative culture, with high impact to the business that has one goal: To continuously delight and surprise the customer with superior products and services they may not always even know they need or want! Companies that successfully and thoroughly adopt OpEx will realize increased revenues and customer base, enhance its corporate brand, enjoy decline in operational costs, improve its reputation, and more often than not, be the go-to company in its sector—even if they are not the lowest priced!

It’s a Journey, Not a Destination
For one thing, OpEx is not a destination! It’s a metrics-driven, entire value chain improvement journey that follows a disciplined management methodology that embraces the quest of perfection, comprehensive process improvement—be it capability or quality just to name a few—and unrelenting focus on the customer. It applies to everyone in the organization—from the highest to the actual operation level. And everyone in such an organization gets it.

In its entirety, OpEx is a business execution philosophy and methodology that supports an organization’s corporate vision, and it should not be viewed as separate from how a business is run. It integrates a Business Excellence system that requires discipline in both the planning and execution phases of the entire enterprise and one that integrates major building blocks such as:

• Performance management
Process excellence
Metrics driven methodology
Strategy deployment
High performance collaboration driven teams

Everyone Must Be On Board for Success
Operational Excellence is an enabler that empowers corporate leadership to reach the apex of the enterprise through a highly-focused, data-driven methodology that encourages proactive solutions thus eliminating, or at least significantly minimizing, “firefighting” that for so many years has been woven into our manufacturing culture.

Because it drives corporate strategy projects that are aligned with and linked to business strategy and execution, OpEx also belongs in the boardroom as it propels a company’s self-awareness towards their true DNA. The result? Stronger, more profitable brands and undisputed word-class status. The collective power of such projects unites management with the workforce in a pragmatic and business-centric way that embraces transparency and all-inclusiveness—a dramatic shift from traditional business practices.

Nonetheless, unless Operational Excellence is formally organized and supported by the highest levels of the organization, it is not achievable, let alone sustainable. By wanting to be an OpEx organization, the mission is not to reinvent the wheel, or be accused that we are proponents of another management tool; the mission is far from it!

Training Is Essential
Since businesses are living and evolving organisms, not machines, comprised of people who must embrace the culture paradigm shifts without suspicion and mistrust, and together march towards the corporate morphing into learning and all-inclusive organizations, ongoing training is paramount. After all, a business is comprised of people who must keep on learning in order to grow their skillset and be better armed to flourish in this environment. An enabled workforce will themselves become change agents by stimulating, communicating and institutionalizing OpEx initiatives as part of the collective corporate transformation journey.

Developing the Perfect Deployment Strategy 
It will be a transition expedition when it all comes together and the organization shifts from being top down, to becoming a high performing, transparent entity where everyone is valued, feels valued, understands why they do what they do, and how it all ties to the corporate vision and shifting culture. A culture where everyone is a leader in their own way and a catalyst towards OpEx with one single voice: To exhilarate the customer!

Meet Our Expert

Anna Stefos
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Anna Stefos has a diverse automotive background spanning 20 combined years at GM and FCA, ranging from international manufacturing, to product development, strategic planning, program management, corporate strategy and international operations. Anna’s experience in partnering with C-level executives provides a strong foundation for and advising small and medium-sized companies to achieve Enterprise Transformation and propel them towards Operational Excellence. To read her full bio, click here.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at