I was recently invited to help a customer improve their competitive intelligence process. I traveled to their headquarters and was given a grand tour of their plant operations and new R&D facility.
The HQ is a lovely building, not too fancy yet decorated with fine art and photography from the owner’s collection and world travels. The management team was warm and positive even in these tough economic times. Their cafeteria served fresh food, and is near the workers, who mostly work on the first floor where the plant is located.
The plant was tidy, and the VP who showed me around was proud of his workers and their operation. The plant had deployed lean manufacturing and most of the employees were cross-trained so they could do “the assembly of the moment” with some exceptions for specialized work. The Just in Time inventory implementation had greatly reduced the company’s need for storage, so much so that there were empty areas at their plant which one year ago had been bursting at the seams.
The owner of the company really cares about his employees, and practices cooperative intelligence, even though he doesn’t call it that. Here’s an example: they’re headquartered in a small town, not that close to a major city. He built a medical clinic for his employees so they would have better medical care since they could walk to it from work. His staff figured out how many hours the clinic should be open for optimal use. Next to the clinic, he put in a gym since the doctor and nurse practitioner recommend exercise programs for employees as preventative maintenance. The workout machinery can be programmed to track an employee’s exercise program. Healthy employees are happier and more productive.
What I really admire about this owner is his combination of caring about the employees while watching the bottom line. Previously, employees would go without care for longer than they should since medical care was too far from the office. Now they routinely visit the doctor when they are ill, and also for maintenance. Medical expenses for the company have decreased in the year since he opened the clinic. It’s also professional in appearance just like you would expect at a regular doctor’s office.
You can just imagine how good morale is working at this company, where its leadership is supportive of employees, has a “can do” approach, and promotes open communication throughout the organization.
Often in competitive intelligence we’re so busy looking externally at the competition and market conditions that we forget to consider how we can improve our own operation by investigating ourselves. Before I look at a company’s competitors, I always like to take a long look at the company which hired me. Their operation, including their management’s behavior and motivation, becomes my yardstick to consider as I learn about the competition.