Hoshin kanri, Part I

Hoshin kanri, Part I

team brainstorming HLHVision is not usually the problem. It’s common to develop your vision in the boardroom, the elusive “why” of your business—but far more challenging to make it the agent of change at every level. 

Hoshin kanri, a Japanese term coined during the Second World War rebuilding, means “compass management.” It’s a 7-part formula for developing a vision-based strategy and implementing it in practical, day-to-day ways across your business to achieve a competitive edge. 

In other words, hoshin kanri mobilizes your “why” into a tool for your business, not only to get ahead but also to build a vision-based culture from the ground up. Here’s how, in 7 steps: 


Establish Organizational Vision 

If you have yet to establish your “why,” start there. This is no less than answering the question: why does your company exist? 

The “why” here is of the Simon Sinek variety in that it doesn’t depend on your “what” (your products and services) or “how” (your processes). In fact, the “what” and “how” both depend on the “why” – the vision. 

As a guiding principle, your “why” might look something like “To take action against climate change so that we can live, play, and work sustainably.” Your why might inspire you and your team, but seeing that vision through is much easier said than done.

As you build out your “why”, bring in as many stakeholders as will give clear feedback and take your time. This isn’t one to rush. 


Develop Breakthrough Objectives

ho w to develop breakthrough objectives

Once you’ve defined “why,” start strategizing how to use it to create a competitive advantage. Tactics driven directly by your why, as opposed to by your what (like product promotions), will always be more successful. 

The tactics, or objectives, need to be seismic. These aren’t things that a team can bang off in a quarter. They’re the articulation of the paradigm shift of defining your business by your why. Your entire team will need to contribute and be on board long term for them to work.

You only need one or two objectives. Objectives should be things that will take three to five years to complete, for example:

Breakout objective examples

If there are five ideas, boil them down to their common essence and derive them from there. Take it seriously; these objectives will begin to define your business’s competitive edge. 

The next stage to mastering hoshin kanri is far more hands-on. Look out for part two; Developing and Deploying your Objectives, coming next week.

Pandemic Leadership

Pandemic Leadership

HLH-pandemic leadership-team chatting“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” – Ray Kroc

The culture we create for our teams is ultimately what binds us together and keeps our revenues flowing. As leaders, we need to make sure that this engine of our company is greased and fuelled, and it’s up to us to set the course. Here are four tips to help you drive through this COVID-19 storm with your culture intact. 


Stop Talking About Normalcy

The goals you have for your business are the goalposts you’re running toward. Whether the touchdown takes a week or five years, you know where the line is and what direction to run in.

How you talk about the future affects how your team moves toward those goals. If you act in a holding pattern until the pandemic is over, they will too. 

When the pandemic started, the phrase “back to normal” was on everyone’s lips. Week by week, it’s becoming more evident that, virus or no virus, the paradigm shifts that 2020 has brought are here to stay.

Over 50% of Millennials and Gen Z workers plan to retain some of the lockdown behaviours they've learned post-COVID.

Over half of Millennials and Gen Z workers say that they plan to retain some of the “lockdown” behaviours they’ve learned post-COVID. Some of those slow-emerging business trends have exploded: value has been redefined in many ways, and it’s fair to say that the digital and e-comm explosion has changed the way people think about spending money for the long term. 

Your customers won’t expect the same service or products again. Your team won’t look at work/life balance the same way again. And if you placate them by assuring them that the old “normal” is coming back, you’re telling them to run toward a goalpost that has disappeared. 

Clinging to a nostalgic idea of normalcy has another effect: it clouds your own goals and ignores the opportunities ahead. There are new frontiers now – exciting ones – and they are ready to be explored by businesses who see the new goalposts and move with the game. 


Be Steadfast 

The business world has never changed faster. From how to keep your employees safe to marketing your products in a world of altered expectations, big decisions are coming at us every day.

Your team looks to you to have a calm hand on the wheel. There will be inner turmoil and a generous helping of self-doubt. But to the team, your job is to make the necessary choices—unwaveringly. When you’re steadfast, they’re eager.


Change Your Schedule

You know what your “normal” schedule used to be. Many of us are still trying to stay on it, as that’s what has worked for us before.

If more face-time with the team is what will help them adapt, then make it happen.But just as “normal” has changed, so too have the needs of our team and our customers. Paradoxically, even as we distance physically, we have never needed human contact more than we do now. 

If more face-time with the team is what will help them adapt, then make it happen. If more “just because” touchpoints with customers will retain them as loyal to your business, do what you can to deliver. Those two groups of people are the Alpha and Omega of your business, and they’re always more important than whatever is on your computer screen.


Look Out For Yourself 

Self-care is more vital than ever. We’re all standing on a razor’s edge, and to leadership, there’s the added pressure of running your team. 

Build the time you need for yourself into your schedule. “You-time” is crucial to keep the anxiety at bay and remain present through the other tasks at hand. You set the tone for your team’s culture; a calm hand on the wheel makes for a steady journey. 


In Dickens’ famous words “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” COVID has brought us a lot of challenges, but it’s also created a lot of opportunities. As leaders, we can position ourselves to drive our organizations to the next level by being agile, staying steadfast, allocating our time well, and taking care of ourselves. Let’s keep our eye on the ball and show our people how to do the same.


The Power of Failure

The Power of Failure

person stressed at their desk HLH“If failure is not an option, then neither is success.” – Seth Godin

Failure is the best teacher. When it comes to Process Improvement and growing our bottom line, failure is invaluable.

The goal for failure is fast, cheap, and often. With each failure, we do a postmortem and reflection so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. 

But that’s not as easy as it sounds. In business, we often repeat the same failures over and over, telling ourselves that it will be different this time. In order to make failure our ally, we must first stop treating it like our enemy. 


It Starts with Culture 

If we treat small failures as disasters, we’ll be in a perpetual state of shell-shock and never learn from them. When they happen, the team looks to the leader for their reaction to base their judgments on the degree of devastation caused.

Establish a culture of learning and accelerate Process Improvement and develop aa good working culture HLH

It starts at the top. Has leadership established a culture of learning? Many Lean Leaders embrace failure so much that they encourage small iterative failures backed by a robust learning process. Failure can accelerate Process Improvement, but only with the right culture. 

You can’t win without taking chances. Failure happens, and strong leaders encourage their team to take the (calculated) risk and support them if it doesn’t work. 


Stop Blaming 

It's human nature to blame others for misfortune, but it's almost never productive HLHHow many meetings have you been in when the postmortem of a failure turned into a blame game? It’s human nature to blame others for misfortune, but it’s almost never productive.

Of course, there are times where it’s clearly someone’s fault. Those times should be handled accordingly, whether that calls for a serious private conversation or walking the person out of the building. 

But those cases are few, while the times we blame others for business failures are many. At the beginning of every meeting like that, one person is usually already on edge, and others are gunning for him or her. Defensiveness and defection follow, and it’s impossible to learn from failure in that climate.

Again, it starts with culture. If there’s a culture of blame in the organization, team members who fail will be too ashamed to learn from it. Or, even worse, they’ll be too scared to fail at all.


Process Improvement 

Process Improvement is dead in the water without a team that is 100% bought-in and watching for small efficiencies that can trim waste from the organization. Whenever a team member brings an idea to leadership, that person is vouching for the effectiveness of that idea. And if it doesn’t work, they’ll see that as a failure.

It’s leadership’s job to reassure the team that putting resources into new ideas is sound business practice. Whether we fail or succeed, we must always learn from the results—good and bad—without blaming the person bringing it forward.

Marketing During a Pandemic

Marketing During a Pandemic

entrepreneur talking on the phone HLH“Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time.” – Ann Handley 

How do you acquire new customers in a pandemic? Will the customers you’ve always had keep coming back? Will any marketing during COVID come off as opportunistic?

The pandemic has unearthed new buying motivations and new expectations for how businesses should behave. And it’s here for a while, so let’s start wrapping our heads around what marketing during a pandemic really looks like—for better or for worse.


Talk to New Customers

You’ve put a lot of time and energy into understanding who your customers are and what motivates them to come to you. 

Here’s the bad news: you can’t assume what you know about them is still true. 

There’s good news, though; there may be potential new customers waiting in the wings. You just need to be agile enough to pivot your messaging.

Call, email, text or greet new customers in your business and start a conversation. Ask them how they’re doing and why they’ve come (more on that below). Don’t hand them a survey; engage them as one human caught up in this mess to another. That way, you’ll get a real answer.


Make It Genuine 

 We’re social animals to the core, and COVID-19 has denied us some of that. Anxiety has skyrocketed, and we feel more disconnected from each other than we ever have.

At a time like this, generic, passive-voiced corporate-speak is going to do you more harm than good. Ditch that; it will bounce off your customers like water off a duck’s back.

When you talk to your customers, do so human-to-human. Take the corner office armour off and be your genuine self. We’re so starved for real human contact right now that your efforts are sure to get noticed. Here are a few tactics to employ:


  • Do more on social media. Not with canned promo posts, but with videos or pictures of you and your people. Start talking on camera about things that matter to other people. Talk about the difference that your business can make through its services, how you’re adapting and keeping your team safe, and how you’re committed to being there for your customers.
  • Reach out. Talk to your customers, whether that’s calling them out of the blue or tracking them down in-store. Stop the throwaway small talk and ask people how they’re really doing. They want to hear from you. They want to engage with you. They will be honest and open with you about their business and give you valuable information that you can act on.
  • Content, content, content. In the BC era (as in, “before COVID”), content was important for building web traffic and thought leadership. Now, it’s essential because it can educate, comfort, and even entertain when your customers crave guidance. Tell them the stories about what you do and why you do it. Teach them how your business can make their lives a little easier right now. This is the time for more content, not less. 


Stand for Something

The phrase “purpose-driven consumerism” largely derives from the rise of the largest demographic in human history (the Millennials), and their desire to feel good about how they spend their money. Now it’s even more impactful. 

If you don't visibly support a higher cause, then find one.We can’t defeat COVID alone. From masks to vaccine research, the tactics are as much about helping others as helping ourselves. Society is gaining a new appreciation for the needs of the many over the needs of the few.

Your marketing should reflect that. If you don’t visibly support a higher cause, then find one. Make it relevant and show your involvement in an engaging way. Study brands like Nike to learn how standing up for something that your core demographic believes in can catapult your brand forward.


Of course, what you stand up for hinges on how well you understand your customer; not just your traditional base, but a potential new COVID-era customer as well, which brings us back to the thread uniting all these tactics: open communication.

Talk to your customer. Human-to-human. It’s been the world’s best marketing for eons, and it always will be.


Virtual Doesn’t Need to Mean Disconnected

Virtual Doesn’t Need to Mean Disconnected


person having virtual meeting HLH“The one thing I’ve personally learned is you’ve got to get ahead of the curve, don’t try to deny it or put your head in the sand, and wish for the best. These are the times when a culture and an organization gets tested.” – Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage 

We’re social animals, and we crave person-to-person contact. That’s just one reason why this new world of video calls and virtual conferences feels so alien. But now that we’re here, let’s talk about how to make the most of it.

The paradox of 2020 is that it has distanced us from each other when we need each other most. The businesses that figure out how to keep meaningful connections with their customers will come out on top.


Expect Anxiety 

If you ask how your customer is doing, mean it. HLHDrop the introductory small talk of “How are things?” For many people, things are not “fine,” and they are not “well.” 

If you ask how your customer is doing, mean it. I’ve seen many people ending their emails with “Stay safe,” or “Hang in there.” You’ll be tailoring your approach to your own customers’ experiences, but shift from expecting a certain level of “fine” to expecting a baseline of low-level anxiety. 


Just Because 

When was the last time you checked in with your customers? I’m not referring to payment reminders, product or service announcements, or general newsletters. When was the last time you checked in with one of them just to see how things were going?

Your business relationships should be professional but they should never be “just” business. You perform a service for your customer, but you’re both people. Treat them accordingly.

Send them an email asking how they’re doing in the context of the service you provide. Avoid the temptation to cut and paste; keep it personalized. 

Now is the time to talk to our customers like people. If they only hear from you when there’s an invoice to pay or when you want to sell them something, you’re in danger of becoming another line item to cut from their list of expenses.


Virtual Everything 

Navigating video calls, especially with a lot of people, is an art form. Here are the dos and don’ts for painless video conferencing:

Dos and Donts of Virtual Meetings HLH

COVID-19 has imposed a whole new way of working and, as we acclimate, we need to master a whole new approach to workplace etiquette and interaction. Learning to manage the social distance is key, and this challenge might just be the opportunity we needed to deepen connections with our teams and our customers.  




What Are We Saving Money On Right Now?

What Are We Saving Money On Right Now?

Person calculating expenses from receipts HLH“You must gain control over your money, or the lack of it will forever control you.” – Dave Ramsey

If you aren’t eternally vigilant about your expenses, they will creep up. It’s a silent and deadly law that makes Process Improvement a necessarily ongoing endeavour. But sometimes events come up that blow-up expenses and leave a clean slate behind. We’re in one of those events now. 

Entertainment and travel are good to do. They feel good, build your business in the long term, and the staff love them. But they’re expensive, and the trips creep up. Soon one necessary trip a year has become five trips a year.

This pandemic has brought layers of difficulty. However, a bright spot is that it is forcing us to quit – cold turkey – some of the novelty expenses that we’ve baked into our budgets.



Morale matters, now more than ever. Across Alberta, we’re sorely missing the staff functions, get-together nights, and catered lunches we once took for granted. 

Some entertainment spending, like staff events for your front-line team, is important. HLHSome entertainment spending, like staff events for your front-line team, is important. We should still spend those dollars, hard as it may be, because you need your team to be energized and motivated. If your office hasn’t opened yet, you can try creative ideas like sending out electronic gift cards for delivery services and eating together over video. Or, have the team meet on a patio where it’s safer to interact.

On the other hand, now is not the time to tap the expense account. Dinners out, hockey games, and other management perks should not be a priority for a long time, and it will be our choice whether or not to indulge once life returns to normalcy.


Travel: Numbers Don’t Lie

pie graphs showing different between average business spending on travel and profit airlines make from business travellers HLH

The average business spends about 1% of their revenue on travel. While that fluctuates a lot across industries, even half a percentage point matters in an era with razor-thin net profits.

More interesting is that, while business travellers make up 12% of airline passengers, they rack up 75% of airline profits. Business travellers are more likely to pay full price, take the last-minute fare, and splurge for the exit row. It’s the boss’s money, after all.

Airfare is just the start. Throw in car rentals, meals, hotels, shipping, cell phone bills, tips, and the myriad of other costs that come with it. Not to mention the costs few people take into account: the productivity lost, directly and indirectly, from a manager being out of the office and then playing catch up once he or she gets back.

Travel often pays off in training, acquiring customers, or growing your brand. But it won’t hurt to take a year off and inject that money into cash-starved operating budgets. And once we can travel again, we can evaluate the habits we built into our businesses and decide how much, if any, we want to go back to spending.


The Bottom Line 

The elephant in the blog is that we know too much travel wastes money. Some travel is vital, and we’re feeling the sting of losing it right now. But let’s talk about the “extra trip” or two that aren’t really necessary.

 A lot of waste happens at the top. When you’re the boss, it’s easy to let the trips add up because they offer something we can rarely get in our office: pure focus on the bigger picture, and the promise of a big leap forward. 

2020 has been an intervention. For many companies, it’s a (short-term) cost savings wrapped in a much larger problem. We know that a global pandemic is not the present we wanted to receive, but it’s what we’ve been given. As managers, let’s decide to use this as an opportunity to master the art of Lean living.