**This ongoing series profiles exemplary business leaders who believe in leveraging technology as an accelerator to reach a heightened level of betterment.**
I had the opportunity to first meet Tom Pesaturo several years ago when his company was consulting with a company I worked for, Atrion. One of the first things that stuck out to me about Tom was his unwavering commitment to helping companies be better—better at combatting organizational waste, better at implementing Lean frameworks, better at running operationally. Through Exceeda Consulting, his company that he runs with his wife Diane, he helps business professionals break the cycle of “insanity.”
I had the chance to sit down with Tom at the start of the New Year to get his thoughts on process improvement, Lean and organizational belief. Here’s a look at our conversation…
Tom, you started your own company Exceeda Consulting 10 years ago, committed to introducing improvement processes and Lean implementations at leading companies. Tell me about Exceeda Consulting.
One of the chief reasons we started Exceeda in 2008 was because I would be out with my wife, Diane, driving around the New England area and we would see a number of iconic companies, and the jobs that went with them, moving out of the area because of an inability for these companies to compete profitability. The main reasons were because operating costs continued to rise due to regulation increases, cost of insurance, taxes and increased competition. These companies were also taking the common approaches to reducing costs by slashing overhead expenses including the reduction to staff. However, this is not a sustainable solution. They needed to look for new ways to reduce costs and improve profitability by improving processes.
We immediately knew we had to do something to teach businesses and bring them process-based learning to make them more competitive. We wanted to keep good companies and great employees in the area.
When we first started out, we began primarily as a company helping manufacturers. Today, we have clients in every industry from government to healthcare to IT services. We offer everything from complete organizational Lean transformations to targeted improvement activities, project management, and customized continuous improvement training. At the highest level, we help clients tackle specific business problems by mapping processes and help clients embark on transformational activities that change culture and the way of doing work.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your background in process, continuous improvement?
My career began in quality when I took my first position as a quality engineer at a struggling electronics component manufacturer. While I was there, now working as Operations Manager, the company hired a Lean consulting group out of Chicago to help transform the business. I sat next to a consultant for three years who, because of his direction, was able to greatly transform the business. That company is still in operations today because of the initiatives we spearheaded.
Since then, my career has taken me solidly into the operations track. I ended my career as COO at Portola Packaging, working with teams across Central America, South America, North America and Europe.
Do you mind telling me a little bit more about who is right for operational excellence?
Any organization or any size is right for operational excellence. However, the small- to medium-sized business is particularly right for this frame of mind because these are the companies that need help because they generally don’t have employees to do this work. They need to learn how to improve their processes to enjoy continuous profitable growth.
The No. 1 reason an organization considers our services is that the leadership team recognizes that they can be doing better than they are today. Typically, that’s because they feel their customers aren’t being serviced as well as they could be, they have a disengaged workforce or they don’t feel they are doing as strong financially.
No matter what the circumstance, to be successful, their top leadership team has to have the belief in process improvement. They must possess a never-ending determination to eliminate waste and have great respect for their people and a customer-first mentality. When you have that belief, you can improve process and operations and ultimately profits.
Also, when coming up with operational solutions, it’s imperative that business leaders go to their frontline employees—the ones doing the work—for ideas and solutions to problems. When this happens, businesses are able to become infinitely better than they were yesterday.
At the end of the day, the ones who get it are enlightened organizations that have a strong culture with a leadership team that strives to improve continually.
You mentioned going to the frontline for the solution which I think is really important. Can you expand on that a little?
One of the things that is most important for leadership is to go to the GEMBA, which is go to where the work is happening and work with the people actually doing the work, the individuals in the trenches. These are the folks who typically have the answers and if you engage them and you gain their confidence and trust, you will come up with fantastic solutions to complex business problems. Where businesses really make a fatal flaw is when the leadership team believes they have all the answers and they tell the workforce what to do. It doesn’t work. We often use the quote by Stéphane Mallarmé, “to suggest is to create to define is to destroy” to describe this behavior.
So instead, it’s best to hold a working session with the people doing the work and work with them on finding the best answer to their problem. We often describe this process of incremental change like landing a plane. Sometimes you land center on the runway, other times you land to the left or the right of center, but the sustainability of landing safely on the runway is much higher when the plane is landed by the people doing the work.
As companies start to tackle issues like broken process and organizational waste, how do they know when they start inching closer to excellence? What does workplace excellence look and feel like?
It is all in the employee level of engagement. Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. Employee willingness to go “above and beyond” the call of duty increases along with a strong desire to stay with the organization.
What is the No. 1 type of organizational waste that you feel runs most rampant in the SMB market?
It is difficult to pick the No. 1 waste but, what I know as the No. 1 contributor to waste is “it’s the way we have always done it” syndrome. Employees have a difficult time seeing and identifying waste. They have a “get er done” mentality and need to be less task focused and learn to identify waste when they see it. Businesses need to view processes through a new lens, question why things are done the way they are done. You can identify waste when you learn to see it. Stand back and look at the forest, study the trees, and determine what works and where there are opportunities for improvement. If the workflow is invisible to you, chances are the savings are as well.
How do you think the process improvement, workplace excellence landscape has evolved over the years? Are people more ready for process improvement than they were say 10 years ago?
I cannot say that I have noticed any dramatic sweeping changes over the last 10 years. For me it always comes back to a strong belief system in process improvement. The people who really believe in process improvement and operational excellence will always make improvements and introduce new solutions without needing a lot of convincing.
Operational excellence can be difficult if you don’t have the experience in how to execute, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements in your business. It might not be by the book or in the established method, but business leaders have the ability to improve their situation all the time. It’s always better to do something than nothing. As Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
OK, final question. What are three things business owners could start doing tomorrow that would make a major impact on their organizations as it relates to waste, excellence and improvement?
- All good performance starts with clear goals. Without clear goals, your leadership doesn’t really matter. It is creating a clear picture of what good performance looks like and what are the expected behaviors to get there.
- Catch people doing things right. People love to be acknowledged for their work. It’s unique and rewarding when a leader comes around and is looking for things that are going right instead of wrong.
- Perform a GEMBA walk one or two times a day! It is a no cost, high impact practice that will give you a better understanding of the work being done and the people who are doing the work. Ask questions about the process and/or problem and guide the person to action. NEVER give the answer! Remember “to suggest is to create to define is to destroy.”
Be sure to check out other posts in this series:
- Pulling Back the Layers of Workplace Excellence: Q&A with Darlene Morris
- Pulling Back the Layers of Workplace Excellence: Q&A with Bill Wray