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Steve Blue

Seven Lessons American Manufacturing’s Decline Can Teach Any Company

The United States destroyed its enemies in World War II because it out-produced them. Its manufacturing capacity was enormous and efficient. Its workforce was inspired and committed. The government, suppliers, and competitors all collaborated to produce the biggest manufacturing juggernaut the world had ever known. It seemed there was no end to America’s manufacturing might.

But there was.

The end to America being a manufacturing powerhouse began during the recession of 2008. Millions of middle-class manufacturing jobs were lost. And they never came back. In fact, since 1979, manufacturing employment has plummeted by over 33%. That is worse than the job losses during the Great Depression.

So what happened? How did the world’s mightiest manufacturing machine end up as the equivalent of room service to China? How did the nation with the workforce that won the war end up with a workforce outsourced to India? How did the most motivated, inspired, and productive workforce on the planet end up caring more about their bowling scores than their production numbers?

There is no shortage of explanations. Some experts claim China is to blame. Others cite United States trade policies. And still others say it is because of the rise of the Millennials.

However, very few people point to the real reason. And that is a failure of American leadership on an epic scale; a failure of government to work with manufacturing instead of against it; a failure of business to adapt to the global marketplace instead of running from it. But most of all, it is a failure of leadership to harness and unleash the remarkable potential of the American worker.

You can’t unleash this massive potential without creating a “culture by design, not default”. A culture by design has a bedrock of carefully selected company-wide values that motivates employees, delights customers, serves their communities and sparks innovation and creativity. But most companies have cultures “by default, not design”. They have what I call “bumper sticker” values. Bumper sticker values are created in boardrooms because they sound cool. But they don’t reflect the real, underlying values of the organization.

One has to look no further than the Wells Fargo bogus accounts debacle to illustrate this. Two of Wells Fargo’s key values are “ethics” and “what’s right for their customers”. And yet what they did was clearly neither. How can a company with those supposed ethics commit such an act? It can only be because while those values look good on a bumper sticker, the real, underlying values at Wells Fargo are “profit above all else”. Now don’t misunderstand me, profit has to be the number one goal. The problem with that as a core value, above all else is people will act that way. And when they do, relationships between employees and customers suffer, quality suffers, the books get cooked, and all other manner of bad outcomes.

That is why it is so important to build a culture by design. Cultures by design contain foundational values that drive organizational behavior toward remarkable outcomes. Cultures by default contain foundational values that drive organizational behavior toward bad outcomes.

The key point here is that you should choose values and not let values choose you. Here are some simple steps to get started:

1. Understand the values your organization currently has. Some, perhaps all, the values may be perfectly appropriate. Some may not be. But remember, the underlying values are probably different than the bumper sticker values. Conduct an anonymous survey of every single employee and ask them. Don’t make this a human resource exercise. It has to come right from the top to be taken seriously.

2. Once you know the underlying values of the organization, decide which ones are worth keeping, nourishing, and promoting and which ones need to be discarded. And then you and your senior leadership team can decide which new values need to be implemented. This is not a slogan exercise. It is a gut-wrenching soul-searching mission. Which values should you choose? It will be different in every company but you should choose values that drive organizational behavior toward remarkable outcomes. Don’t choose values that sound cool in the C-suite but stupid to employees. Choose values that everyone in the organization can get behind and feel good about. Sound like a tough job? It is. The last time I did this it took a year.

3. Declare to the organization the new values that have been chosen and why. If you have chosen well, people will applaud you when you tell them. If you have chosen poorly, you’ll be a water cooler joke. Be very deliberate and comprehensive when you announce the new values. Explain completely what each value means, why it was chosen, and what you expect from employees in terms of behavior to support the values.

4. Now comes the most crucial part. You must be certain your senior executives live these values day by day. You can’t expect “people from below to do what the top does not”. Some of your executives won’t go along with the new values. Ask them to leave the company. Yes, you read that right. One loose cannon on the values ship can scuttle the whole effort.

5. Align all organization policies and practices to support the new values. Make them part of performance appraisals, standards for promotions, and compensation increases. Don’t let this become a “check the box to keep human resources happy” exercise.

6. Once the values are firmly entrenched, don’t let anybody in the front door that doesn’t believe in them. Do a “values check” as part of the interview process.

7. And finally, this has to be a CEO initiative or it will fail. Think of this as a strategic culture plan, requiring years to execute, not months. And give it the same time, importance, attention, and resources as you do the strategic operating plan.


About the Author

CEO Miller IngenuitySteven L. Blue is the President & CEO of Miller Ingenuity, a global supplier of mission-critical solutions in the transportation industry and author of the new book, American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right. For more information, please visit www.StevenLBlue.com, www.milleringenuity.com and connect with Blue on Twitter, @SteveBlueCEO.

Lessons Learned from Corporate Branding and Rebranding Efforts of Note

Lesson: Don’t fix what’s not broken
Coca-Cola learned not to tamper with a beloved brand in 1985 when it decided to re-stage its iconic brand with “New Coke.” The public was outraged and let Coca-Cola know they didn’t want a “new” Coke. They wanted their old Coke, literally a quintessential icon in American popular culture. Coke responded within a few months and brought back “Classic Coke.” Classic Coke sales rebounded. Although New Coke remained on the shelves, it eventually faded from store shelves. Some commentators felt the move to New Coke was a marketing gimmick to regenerate interest and sales in the brand after sales erosion due to the “Pepsi Challenge” taste test campaign. Don Keough, company President, responded to the charge saying “We’re not that dumb, and we’re not that smart”.

Lesson: Expansion may require a bigger umbrella
International Harvester changed its name to Navistar International in 1986 when it sold its farm equipment business and entered the truck, diesel engine, and bus markets. Although the name is “made up,” it broadened the brand and has strong connotations of movement and direction. As a 2013 company report* stated, “Navistar was selected as a name with a strong sound, a resonance to Harvester, and a connection to its root words “navigate” and “star.” It does all of those things and has since become the name of the holding company over multiple Navistar divisions, International Trucks, and MaxxForce Diesel engines.


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About the Author

CEO Miller IngenuityWith more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience in markets all over the world, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue is a globally regarded business growth authority and ‘turnaround specialist’ who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. In his upcoming book, Outdo, Outsmart… Outlast: A Practical Guide to Managed, Measured and Meaningful Growth, he reveals why seeking growth and surviving growth are equally perilous, and require different sets of plans to weather the storms. Steve may be reached at www.StevenLBlue.com.

7 Keys to Executing a Successful Business Rebrand

No matter your reason for embarking upon a business rebranding effort of a company or product name, logo, phrase, design scheme or other such asset, which can be mixed and many, one thing is certain: execute poorly and suffer extreme consequences. There is simply no rebranding effort where the stakes are not extraordinarily high and the margin for error is slim at best. This history has been proven repeatedly amid a litany of rebrand debacles that didn’t heed just a few fundamental principles.

With this in mind, globally regarded business growth authority Steve Blue, CEO of Miller Ingenuity – a 60-year old company that successfully implemented a corporate rebranding effort, offers these 7 best practice keys for effectively executing a rebranding initiative:

Key #1: Get clear on what a brand is
A brand is not just your logo. A brand is the sum total of the messages, interactions, and experiences a customer has with your product, services, and people. To a customer, a brand is the promise of an EXPERIENCE and the customer’s EXPERIENCE of that promise delivered. It’s a valuable asset to nurture over time.


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About the Author

CEO Miller IngenuityWith more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience in markets all over the world, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue is a globally regarded business growth authority and ‘turnaround specialist’ who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. In his upcoming book, Outdo, Outsmart… Outlast: A Practical Guide to Managed, Measured and Meaningful Growth, he reveals why seeking growth and surviving growth are equally perilous, and require different sets of plans to weather the storms. Steve may be reached at www.StevenLBlue.com.

The 7 Silent Business Killers

High blood pressure is a silent killer. Combined with other risk factors it can lead to death. Similarly, in business, there are 7 silent business killers that if combined, can lead to the death of a business. Here are the warning signs the health of a business may be at risk:

#1 Life Is Great

Things have been going well for a long time now. You hardly ever hear of any problems. The numbers look good, although lately they have been getting a little soft. You are not too worried because your people will tell you if something is wrong, although they didn’t the last time you lost a customer. You found that out by accident.

Right about now you are feeling like you have this CEO thing down cold! Maybe it is finally time to work on that golf game. You couldn’t be more wrong.


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About the Author

CEO Miller IngenuityWith more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience in markets all over the world, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue is a globally regarded business growth authority and ‘turnaround specialist’ who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. He may be reached at www.StevenLBlue.com.

Lessons The Avengers Can Teach About Leadership

With the upcoming release of Thor Dark World and amid the success of The Avengers blockbuster movies overall, there are excellent parallel leadership lessons that can be learned from these Marvel Comics superheroes. Namely, knowing when to take the reins and when to call on others for their specialized skills and expertise. Although, in business, we might not necessarily have to restore order to the universe and face unimaginable foes, we do often have to recalibrate our organizations, face strategic issues that seem impossible to solve, and combat pressure from the competition.

Movies like Thor Dark World and The Avengers actually have significant business value in their themes and characters. The plots, obstacles, and how each of the Avengers react can reflect what happens in business, and offers legitimate insight on how managers can handle challenging issues—better ensuring that proverbial good over evil prevails.


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About the Author

CEO Miller IngenuityWith more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience in markets all over the world, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue is a globally regarded business growth authority and ‘turnaround specialist’ who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. He may be reached at www.StevenLBlue.com.