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#Duckumentary - Robert Palumbo

Today we speak with EDA Executive Director of Operational Excellence, Robert Palumbo!

We asked Robert about Operational Excellence, his journey to EDA, and what his thoughts are on our culture.

What did you do before your time at EDA?

I worked at AAA for three years prior to EDA. I was responsible for building the structure for their Operational Excellence program, while also identifying and executing on high revenue and expense process improvement opportunities within all departments.

Before AAA, I spent 26 years at Verizon in various roles, from Field operations as both a union and management employee to Corporate; and then finally assisting with creating their Operational Excellence program for the last 10 years of my career.

What brought you to the construction industry?
I always seek out challenges and was intrigued with the opportunity to apply the principles of Operational Excellence and process improvement to the construction industry. The industry is untapped and certainly ready for taking a more holistic approach and analyzing all phases of operations, customer service and product for efficiencies.

What is Operational Excellence?
Before I answer what it is, let me first explain what it isn’t. Operational Excellence is not negative by any means or a reflection of anyone’s performance or knowledge of their job or trade. It’s not a strategy because you’re doing your job poorly or a headcount reduction exercise. It is the opposite. There are many, many formal and confusing definitions of Operational Excellence in the industry. Simply put: it’s a mindset - a philosophy where every employee continues to look for better and more efficient ways of doing things every day – to seek perfection. From a formal business perspective definition, Operational Excellence focuses on continued growth and executing strategy more consistently than competitors by constantly looking at our operations.

Operational Excellence is part of our everyday lives. Here’s a recent, simple example that I’m sure you can relate to. Remember the days when we had to drive to a bank, during business hours, fill out a deposit slip, and wait in line to deposit a check? Don’t have to do that anymore because of banking apps. That’s Operational Excellence at its best.

What are the principles of Operational Excellence?
There are various Operational Excellence models in the industry. Each having their own methodology and set of principles. I believe in the Dr. Shigeo Shingo’s model and his principles of: Lead with humility, Respect everyone, Focus on the process, Seek perfection, Assure quality at the source, Create consistency and Create value for the customer. Also, unlike other models, there’s a component of sustainability for the long term. Some other models don’t place as much emphasis and importance of ensuring the changes to the process “stick”.

Why does Operational Excellence matter?
Operational Excellence matters because being referred to as “The best in class” or “The best in our industry” creates a competitive advantage over our competitors. Advantage = recognition, growth, opportunistic, and security. It shows that a company has pride and cares, not only for its customers but also for their employee’s development and security. It’s justification that a company does not rely on its laurels, that it’s continually focusing on improving operations including customer requirements. Prime example is Kodak, remember them? They dominated the industry with a market share of over 80% in the US and 50% globally, employed 60,000 people... but in 2012, they filed for bankruptcy. Kodak had blind spots for opportunities – in this case – digital cameras, because of its core business.

How can EDA benefit from Operational Excellence?
Our employees are invested in our company’s continued success. If we continue to “seek perfection” and always look for ways to improve our operations and products, then we won’t have to worry about competition or our futures. By having a process improvement mindset, other opportunities may surface. Growth will certainly continue. But that involves always looking at our processes, how can we improve them to be more efficient, and better than others. Looking for non-conventional type of opportunities. Also, Operational Excellence helps reinforce the commitment to our employees’ development - allowing them to become educated in the methodology, be creative, innovative, and most importantly, working on those tasks that directly impact our success and create value for our customers.

What are Operational Goals?
Operational excellence flows from a highly intentional effort to improve performance of a process. First, define what you want your operational excellence initiative to achieve, for example, less manual time on a process for employees or increasing manufacturing time. Setting goals will give a basis against which you can measure success. Generally, you can classify operational excellence goals under four main categories: finances, operations, culture, and enterprise.

How can we tell if we’ve achieved Operational Excellence?
Operational Excellence is a continuous journey and a mindset. There’s no end time. It’s a commitment to seek perfection. It takes time for people to understand and commit to the philosophy. We’ll know we’re on the right path when employees begin thinking about HOW they do their work, suggesting ideas about how can they make their jobs/processes more efficient – all for providing value to our customers. Also, wanting to be trained in Six Sigma methodology is another hope of mine. From an industry perspective though, one of the most prestigious awards is called the Shingo award. It’s presented to companies with the highest standard of Operational Excellence. It’s hard to attain; but it’s our long-term goal!

What does Operational Excellence have to do with Culture?
Operational Excellence has EVERYTHING to do with culture. Culture = People. It’s the people that define a company’s culture. Remember Operational Excellence is about identifying better and more efficient ways of doing things. A mindset. Who’s most qualified to do that? The people doing the work! It’s the people that have the most knowledge of their responsibilities. They do it day in and day out; whether trade or management people.

How do you achieve Operational Excellence through Communication?
By having a clear communication strategy and tools that reach our employees in the ways they want. For example, you may prefer to receive information via the company intranet platform, someone else may prefer email, another person may prefer a face-to-face meeting. Communication is vital for Operational Excellence, and we will be partnering together often with you to ensure everyone understands Operational Excellence, the strategy and goals, the potential process opportunities, updates on projects, training opportunities, Kaizen events and most importantly, their feedback.

How can we each play a part in achieving Operational Excellence?
By empowering our employees to continually question the status quo and thinking of possible ways to improve processes and solve problems. That can result in new opportunities, expense savings, increased demand, etc. We all want that! I’m here to help build the foundation, use my knowledge and tools to make everyone successful. But the prerequisite though is people wanting to change their mindset to process improvement day in and day out.

What has been the best part about your experience working with EDA so far?
There are a few that come to mind. In all those experiences though, people are at the center. I’m a people person and like to get to know everyone. For me, it’s important to be able to relate to people outside of work. That’s my personality. The other is our commitment to philanthropic work and giving back to the community. That’s very important to me.

What is your favorite EDA value, and why?
“Demonstrate Humility” without question. I have always been a humble person, not worried about asking questions or any preconceived notions of weakness from doing so. It’s conducive to how I learn and think about anything. If I don’t know something, I don’t pretend I do. Also, humility shows value to the person. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. C. S. Lewis. After all, in Operational Excellence and process improvement, it’s about asking questions to learn and understand processes to make them more efficient. As you participate with me on projects, you’ll hear me ask “why” many times. Don’t get frustrated with me 😁. There’s a method to doing this – it’s to identify the root cause(s) of the problem.

How is EDA's culture compared to that of your previous workplaces?
It’s refreshing, collaborative, caring, and transparent. There’s a commitment to really holding true the phrase “work family” here. It’s obvious of the camaraderie and the partnerships that exists between departments. Many companies fail to sustain that philosophy or worse, condone passive aggressive behavior. Based on my limited time here, people have made me part of the EDA family. It does not feel like work here. After all, I don’t know any other company where you can bring your pet to work!

What was your reaction to seeing EDA's emphasis on culture?
Beyond the moon! I learned about our culture before I applied for this opportunity while researching EDA. Ed’s article on Emotional Intelligence in the Philadelphia Inquirer is what drove me to apply for this role. When I decided to leave AAA, I created a list of the most important attributes or “wants” with my next opportunity. Culture was at the top, then Leadership and decided I wouldn’t sacrifice on either. And here’s why. The success of Operational Excellence relies mostly on culture, leadership, and its people. Without a positive, nurturing, and committed culture, Operational Excellence is difficult to attain. Those reasons are why less than 36% of companies fail in their Operational Excellence journey. We will succeed together here on our journey because of our people, culture, and Ed’s leadership.