We met Matt Allmand in 2019 when he provided valuable insight related to a CEO search project we had in Nebraska. He is in the middle of what is already a spectacular career that includes operations leadership roles in at McNeilus Truck (Oshkosh Corporation) and serving as president of Allmand Brothers Inc., his family's industrial equipment business.
Currently, Matt leads the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). In his MEP role, he advises small and midcap manufacturers on strategy development and deployment, operational improvement, sales and marketing, technology, and continuous improvement.
You grew up in a family business, left the business to work for a larger company, and returned to lead and eventually sell the business. Tell us about how this journey has contributed to your approach to advising manufacturing companies today.
Being a part of a family owned business was clearly a huge opportunity for me. It let me grow up in the business and see challenges and opportunities unfold from the inside. This experience gave me a deep familiarity with manufacturing, but only from one perspective. Spending a few years at McNeilus truck and helping them redesign the company’s key processes gave me an important second perspective as well as exposure to world-class best practices in manufacturing. I feel like I have been able to combine this family perspective with best practices and help implement process improvement in a way that doesn’t hurt and creates enormous business impact and stays around for the long haul.
Did you have and “aha” moment – what was it?
I remember working on the production line and facing continuous parts shortages. We would pull a batch of products in only to haul them back out incomplete. I saw the waste and inefficiency implicit in this and it tore me up. I remember advising my dad that he needed to “fire those morons in purchasing” so we could end these shortages and get some product out the door. My reward for that attitude was almost 10 years in purchasing! I was certain I wasn’t a moron, but we still faced nearly continuous shortages. This led to learning about Kan Ban and all sorts of lean, visual replenishment tools that helped avoid shortages, but the larger realization was that for purchasing to do a good job, it took everyone. Each department is a link in the chain. Process improvement in one department can give you incremental gains, but managing the whole organization cohesively is required to really create improvement. This is when I learned about strategy development and deployment as a tool to coordinate all the key teams in an organization and ensure progress towards your most important goals.
If we were able to boil your experiences down to a central theme, what would that be?
The central theme would be having a written strategy, a road map – you need to know where you are, where you want to go, and how you can get there. At Allmand, it was the value in pursuing a culture of trust and performance. How I said it was we needed to love people, and hit the numbers. Treating people well is huge, but failing to hit the numbers limits your capacity to do so. I think this tenant drives a passion for continuous improvement and acknowledges the occasional apparent paradox.
Let’s talk about the people side. How does “love people” translate to day-to-day culture?
It could be as simple as the golden rule, but I think there is a deeper significance to valuing people and showing you care. It maybe starts with blaming yourself first when something goes wrong, then blaming the process, not the person. Really it comes into its own through the strategy process. Involving the whole team in figuring out where you are, where you want to go and how you can get there goes a long way in building a culture of performance and trust.
Maybe for me this is all based on a profound degree of humility. We are all amateurs doing our best and we are all in this together. I must look at every person I interact with as an equal, good at different things maybe, but profoundly equal and worthy of respect. I feel like this is how trust is built. This C.S. Lewis quote really drove it home for me:
Let me paraphrase C.S. Lewis – this drove it home for me:
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization are mortal
But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—those relationships can lead to everlasting splendor or turn to horror.
I think this belief builds a true desire to see the best for everyone. Really seeing others in this way has a way of putting ourselves in proper perspective.
Just loving the people won’t do, tell us about hitting the numbers.
Yeah, the second part is requiring real business impact. Graph’s need to go up, profit and revenue fuel an organization’s growth and create boundless opportunity for everyone involved. Also, everyone likes to be a part of a winning team. It’s not enough to sing Kumbaya together and be nice. Deploying your strategy can focus your company on the right things and help keep you focused on developing excellence.
This is all about strategy. How do the pieces come together? Developing and deploying an effective strategy is my passion. When I take on leadership responsibilities with a new organization, I feel naked until I have worked with the team to identify where we are, where we are going, and how we can get there. This forms the foundation for everything everyone in the organization does. We use that foundation to build the strategy deployment which is an annual look at what are the three activities we can put energy into this year to maximize progress towards our goals.
Towards the end of the year we review our strategy, make any necessary changes and refresh the deployment. This form takes the big three goals and breaks them down into who is going to do what by when and communicates progress to the entire organization. Imagine being a part of an organization, big or small, and know exactly where the organization was, where it was headed, what needed to be accomplished to get there and exactly what role you played in making that happen. Every day you can have the certainty that your contribution matters and you are contributing to key improvements, talk about engagement! Decision making also benefits wildly with the certainty that this process brings, knowing these key facts empowers your whole team to get the right stuff done every day.
Talk the talk, walk the walk…can you give us an example of a leader you’ve seen or worked with that gets it right –someone who "loves the people and hits the numbers."
I think our Director of Operations at Allmand, Joe Lawrence, helped this idea crystalize for me. He was able to be caring, patient, respectful and kind in all circumstances and still drive performance, improvement and goal attainment. Dave Shecklman, my boss at McNeilus Truck, also put this on display big time. He was crazy smart and driven to achieve, but the amount of time, effort and energy he put into helping each of us learn and grow was astonishing. We knew we had to do an amazing job, but also that he cared about us personally and wanted to see us succeed for our own good and career, not just the business objective of the moment.
Family businesses are a different breed. Are there common problems you see, related to strategy and deployment, in family-held companies?
I think being in a family owned business just amplifies the need for some of the things we’ve mentioned already. There can be such a familiarity with the business that you assume you are all on the same page and moving the same direction. There can also be a lack of spoken goals. One thing I took from my time at Allmand was the fact that we knew we existed to serve our five stakeholder groups, Customers, Employees, Suppliers, Community and Owners.
This is a great foundation for building a business of integrity, but it is not a strategy. As we developed and deployed a strategy over the years, the impact was breathtaking. The improvement in culture and performance made it a fun place to work. So I feel like strategy development helps bring the entire team together, getting clear on goals, then deployment helps create sustained focus on your new culture of performance and trust.
What advice do you have for business owners concerned about the health of their business? Are there sources you like and can recommend – books, authors, websites?
I believe the best antidote for fear is action. Do something, do the best thing and do it more than once. Work with your leadership team to identify the issues that are at hand and build solutions, break those into smaller steps and accomplish one today. I have been in plenty of overwhelming circumstances, situations I couldn’t see a clear route out of, but I did the work, chose a path and could at least see the next step. Taking one step forward is always better than sitting still and it can get you to a new perspective where often the next step becomes visible.
More generally, I think a bunch of great business books were profoundly impactful on my career. Jim Collin’s “Good to Great”, Jim Womak’s “Lean Thinking”, John Miller’s “The Question Behind the Question”, John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” as well as Ken Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager” would make my shortlist.
I think these and similar resources provide timeless, foundational truths, but not a systematic process for applying them. I think more recently EOS and specifically Gino Wickman’s book “Traction” gives you the framework to tie these ideas and industry specific best practices together in a framework that ensures consistent execution.