Thursday, April 17, 2014

Proactive businesses and solid foundations

Below is the text of our latest newsletter.  This was the final component of a multi part newsletter on the top 5 business resolutions.  Read more below. 


It is the start of a new year and this seems as good a time as any to start a discussion on Resolutions.  My first resolution of 2014 is to avoid committing to resolutions.  My second resolution is that I will not start a multipart newsletter on resolutions.  I am not sure why the new year is designated as a time to make commitments to start or stop new habits.  Is this a more effective time than the middle of the summer – or perhaps September resolutions?  I guess it is a conflicting statement that I am resolving not to make resolutions and that will explain my thoughts.  In 2011 I started a series of newsletters discussing the top resolutions for the year.  When I started this process I was engaged and I liked the idea of having a series of newsletters that I could work on.  My first mistake was to create a 5-part newsletter.  That was difficult to manage when trying to work on other business activities.  The second challenge was trying to send out the newsletters in consecutive weeks.  When I started the newsletters I thought that it was a good idea and that the writing was interesting and engaging.  After the third newsletter I started to lose momentum and then after the fourth I felt that I had lost my audience.  I stopped short of completing my recommended resolutions.  I know that when I sit down to write a newsletter that I will have limited readers.  I send out about to about 500 names and have about 130 people that open the email.  Out of these select readers I suspect that only 30% actually spend time to read the thoughts.  Given these restrictions and limited time, I quickly rationalized that I could stop writing and no one would notice. 

This last spring I was stopped by my friend Ted Collier who mentioned that he was looking for the rest of the resolutions newsletters – he joked that his business was stuck because he didn’t have the other parts to the resolutions.  I was both surprised that anyone was really reading and secondly that anyone noticed that I had only written about 3 of the 5 ideas. 

Prior to delivering the other two resolutions, there are several important lessons that I have learned through this process that are nearly as important as my two year project to identify 5 ideas to change your business.  The first is to keep it simple.  Too often the process of identifying a new program, campaign or idea we allow too much complexity to enter the process.  If you have 5 ideas that need to be introduced, then a list of the ideas along with a simple description would often suffice.  The second lesson is that resolutions or lengthy articles fail due to lack of focus.  The third idea is that allowing an element of accountability (thank you Ted) into the process will keep you focused on the big picture and accountable to achieving results.  The final lesson is that achievement of major projects requires an element of focus.  How many great ideas or new projects have you let die on the vine due to lack of follow through and commitment to achieve your goals.  I have files and folders of ideas that I have started and not finished.  If I were still making resolutions I would commit to following important projects through to some result or get rid of them and move on to the next.  If I choose to start a multi-phase project then I will commit to completion. 

Since likely no one other than Ted remembers the original resolutions email here is the list:
  • Reduce debt
  • Improve gross margins and manage overhead
  • Diversify marketing
  • Improve customer service
  • Be proactive
  • Improve your training and orientation program
If you wish to have copies of any of the original emails - ask Ted Collier.  Actually, send me an email and I will forward if you are interested.

In this newsletter I will talk about the final two items on the resolutions list, being proactive and establishing a solid training and orientation program.   


Resolutions – Proactive businesses and solid foundations.

Often small businesses are reactive and let their days be dictated by someone else’s priorities.  Proper strategic planning will allow your businesses to be in charge of your daily activities and destination.  I have been in a position several times where I was not operating according to a plan.  My days were full and busy, yet I felt like I was not effective.  Jumping from one project to another, reading my email and finishing busy tasks occupied my days.  Steven Covey has a great philosophy on time management.  He breaks down activities by quadrants of importance and urgency.  Quadrant one is urgent and important, quadrant two is important but not urgent, quadrant three is not important but urgent and quadrant four is not important and not urgent.  By proactively managing your time, your company roles and responsibilities, and your company direction you will be able to effectively operate in quadrant one and quadrant two.  As a leader in your company when you are effectively managing your time, you are better able to help the rest of your teamwork on important high impact activities.  When you properly prioritize the company activities and direction then you can start to achieve real synergies in your business.

The first step in being proactive in your business is to carve out time to perform a proper strategic plan.  In this process you should identify the big picture goals and objectives in your business then create the plan that allows you to transform your operation. The plan will involve budgeting, personnel decisions, marketing strategy, benchmarks, departmental expectations and specific strategies.  This big picture look at your company will then allow you to properly assign roles and define expectations.  Your big picture goals can then be broke down to short-term campaigns and objectives.  When you look at your company, do you think you are operating effectively or are in constant crisis management?  Resolve this year to take control of your business and create a valuable resource for you and your family rather than a being a source of stress and frustration. 

The final resolution in this process is to look at your internal and external training process for new and existing employees.  Through your strategic planning process you will need to allocate funds and time for proper training.  Too many companies overlook both components of training or feel that it is not necessary or there is a fear that the training will simply raise the cost of employment for people that not long-term players.  I believe that if you do not arm your employees with the tools to do their job then they will underperform while working for your company and will then leave for other opportunities.  While it is true that well trained employees may hit a ceiling in your business and ultimately take their skills elsewhere, it is also true that you will greatly improve your company proficiency and your service offering through strong training systems.  I believe that the future belongs to the very competent. 

Your training plan needs to start with a solid orientation program.  Too often companies work to hire good or great people and then just turn them lose to do their jobs.  Maybe the orientation consists of a quick review of the handbook and how to fill out the timecards.  I recommend a strong orientation plan that covers each department in the company and how they interact, the company history, operating philosophies, review company mission, vision and credo, deeply explore your company customer service program, review and orientation programs, teamwork, company hierarchy and chain of command, job descriptions and expectations and more.  This is a substantial list that doesn’t even take into consideration the technical components of the jobs.  Once you have completed the big picture training then you can enter into the position specific technical training and any technical cross training subjects.  This process needs to be formally clarified and consist of reading, teaching and demonstration.  When you have completed this process you can start to identify a high level of expectation and have very high standards.  You will lose some employees that make it through the process – they will be offered more money from your competition.  At the same time you will achieve much higher levels of performance, job satisfaction and potential upwardly mobile employees.

Ongoing training needs to become the hallmark of your organization.  The first part of this training is accessing the outside training resources.  Allow your employees to participate in classes after they have achieved benchmarks in your company.  Have a robust internal program that encourages each of your employees to participate as trainers.  Discuss process, paperwork, equipment maintenance and other duties of their position.  Much may be redundant but it will assure not only teaching but also learning.  Develop a network of your peers in the industry.  You can use this network to have work exchanges.  Allow your employees to go work in other companies for several days to learn what they do differently and even solidify belief in your internal process and systems.

The process of resolutions should better be titled renewal.  It is important to have an annual plan that identifies the direction of your company and requires you to look at your personnel and process.  The plan that you put together should be viewed frequently and reviewed quarterly.  I would like to thank Ted Collier for his encouragement (and shame) in completing this set of newsletters. 


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