What Does Your Business Stand For

Most business owners/executives are rightly concerned about the customers’ perception of their business.  They work very hard at trying to manage that perception through their marketing program.  The really successful ones have a very clear vision of what their business is about and what it stands for.  From there, they make sure that all communication and customer interaction reflects that vision.  Now, being human, mistakes are made in this endeavor.  The key is to get back on track immediately.

In order to do this in your business, answer this one question:  “What do you stand for?”  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  It really takes a lot of self examination, especially for a leader of a small business like me.  This is because every step you take has a direct reflection on you.  Plus, if you actually stand for something, there may be potential customers that aren’t comfortable with that and decide not to patronize your business.  It’s tough self-love and can be risky, but critical to identifying what your business stands for.

When I purchased my auto repair business two years ago, I thought long and hard about the experience I wanted to provide for our clients with respect to what I wanted our image to be; what I personally stood for.  Believing firmly that God put me in this place at this time, I believed that the business was my opportunity to do His work through this business.  I made that clear by putting the Christian Fish symbol on our company’s sign and a reference to my faith on our business cards.

Clearly, there will be people that don’t come to our shop because they don’t believe what I believe.  So be it.  That’s their right.  I can look in the mirror and know that we stand for something good and right AND our clients know that.  That gives us a baseline from which to operate and makes it clear What We Stand For.

Improve or Die

You’ve either worked for, read about or know someone who worked at a company that made a ton of money for a long time doing the same things they’d always done. Then, all of the sudden, the market/industry changed. Now, efficiency and higher levels of customer service and speed are what it takes to compete. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have some or all of those attributes. This was mostly because they spent years or even decades without any quantum changes in their processes. Now what?

It’s time to get on the process improvement band wagon. You know; the stuff you’ve been reading about for years. It doesn’t matter what set of tools you use. My personal preference is to embrace Lean Enterprise because of its common sense thought process regarding waste elimination. I’ve found that every person in the organization can grasp its concepts. There’s also Six Sigma, TQM and a number of hi-bred programs. Get to learning and get improving. Not doing so will seal the fate of your organization.

More to come on this topic.

Integrity

As I watch, with my mouth likely hanging open, at the lies, vitriol, closed mindedness and overall lack of character going on in Washington, I find my self hoping this does not pour over as normal behavior into the rest of society. Now, Washington’s behavior shouldn’t surprise me. They continue to under-perform and fail to meet already low expectations on a daily basis (just look at their approval rating). However, I’m still amazed by the behavior of people who are supposedly adults; supposedly leaders.

As you look to set the course of your business, use the Washington example of what NOT to do. Whether you are the CEO, VP or the Mail room Manager:

DO treat people with respect and dignity.
DO communicate frequently and clearly with your team and your customers (internal and external).
DO maintain calm in tough situations. Your team is looking to be led.
DO lead by example.
DO involve your team in decisions that affect their day to day activities.
DO have something else in your life more important than work (your team probably does).
DO say please and thank you.
DO have open and honest dialog.
DO be a person of good character.
DO insist on absolute integrity from your team.

Let Washington be Washington. Emulate someone better.

The Three P’s

People, Processes and Products.

Simply put, if you have excellence  in all three of these areas, your organization is bound to be successful.  If you have been around business for any length of time, this isn’t exactly a revelation.  However, it keeps it simple (a common theme of mine).   When you are wondering why your results aren’t quite what you want them to be, come back to the three P’s to re-center yourself as a leader.  Analyze each of the P’s and find out where the weakness(s) lie.

People – We all want to hire the best people.  While it’s not easy and we do make mistakes from time to time, having a thorough and systematic hiring process will limit those errors.  Beyond hiring, we have to be aware that our business is changing.  Are our people keeping up with the changes?  Can they still handle the new environment?  Has the business outgrown them?  These are some of the things to consider to ensure that the three P’s stay in balance.

Processes – If you have great people, but the processes within which they work are not up to snuff, the opportunities for failure increase significantly.  Conversely, you can be successful with air-tight procedures and some average people.  Now, I wouldn’t recommend a whole staff of mediocrity because that’s asking for trouble.  However, the power of an excellent process multiplies every team member’s ability to succeed.

Products – This is where the rubber meets the road.   Do you have products/services that customers actually want to purchase?  Do they see enough value in your offerings that they will pay a profitable price or are you selling a commodity?  You can make money either way, but a commodity product requires a low-cost operation with a much smaller margin for error.  In my experience, a high-value product is a lot more fun.  You can afford a few more key people and the helps prevent your team from burning out.  Again, this is something that needs to be monitored.  What used to be a high-value product, my become commoditized one day.  It’s important to recognize this and be ready with new high-value offerings or be prepared to adjust your cost structure rapidly.

Our mothers used to tell us to mind our P’s and Q’s.  Keep it simple and just focus on the P’s.

Let’s Be Clear

If you are a business leader, how well are your team members aligned with your vision?

Are you sure?  When was the last time you asked them about their overall reason for being employed there?  If you are like most, it’s been a while.  When was the last time you actually stood in front of your team and specifically and succinctly explained to them why they are there with you?  Probably as long, if not longer.

This is a very common problem in the businesses that I’ve work in and been associated with from the outside.  Oddly, it’s one of the easiest things to correct.   Get your team together for 15 minutes next week and tell them what your vision is.  You should know that like the back of your hand; after all, it’s your vision.  Then talk about it every chance you get.  Leave no doubt as to what the company is trying to accomplish.  You and only you can do this.  Don’t leave it to your direct reports (you probably haven’t been clear with them either).  Don’t leave it to the line managers.  They are usually trying to get today’s orders out the door.  You must own this one.  It cannot be delegated.

Once you’ve done it, don’t turn around and change it.  You will confuse everyone and make the business more complex than it needs to be.  Anything you add to the business needs to fit under your big picture vision.  That’s how you keep it clear and avoid constant changes.

Keep your team moving in the same direction with a consistent, clear message.   And do it now.

What Happened to Courtesy?

Is anyone else tired of people hiding behind their email?  It was bad enough when voice mail was created (yes, I was there when it all began).  With voice mail, we were pretty sure they got the message since we recorded it ourselves. If they said they didn’t, it was a safe bet they were lying.

With email, they can always tell us, “I never received your email.”  It’s tough for us mere mortals to disprove.  What a bunch of baloney.

Have some courtesy and respond when someone emails you.   I’m guilty, too, so I’m not on an I’m-better-than-you-are kick.  Just send a few words to acknowledge receipt.  If you don’t want what they are peddling or you simply don’t have time to address what they are inquiring about, TELL THEM.  Put on your big boy/girl pants and respond with the facts.  Be humane, but factual.  If they can’t handle that, then they need to put on their big boy/girl pants and get over it.

Stop being a coward and treat people with a little common courtesy.  You can’t possibly be THAT busy.

No Time Like The Present

If this equal opportunity recession has had any impact on your business at all (and I suspect that it has), you probably are finding that you have some excess capacity.  Most likely, you’ve dealt with that by reducing headcount or at least reducing hours of operation.  If you’ve been seriously impacted, you are probably selling excess equipment.

However, before you let every useful person go, why not reallocate the resource to examining your processes?  All work is a process so, unless you have the leanest organization in the history of TPS, you have some improving to do.  Start with having a team look at your most expensive cost center.  There are probably a dozen or more pieces of low-hanging fruit that you can pick.  Make sure the team has clear goals and expectations.  Give them the leadership they need, but don’t smother them.  Also, commit the resources needed for them to be successful.  Remember, this is about getting ready for your future; you know…the turnaround that will happen.  It will happen, trust me.  Once the team has finished, move on to another cost center and do the same.  The momentum will build and, before you know it, continuous improvement will be part of your culture.  Then when you do pick up, you will have a leg up on your competition in terms of cost and service level.  You and your customers will be smiling.

If you don’t think you have the talent in-house, there are a number of places you can turn.  There are traditional consulting firms, accounting firms and Lean experts.  Another choice is the rapidly growing are of Business Coaching.  They typically partner with you for the long-term and help you avoid adding headcount while still getting the advice and assistance that you need.  However you get the help, just do it!

Why wait to improve your business?  Get your business back in shape.  There’s no time like the present.