Have you heard about Agile? It’s the hot new business system, replacing Six-Sigma as the most sought-after resume tag. When it comes to successful businesses, it’s out with the black belt, and in with the scrum master. Like most business systems, Six-Sigma was doomed to eventually fall out of vogue; after all, Six-Sigma took over from Total Quality Management, and there were plenty of systems before that.
There’s plenty to like about Agile, but if you’ve got a problem in your business, implementing Agile (or Six Sigma, or Total Quality Management for that matter) probably isn’t going to fix it. As tempting as it is to dive into a new “operating system” and test it out for a while, what’s really most important is to gain the ability to say changes will happen, and then actually make the changes happen. Management processes are like fashion for people who don’t like clothes. The trends change every season, and occasionally they’re so bad that they’ll elicit laughter from future generations looking back at them. The basics are always in style – but people have known about them for so long that they never earn the attention they deserve.
Despite their monotony, you still need the basics before you can dive into the trendy stuff. Even if you and your employees work hard at the basics for years, you’re not going to get a new badge to put on LinkedIn. What you will get is a business that runs smoothly enough to produce results consistently.
Here are three critically-important, fundamental business practices that are often pushed to the side for the bright shiny object:
Deciding What You Will Not Do
If you have a business that does one specific thing, that’s probably a bad sign. Over time, all revenue streams dry up. History is littered with huge companies that did one thing well, including Kodak, Xerox, Blockbuster Video and Tower Records. Even if your industry boxes you in somewhat, there’s room to serve different client bases or offer different service levels.
That being said, General Electric is worth one-quarter of what it was in 2008 because it decided to diversify into everything from banking to healthcare to aircraft engines. The whole point of a company is to get a group of people who do a particular thing well and lead them towards producing something great. When you’re focused on a dozen different industries, you’re not really focused on any of them.
If you’re successful, opportunities to enter new markets will find their way to you. Your clients will suggest new services. The marketing or sales team will discover an unserved market. The owner of a struggling company wants to know if you’re interested in purchasing it. A huge part of success is being able to say no to almost all of these opportunities.
It’s hard to know exactly what you will be doing in 10 years, because it’s hard to know what the market will look like. But if you don’t have a pretty good idea of what you aren’t going to be doing, then all of these opportunities will be distractions, and you’ll pursue dozens of dead ends with capital that could have been put back into the divisions that are already producing great results.
It’s also a major advantage in sales and marketing. Sales staff can quickly disqualify prospects by confirming if they fit your target market – if they don’t, there’s no point in pursuing them. And marketing can build messaging designed to resonate with a very specific audience, which is likely to be much more effective than targeting as many people as possible with the same generic message they’re getting from everyone else.
Getting the Right People (in the Right Places)
Every company has a different culture. It’s influenced by the desires of leadership, but it’s also influenced by the skills and priorities required in the company’s industry. The single biggest factor in a company’s culture, however, is the people who work inside of it. Jim Collins discusses this in great length in his well-researched book Good to Great, where he uses the analogy of getting the right people in the right seats.
If you have the wrong people at your business, or if people are in the wrong seats, there’s not a business system that can fix your problems until you get that fixed. There are plenty of ways a person can be in the wrong seat. It could be a highly skilled technician that’s not working out as a manager. Or it may be someone who has outgrown their role but doesn’t have an advancement opportunity at the company. It might even be that they were a great fit for a small team work environment but aren’t a great fit for their team now that it’s grown.
There are plenty of reasons a person can land at the wrong company, too. It could be a foundational issue such as a lack of integrity, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Maybe they’d be a better fit for a company with more structure, or maybe they need more spontaneity. They might need more flexible hours, or they need certainly in their schedules.
People with integrity and empathy issues cause their own problems, and you should part with them as quickly as possible. Other than those employees, however, it’s generally not an employee’s fault that they’re in the wrong seat or at the wrong company. They were promoted beyond their capabilities or hired into a company that wasn’t a fit for them. That’s why business leaders should take some responsibility in helping misplaced employees find a seat that suits them well – whether that’s inside of your business or someone else’s. But until you’ve got the right people in the right seats, the bus isn’t likely to move forward easily.
Gaining the Discipline of Consistency
What’s the most important metric in your business that employees have nearly total control over? It might be whether you hit the monthly target for sales calls, or the number of “dropped balls” in the customer service department.
Whatever that metric is, do you routinely hit it? If not, that’s an excellent opportunity to prove to your employees just what they’re capable of accomplishing. Set a goal. Make sure the goal is realistic. Then make it clear that the goal is now the expectation, every month going forward.
With that metric being prioritized so heavily, your team is likely to hit the goal with regularity, and they’ll gain the confidence that comes with the discipline of consistency. After a few months of success, slowly introduce more goals, including some important ones where you don’t have total control of the situation.
Consistency is paramount in business. Any good business system has a set of metrics that determine how your business is performing – whether you’re profitable, and whether you’re likely to be profitable in the near future. If you implement a system before employees are accustomed to routinely meeting and exceeding major goals, those metrics won’t look good, and it’s likely to demoralize your team further.
Once a company has the discipline to focus on the most critical metrics and hit them regularly, then a business system can help you direct that focus towards the metrics that really matter for your business. But if you don’t want to make your employees go crazy, pick one and stick with it – hopefully, for at least a decade.
To learn how WingSwept can help your company make technology decisions that support your long-term business strategy, call us at 919-460-7011 or email us at Team_WingSwept@WingSwept.com.