Friday, March 14, 2014

Business/Organization Success: The Keys

In the seminar “The Three Keys to a Successful Business” we cover some critical components. They make the difference between optimal success and an “okay” business, or even more impacting, surviving or not surviving. Of course, these keys are not limited to business, but apply to any organization. In fact, they are helpful in normal, everyday, life.

Let me just share the model and the most important part, the foundation. We will talk about what the pillars represent in later issues.

The model looks like this:

The important foundation to all success is the willingness to learn. Business after business has declined or failed because leadership did not pay attention. For a long time the American automobile industry leaders ignored warnings and recommendations of people like W. Edwards (Bill) Deming, and the threat of foreign automobiles to the American market. However, the Japanese were willing to listen to Deming, and to learn. The results were almost devastating to American manufacturing.

On the other side of that coin, when Microsoft inundated the world with their brand of computers and operating systems, Apple came up with several innovations that not only kept them in the game, but actually elevated the company. They became very creative. They paid attention and were willing to learn.

The moral: Pay attention and be ready to change as needed, and when you think you know it all; you don’t.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Using what you have

[NOTE:  next month – Wednesday, February 26, 1:00-4:00 PM, I will be doing a workshop on the components of optimally successful businesses through the Business Development Center at Boise State University, at the Micron Business & Economics Building. To register, call 208 426-3875.]

You bought property in a high crime rate area. The purchase included a security fence, perimeter cameras, and a night watchman.  The first night there is a successful break in. The question raised: what happened?

A quick inquiry revealed that the night watchman was on vacation, the gate in the security fence was not locked, and the cameras were turned off. Your response is that someone really needs to wake up and use the system. Obviously, there is a problem here.

I see organizations that operate as the story above –  not in a physical/safety way, but in a not-paying-attention way. That is, they do not utilize the resources they have to assist them in optimizing their operation. Part of the problem is tied to success.

Historically, American businesses have operated as if they were on a flat, calm sea that would last. Upon discovering the sea was a bit more stormy, their current stabilizer has been maintaining extra cash – a practice with some negative issues.  There are other ways that cost very little.

First, spend money and effort on the people on the front lines. Make sure the people who meet customers, know the organization philosophy and are well trained in their jobs. I continually see and experience deficiencies in front-line people. To the public, they are your company. If that means you need to spend more time and money on training these folks, do it.

Second, go to department employees for suggestions. Don’t bring in an outside efficiency group. Start with the individuals in your own work force. They deal with the operations on a continual bases and over a longer period of time. You will save money, get some good advice, and develop stronger employee support.

Like the security story,  effectively using what you already have is sound practice in optimizing your success.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Getting more than what you paid for

What is the profession that: (1) usually requires five years of university study to become licensed; (2) is claimed as one of the most important profession in the United States and world; (3) has an average starting salary of less than $35,000 a year in 2/3 of the states?

If you guessed education, you were correct. Of course, if you were a public school teacher, this was no news to you. And if all things were equal there might not be a concern. However, all things are not equal. The average beginning salaries: business graduate (BS degree) $52,500; financial manager $123,260, paralegal (associate degree) $48,000; beginning plumber (some training)  $41,116; sanitation worker - $35,283.

The sad truth is that our country’s direction is dangerously out of focus. For example, a glance at the federal budget shows a huge defense budget compared to an almost indiscernible funding of education. (Translate that: our military pilots flying aircraft and weapon systems  designed in other countries – not a pretty picture.) 

Critics like to point out what they see as deficiencies in education. My father used to say you get what you pay for. Of course, no one has ever had an expensive root canal have to be redone, or a doctor that made a wrong diagnosis, or a pipe job by a licensed plumber that had leaks, or money advice that proved costly instead of productive, and so on. There are no jobs or professions with perfect, or even near perfect records. And, of course, teachers get to work with individuals from all background and competency levels.

Raising the national teacher base salary to $50,000 would not guarantee that everything would be perfect.  However, it would certainly attract competent individuals and be instrumental in keeping the best.

Do we get what we pay for in education? Actually, my father was to a degree wrong. In education, we actually get more than what we pay for. Imagine what we might get if we upscaled funding.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Don’t Forget – they do work for you

“I’m the boss and you do what I want, the way I want it! You work for me!” I barked at an employee – I was in my early twenties and manager of a small operation. An employee was doing what needed to be done, but not the way I would have done it or the way I preferred it be done. He protested and noted how the task was being taken care of with the acceptable results. He grumbled about it, but gave in to my demand.

I have learned much since that incident. Three concepts impact the more productive way I operate with employees today.

First: these employees do literally work for me. That is, what they do – their work – benefits me. Without them I would be in a world of hurt and could not do all of their jobs myself.

Second: the better I treat my employees, the better they work, and the more productive they are.
When I learned to really care about my people, their attitudes towards their work improved significantly. The overall success of the enterprise did too. It even showed up in their loyalty to me.

Third: I do not know the best way to do everything. Wonder of wonders, there are people who actually know more about their jobs than I do! Additionally, they can sometimes see flaws in the way I operate. I began to listen more and talk less. I learned that one of the smartest and most effective way to be successful, is to surround myself with the brightest and best, then continually listen to their observations and ideas. Another benefit is that they also start listening to me and my ideas.

There are a lot of disgruntled workers today. In fact, lately, they have been picketing for a fair minimum wage. They see the upper division folks and the CEO’s making large salaries and benefits, and American businesses making record profits, yet their pay checks show low wages. In a very real way that fact sounds like: ”we are the bosses, and you do what we say for the money we pay!”

Remember those people who work for you, and treat them like they are important; they are.

References you may want to review: Don’t Overlook the Trees for the Forest

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Put Your Money Where Your Face Is

We were sitting in a showroom making some choices. The job of the representative meeting with us was to facilitate our decisions. Unfortunately, there were times when she switched hats, and acted as if she were the buyer. She expressed strong preferences and tried to push her opinion into our determinations. This happened enough during the meeting to become annoying. In fact, my companion became quite irritated, and stated that she would not meet again with this person.

As a business consultant, my habit is (1) to be a fly on the wall and observe what is positive and what could be perceived as negative (2) determine any underlying philosophies, practices, or procedures that contribute either positively or negatively to the organization, (3) determine what improvements might accelerate the greatest success, and (4) determine an actual process to make them work.

Dealing with the showroom person several things came to mind.

First, this individual represents the company – an organization of several hundred people. That is a critical fact to remember. You may have the most wonderful and competent group in the galaxy, but if the people on the front line meeting customers are poorly trained, negative, argumentative, or do not operate appropriately, your customers will never experience your proficiency.

Second, the underlying training and support philosophy is probably backwards. That is, it  puts very little expenditures with the people who work most directly with the customer and more with the top management.  That is kind of like buying a fast and expensive car and running on worn-out tires. No matter how fast the car can go, if the tires blow out not only does that put an end to the advantage of a fast car, it could be very dangerous to the point of destroying the car and driver. Ineffective up-front people can take down million dollar businesses.

Third, turning that situation around is inexpensive and uncomplicated. The key here is training and supervision. There is always a temptation to replace workers in an effort to find the right person. Even the “right” person needs attention. Additionally, replacing personnel is more expensive than is usually thought (see youtube  determining the actual cost of hiring).

Finally, don’t just do the traditional training program. Usually, this first training is more mechanical – how to do their job. The important part in this scenario is the follow up that is geared to the needs of the individual. In the case noted, the lady basically knows her job. However, she needs coaching on how to be more effective.

I always recommend investing your money with front line people.  They are how your organization is known. They are the inviters or the turner-awayers, they are the company representatives. They are your “face.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It’s the Little Things

“You’re good to go,” said Phil – of Phil’s Auto in Caldwell, Idaho.  I was about to take a long trip. Before I left, I wanted someone to check out my high milage car.“What’s the charge,” I asked. “Nothing,” said Phil. “I must owe you something,“ I responded.” “Nope,” was Phil’s comeback. Phil, who has fixed my cars for about twenty years, is not only an excellent mechanic, but a smart business man. He knows that the little things mean a lot.

“Little things” are not really little, but they don’t amount to much in money or time. They are the gestures, thoughtful comments, acts, and the many kinds of consideration that are positive and seemingly inconsequential.

A realtor, Charlene Bragg, came to our house, spent time trying to help, but was not selected to represent  us. She did nothing wrong. But because of a connection and a need better met by someone else, we did not use her. Her response was a nice note thanking us for allowing her to be of some service. She wished us well in our quest. Would we recommend her to someone who might be trying to buy or sell property? Absolutely, she would be at the top of the list. Her note was unnecessary but showed a maturity – she wasn’t upset because she had spent her time and was not selected  –  as well as a courteous consideration. Anyone could do what Charlene did; but many don’t; Charlene does.

We are blasted with loud ads and continual, unwanted, pop-ups. These overbearing intrusions are negative stimuli to me. They glare and push, and not only miss  the boat, to me, they are not even in the ocean!  It is the little things that make the big differences in success and life – the smiles, the thanks, the little courtesies expressed, and services provided.

So thanks to the waitress who’s enthusiasm was so genuine and positive, that I want to go back just to be part of the experience, and the car salesman who didn’t try to push me into a car, but merely made sure he was available and would help if I would like information or assistance.

Pay attention to the little things –  they are not really little. As Phil reminded me, as he declined my offer to pay him: “you’ll be back.” And I will.