What is the most important thing to be done in a business?
Is it creating the vision?
Is it setting strategy?
Is it managing people?
Is it building a supply chain?
Well, all of these are important – but perhaps the biggest single thing to be done is to build relationships – with all stakeholders – other managers, investors, employees, customers, and people in the local communities affected by the organisation’s activities. All of these have an interest in what the company does – and how it does it; some have the ability to influence the outcomes. We need to share information with them, understand their concerns, recognise the contributions they have to make and listen to them when making decisions – especially those decisions that affect them. We should treat them as a valuable resource – able to improve the decisions we take and increase our chances of success. We need to recognise when conflict may occur – and take steps to avoid or minimise it. If we build positive relationships, we do indeed maximise the chances of success – and we build trust and confidence.
If you are unsure of the quality of the relationships you have with your stakeholders, or not confident in your ability to build positive relationships, then you owe it to yourself – and your business – to seek out support, training or other forms of help that can transform your ability to build those positive snd supportive relationships.
It might be the most important thing you ever do!
We are often asked to reflect on ‘what we think’. But, rarely, on how we think.
Many of us are charged with making improvements, with innovation, with important planning and decision-making. How we think – and how well we think – is therefore important.
Yet most of us don’t know. We think how we think – how we have always thought. We haven’t had thinking lessons. We developed our thinking processes based on our education – but, even there, there were no lessons on thinking.
So, we may think illogically, with bias, with pre-conceived (perhaps out-of-date) notions and on the basis of insufficient or imperfect information. If we have the occasional ‘flash of brilliance’, we congratulate ourselves – forgetting that the rest – the majority – of our thinking is far less than perfect.
So, perhaps it is time to do some basic research (reading) about critical and creative thinking – and start to think about how you think, why you think like you do – which leads to why you behave like you do. It might change what you do (because you’ve changed why you do it).
“Our people are our greatest assert:”. So say most companies. Yet few of them behave as if they really believe it.
They fail to involve, empower – even train and develop – their employees and then are surprised when those employees fail to maximise their contribution – if they stay at all … they are much more likely to seek an employer who will look after them.
So, treating your employees well makes all kinds of sense – especially financial. The costs of poor performance coupled with the costs of high labour turnover might break your business. they will certainly make you less competitive.
So, take the time to think about how you might improve the participation and performance of your employees. It makes sense!
I have spent much of my life urging companies to become more efficient – and helping them to do do.
But, of course, I know that some do not go far enough.
Becoming more efficient should not be an end in itself.
Becoming efficient creates capacity – it gives an organisation the headroom to start thinking about doing different things, adding more value, innovating.
So, regard your journey to greater efficiency as a stepping stone. Refine your business to create that capacity to transform it in the longer term.
Recruitment is perhaps the most important function you ever undertake
If you don’t recruit talented, skilled, flexible staff, you can’t expect your staff to exhibit talent, skill and flexibility.
But you also have to create an organisation in which that talent, skills and flexibility can thrive and grow.
You have to impose your will ,your way of thinking, your values … but leave ‘room’ for your staff to demonstrate their own values, their own commitment, their own drive.
Then, think about what you are trying to achieve, communicate this strongly (and often) to the team, set them goals and targets – and hold them accountable for their performance in achieving those goals and targets.
Your job is to identify barriers to high performance – and remove them; to engage and motivate the staff, to reward good performance – and deal appropriately with underperformance. Not forgetting the importance of recruiting the right staff in the first place, of course.
All of this is not easy … but it is necessary.
If you run an organisation – and run it well, how do you manage to keep it running well when you are not there. This can certainly be a problem for small, startups and growing organisations that do not have an established management structure.
First of all, let’s hope you have recruited well – employing trustworthy, conscientious staff.
Secondly, let’s hope you have trained your staff well – in the basics and in the less common tasks that can emerge as difficulties.
Thirdly, let’s hope that your staff show initiative and have problem-solving skills, so they can deal with the unexpected (back to a combination of recruitment and training – and an atmosphere in which they feel they have the freedom to exercise their discretion.
And finally, let’s hope you have created an organisation that has a culture based on shared, core values – which can be used to shape decisions and actions.
So as you can see, how the business runs in your absence depends entirely on you – and the way you have built the organisation, its structure and its culture. if you are not sure all of these are in place, you’d better start thinking and acting now to ensure these basic building blocks of a high productivity organisation are in place.
Should we focus our improvement efforts on improving the quality of what we do … or in improving the productivity
It doesn’t matter.
Productivity and Quality are inextricably linked. Improving quality adds value to goods or services which adds to the top line of the productivity ratio.
Improving quality through systematic analysis and investigation of both product and process also throws up productivity improvements.
Improving quality and productivity both require fresh thinking and innovation.
An organisation that commits to quality, of necessity, commits to productivity. One might even consider that one (a focus on improving quality) means improving the quality of what we do. The other (a focus on improving productivity) means improving the quality of how we do things.
So, go ahead. Do one or do both. You will end up improving your productivity.
Do you know how well your competitors are doing – not in terms of their results but operationally? They might have better results but be a worse performer because they are bigger than you. They may be at a disadvantage in terms of their location, access to labour, materials or energy … yet still have similar or better results.
What we see in public figures is the ‘tip of the iceberg’. We need to take a look underwater to properly judge their performance.
There may be a benchmarking club, or an employers’ federation that can show us at least a little more of the iceberg.
It’s definitely worth finding out what we can. . If we know, for example, that a competitor’s distribution costs are lower than ours, it can motivate us to address ours systematically and seriously,
Knowledge is rarely value less. Take every opportunity to find out more about your competitors – even networking with them and listening to anecdotal evidence can be helpful.
When running a race, an athlete has to be in peak condition, with no injuries. They also have to be aware of the capabilities of their opponents and set their tactics accordingly (especially for long distance races).
Well, business competition is rather similar.
A business organisation has to be in peak condition with no significant performance drawbacks. They then must be aware of what their competitors are doing and set out their strategy and tactics accordingly.
So, if the two situations have similarities can one learn from the other? Can the business organisation learn from how the athlete prepares for his/her racing?
The answer is ‘Yes’.
The athlete trains often, to a pre-determined training regime, takes care with diet, makes sure they warm up before activity and cools down after activity.
Now I’ve set the scene .. it’s up to you how you translate those tasks into actions your business could take to ‘train’ for improved competitiveness.
Let’s get ready to win some medals!
Remember ergonomics? Not many people seem to.
I often see products that look like the designer has no idea of the shape and size of a typical person. They may have been designed for an average human being of the 1940s … but not thew 21st century.
Think seats on public transport, on aeroplanes, in cars. You have to squeeze yourself into an impossibly small space – especially if the next seat is already occupied.
And control systems and and ‘user interfaces’ which are too often user-hostile rather than user-friendly.
And don’t get me started on instruction manuals – translated from the original Japanese or Chinese into modern gobbledegook.
People change gradually from one size to another – or one frame of mind to another. There should be plenty of time for designers to ‘catch up’. This would involve a little more thought – but in addressing control systems, user comfort, user understanding, ease of use and so on could significantly improve productivity.