We’ve worked on numerous client projects, from less complex one-off marketing campaigns to the integration of new policies and the overhaul of existing business processes. The latter being the subject of this particular blog post.
In the past few years we seem to have had our fair share of clients enlisting this type of help, but in each case the depth of the problem hasn’t been fully appreciated by the board at the very outset.
To overcome this and to reduce the risk of the client thinking they’re not getting what they are paying for, it’s very important for both the client and ourselves to define precisely what it is that’s in need of attention. Once identified we can set out a plan of works, agreeing with the shareholders the extent of the problem, reach a verbal agreement and sanction any plans through a written proposal that confirms the extent of our responsibilities. Without this it would be all too easy to work on one area, whilst the client believes we should be working on another. Remember, this is a process of developing the right teamwork ethos from day one, from that first client meeting/introduction, we too are part of the team and in order to be successful as a whole, it’s critical to the business that everyone understands their role and their responsibilities.
Most of our clients have been in operation for many years, often 30+, but during years of increased sales, rarely do business owners look at the operational requirements of the business in terms of manpower, instead they focus on the tangible elements such as machinery or material usage. But without taking a closer look at manpower (something we’ve noticed which is typical of many small manufacturing businesses), simply buying a new machine or changing a material type will not resolve the deeper issues faced by the company. In fact in some cases it’s possible to see these problems being exacerbated through the purchase of a new machine.
Often the problems can be traced back to the day these employees joined the business. Invariably we notice that employers at this level adopt two out of three possible routes for employing people. They either, identify the need for a vacancy and quickly fill the post with the first ‘experienced’ person who fits the need, or they bring in an inexperienced person with the intention of training them up. The latter of these usually starts well but as other business pressures mount they find it difficult to maintain the process.
Over time we see familiarity becoming the small business owners’ biggest threat in terms of manpower. They learn about ‘Paul’s children and ‘Christine’s sick mother as their employees become a part of the owners ‘extended family’; the ‘power’ in the relationship has changed completely. Don’t get me wrong I’m all in favour of a supportive working environment, but not at the expense of the job being completed professionally. Perhaps this is just one of the reasons why our clients appoint us to make changes they often find difficult to do themselves.
It’s not just limited to managing the employees though. We also find that the board and the management team need supporting too. It could be coaching on the handling and processing of enquiries, improving their ratio of wins to losses, re-structuring their roles, identifying and eradicating distractions and helping them focus on the things that matter most…the numbers, all of which assist in the development of building a team and channelling effort. Gradually, they learn to see their business in an entirely new way as we’ve had testified. They no longer see it as a drain on their energy but the reason to use their energy.
Gaining an exposure to these areas and many more takes time, but only through doing this can we establish that the steps we introduce aren’t curtailed somewhere else within the business.
Challenging each person to tackle the job in a different manner, encouraging them to do the best they can within their role and yet still making the most of the company’s budgets isn’t about increased spending, it’s more a case of streamlining. Once complete seeing the way the people change within the business is extremely satisfying, it’s like learning to sail offshore. At first you’re a complete novice, the boat seems complex but gradually through training you begin to understand the difference between the warps (ropes), halyards and sheets and the effects of the wind and tides on the hull, sails and rudder. Gradually you and the rest of the crew, often people you may never have met before start to work together, adjusting the trim of the sails in support of the helmsman, so he/she is not fighting with the wheel. Then you see the boat begin to pick-up speed and together you start to work as one unit, whatever the task on board.
Businesses are no different, they can learn a lot from sailing, I can testify to that. So if your company needs to re-establish new working patterns, changes in personnel, the development of new processes, closer working relationships between different departments and you feel that our help is needed to implement such changes, speak to us and we’ll see how a day’s sailing can help to underpin these key messages. The skill and talent of an individual may win a contract but only through a concerted team effort will you ever maintain them!