You invested in your brand, there were months (some cases years) of planning, and in the early stages there were not enough hours in the day but now you are in business. Something that used was unintentionally done is no longer being completed. The name was different when you did it. It was asking your friends, family, and first customers how your idea sounded or if your product appealed to them. At that time, it was mainly asked out of self-doubt. You took the feedback then adapted and changed. Your feedback now takes many forms, you may try to figure out what the issue is but it has become harder to pinpoint. You now have less time than you did before and while things are working, you have a long to-do list. You put band-aids as temporary fixes but now those band-aid processes are deeply integrated. To make life even more complex even your employees have added their own band-aids.
This may sound familiar because it is a common issue within business. Over time business can start to stagnate internally. Whether it is a product display that was painstakingly crafted that never seems to look quite right, an internal process that feels like it is one more step from breaking, or a product line that seems to have lost its production steam. Business evaluations are often the first thing to go by the wayside when to-do-lists grow. Ironically when a business has not evaluated themselves in a while, minor issues compound which makes finding the time to complete one seem impossible.
Many business use consultants who work with process improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma, Agile, JIT, or the many other process improvement acronyms. I will likely get private messages from all the Black Belts out there saying Six Sigma is the only truly effective way. While I understand, and have worked within Six Sigma (and some others), one of the largest drawbacks to these methodologies is the buy-in required by employees and at times incentives to engage. Employees are afraid of losing their job, losing the comfort of the known, or the feeling of value by the task they complete, so they can withhold key steps. Everyone loves the title of “subject matter expert” but if that subject goes away then they may feel like they have nothing. This makes process improvement and business evaluations long and costly from a traditional sense. Do not get me wrong there is value of continued process improvements and sometimes these methodologies are best approach. If you have the budget by all means they are worth every penny (and why we do what we do). However, this does not help a small business who can’t afford the higher costs associated with long-term plans.
You may wonder how to complete an effective business evaluation if you don’t have the big budget. You may not have the money to carry out or send one of your employees to get certified in one of these systems but there are some simple things you can do to help you in the short-term. These are universal and can adapt to your industry.
- Fostering an environment of collaboration and process improvement. This may sound easy but I see many businesses fail in this regularly. As simple as a suggestion box and based off those suggestions think about creating a volunteer groups of people to come up with better ways of doing things. Some of the greatest ideas I have seen have come out of small groups tasked with improving a process. (While a consultant can greatly increase the productivity in these groups, getting the right group together can have great results.)
- Processes in theory work flawlessly but in practice that is another story. Get to know what your employees actually do. Many business owners and managers are very removed from the processes their employees/direct reports are doing. If you never shadow an employee how do you know what you expect is getting done is actually getting done?
- Manage your employee morale. Sometimes a “bad” employee just needs a redirection or be given a task that may interest them. While this may not work all the time, if there are more “bad” employees than good ones it is indicative of a larger problem. Things that are good company barometers are: productivity, customer reviews, and lack of healthy banter in the work place. While too much banter can mean low workload, too little means your employees are likely overworked. I can often tell walking into a business if the stress level is high because everyone is so focused and you can hear a pin drop. More times than not those are the places that need the most process improvement. If the budget allows, create time for minor employee events. Do anything to help keep morale up because if it goes you may lose some of your best talent.
- Know when you need help. If overtime is now becoming normal time or inventory is a nightmare it is time to hire. However, know that a poor process can cause your staff collectively to lose time that could amount to a few new hires. Be proactive and explore if you need outside help. The short-term investment, can be offset with the long-term savings.
By keeping your mindset on business evaluation and striving to improve you can effectively keep your business from stagnating. Even without a consultant you can still get results if your are determined. Hold on here we are deterring you from utilizing us!? Not really. If you succeed, we succeed. What do we mean by that? You may see short-term improvements that enable you to budget for us to come in and bring them to the next level. It is the difference between a Kia and a Mustang. A Kia can get you where you need to go, but a Mustang can get you there faster. If you need support and need some outside perspective please feel free to reach out to us. We offer competitive rates with a diverse background, personalized packages tailored to your unique business while keeping your budget in mind.