“I hear what you’re saying, but our business is different”.
As an employee, and now as a consultant, I have worked in a variety of industries; rail, trucking, TV infomercials, office supplies, IT, oil and gas, warehousing and distribution, the list goes on! I’ve heard those words so many times. Rarely are they correct. When you’re deep in the weeds of your business, it’s easy to believe the challenge you’re facing is unique; Nobody else sells right-handed, purple resin widgets, so no one else can possibly have this problem. But, if you take a longer, deeper look at the issue, search out the root cause of the challenge at hand, more often than not, it can by traced to a more generic, systemic issue that 1) has been seen before, possibly in your industry, but certainly in others, 2) has been answered before, and 3) might be creating other issues in your business.
Yes, industries are different in what they do, as are businesses. But the problems encountered by management and company owners, by and large, are very similar to those seen elsewhere. When you root out the true source of the issues faced by a company, they cross industry and company boundaries.
In my experience, after researching specific challenges faced by individuals, they can often be resolved by identifying and then addressing the root causes. With analysis of the issue, the problem falls into one of a relatively small number of categories; here is my top four list.
1. Does your organization have a mission and vision statement? Does the leader eat, live, and breathe them? Do you follow them and does everyone understand and work towards them? Often when interviewing individuals within a company, I will ask, what does the company do? The answers are always interesting, few people will quote the Vision, or Mission, but I will rarely get the same answer; we are in the software business, we are in the information business, we sell hardware with software installed. As a leader of a company, it is key to make sure everyone in your business is singing from the same song sheet. Understanding that, they will be able to solve a good number of the problems that arise.
2. Do you have the right people doing the right things? The easiest way to deal with a problem employee sometimes tends to be ignore the problem, hoping the issue will improve. I have not followed Jack Welch’s philosophy of firing the worst 10%, but I have found that dealing with a problem individual openly and fairly, while tough in the moment, has compounding effects once addressed. And I am not only talking about firing here, it could be a job reassignment, eliminating roadblocks and often, just listening!
3. Do you have good financial reporting? Old fashioned management accounting, understanding in detail your costs in a timely manner, reviewing them in detail, probing for errors and then acting on the results. Not knowing if a product or a service is profitable to your business can be catastrophic if not dealt with. Good accounting will help answer a lot of the problems you encounter on a daily basis.
4. Are processes well defined and does everyone in your organization follow them? If employees face every daily issue in a different way, or handle a repetitive issue differently each time, it is hard to grow a business. Structured processes are key to successful business, allowing management the time to focus on issues that are truly “not normal”. Building processes takes time and attention to detail, but the rewards once implemented are immediate and ongoing. One caution, processes need to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that necessary changes are made as the business changes!
All of the above concepts cross company and industry boundaries. They are not unique to your industry, or any other industry for that matter. Before thinking your situation is “unique”, take a good look at what the issue is and drill down and make sure you identify the root problem. I can assure you; it’s worth the time.
As consultants, Osborne Interim Management has encountered these kinds of challenges many times and has helped companies address their “unique” problems. If you find yourself in the same boat, connect with us, we would be more than happy to help.