If your company was competing in a beauty pageant, would it still be standing on stage and in contention during the final judging, or would your company have sent the judges into convulsions of horror at the state of your operating procedures?
To help you answer the question, think back to the last time you assessed your company’s operational procedures? Have they ever been reviewed? Are you the only one standing on stage with unkempt hair, dressed in an outfit from the turn of the century and speaking in ancient Greek?
How long ago did you update your look, weeding out outdated processes and streamlining your business structures? Has your office been running on sacred cows, antique methodologies or a ‘this is the way it’s always been done’ mentality? Is your company an ugly duckling that has yet to grow into a beautiful swan?
Like anyone destined to wear the crown, commitment and preparation is required. Developing a culture of continual business improvement takes time. But the rewards you receive far outweigh any short-term issues.
The benefits of a business improvement culture can increase your bottom line and revenue, improve staff engagement and retention, brand and customer loyalty and ultimately your market share. Or it can be as simple as giving you an extra hour a day with your family. Anyone looking in would want to join you, to try to emulate you and become as popular as a miss congeniality winner.
Continual improvement means discovering a better way of doing what you do; of making something easier, or faster, or cheaper, or more enjoyable, or more adaptable, or manufactured with fewer defects or reworking. A business improvement culture helps a business operate as a cost-effective, revenue-producing, loyalty-breeding, employer of choice. A beautiful contestant with an action plan and support in place to achieve it.
Where to begin?
Any smart person would encourage you to short cut the process by finding a mentor, studying another business or reading biographies of people who already have a history of making improvements, moving forward and overcoming obstacles.
Use your eyes and ears to take stock of how your business is running right now. Look for bottlenecks in your operation and listen to the recommendations and complaints of your staff and customers.
‘How?’ you may ask.
Watching for orders pilling up in one department; or bouncing back and forth between departments can identify that further information needs to be captured on your order forms. It can help identify training needs for your staff, or outdated and ineffective procedures.
Tracking customer orders through each department will help you identify double handling, communication issues and gaps in your system.
Time how long a customer order takes from order to delivery in a straight-through process. Remove the time it sits in people’s in-trays, or waiting for sign-off and approvals. When you have the time from start to finish, look back and work out why any delays in the process are happening and what can be done to minimise them.
Document your existing procedure on a white board with a flow chart. Linking each step helps you clarify and visualise your process. Constructing/designing a new procedure the same way ensures that your new procedure will achieve the desired results before you implement it.
View recurring complaints or problems as an immediate improvement opportunity and a chance for staff to contribute to finding the solution. You don’t receive any complaints? Press ahead anyway by generating some feedback with customer and staff polls and surveys. Find out in what ways other people think you can improve.
Leadership support is critical to building successful business improvement strategies. At the same time asking your staff to actively review their day-to-day procedures, helps encourage initiative and self-development.
Start today and ask the questions:
‘Is there a better way?’
‘What could we do better?’
Start building and soon your company will be wearing the crown.
Belinda Cook is the owner of Success Strategy Series which offers eBooks on simple, easy to use strategies, encouraging continual improvement.
Photo: bruceberrien (Flickr)