Lifestyle on the rocks? Are you the constraint or an obstruction?

Article By

Peter Wilkinson

Director - Tipping Point Advisory

How’s your relationship with the business? Is your business serving you or is it constantly demanding more than you can give? Instead of taking the easy road and blaming the business, it might be time to consider whether the constraint may actually be emanating from you?

Let’s visit a dysfunctional business – what do we typically see?

  • Duplicated effort
  • Gaps in responsibilities
  • Excessive time spent making decisions
  • Staff frustration with lack of efficiency
  • Staff struggling with tasks which do not match their skills
  • Unclear communication lines.

It’s a bit like a tangled bowl of spaghetti. So how did things get to where they’re at? Most owners start on the right track with their hiring strategies - the smartest ones even hire people better than themselves with complementary strengths to balance their own weaknesses.

Inevitably though, as things get busy and more complex and the sheer weight of work to be done starts to overwhelm the staff, extras are brought on to “plug the gaps” and manage the overflow. Sooner or later key work processes need a redesign and guess whose primary responsibility this is?

Effective and efficient businesses have the right people in the right roles with the right skills and experience. But where to start in sorting this out? Trying to micromanage your staff on a task by task basis is a very inefficient way of implementing change, apart from the fact that you will find yourself feeling like you’re surrounded by idiots who need you to do all the thinking for them (and at the same time what do you reckon your employees are thinking about you and your controlling behaviour?)

In short, you’re hard up against an immutable law that you can’t directly change others – your best chance lies in creating an effective environment for change. You need a robust PROCESS to enable change – that’s where business process reengineering (BPR) comes in.

The secret to effective BPR lies in the principle that business is comprised of 20 elements, with all bar one element being exactly the same for every business. These elements can be grouped into three Categories:

  • Administration (Infrastructure) = non-revenue generating SUPPORT activities
  • Revenue (Sales), Marketing, Delivery, Customer Service = REVENUE generating activities
  • Product, Positioning, Distribution = STRATEGY related activities

The key task is to measure how much Time each of the 20 business elements consumes across the business – information is power here – get as granular as possible by asking your employees to record their time per task spent across a typical week or two.

At this point you might need to deal with circumstances where processes, results and activity in your organisation are not transparent – in some cases staff actively keep this information hidden.

A word of caution too if you’re considering introducing external methods at this point for measuring and recording people’s time spent – people with long memories may start raising objections to perceived “scientific management” theory or Taylorism (named after its founder, Frederick Winslow Taylor) which was regarded as obsolete by the 1930s. (You might choose to counter with the fact that many Taylorist themes remain important parts of industrial engineering and management today).

Then collate the results. You might well find immediate opportunities for improvements via duplicated or non-value-added tasks etc. Just as importantly you can gain further insight by adding up the total hours spent in each of the three Categories, expressed as a percentage. The obvious question then arising is: How much time is the right time spent in each Category? Contextually the answer lies in Balance:

  • SUPPORT: Too much time increases costs which hits the P&L and profit; too little time impacts on customer service
  • REVENUE: Too much time stretches quality / throughput without adequate Support; too little time impacts cash flow
  • STRATEGY: Too much time impacts current cash flow; too little time impacts future years’ growth

Now armed with this process and feedback you have the tools to start actively managing the business rather than the business managing you. You might for instance choose to “load up” one of the Categories for a period of time, taking into account business variables such as:

  • Business size/structure/funding;
  • Industry type;
  • Business Intent (growth/no growth);
  • Management team capability;
  • Exit Strategy;
  • Economic circumstances (favourable / unfavourable).

And guess what? You’re also in a prime position to apply the same process in addressing that other elephant in the room: Where does all your personal time go in your typical day?

It’s often said that what shows up for us is a direct reflection of how we show up in the world. If you show up like most business owners, 20% of what you do every day in your business is directly contributing to 80% of your business results. That also means that 80% of your daily activities produce only 20% of your results.

So, where should you be spending more of your time?

Actually, the better question is: where should you be INVESTING more of your time?

You might discover that you’re spending most of your time responding to emails, answering the phone, invoicing, keeping the books, surfing the internet...these are NOT high income-producing activities.

How would you feel if you were investing your time in high income-producing activities like improving your current service, developing joint venture relationships, innovating your product or service so that it makes your business unique and superior, or acquiring various elements of proof to use in your marketing such as testimonials or research?

This is where you need to shift your energy... and these are the areas where you need to focus. Some of these you're good at... you have "unique abilities" that lend themselves to these specific types of activities. Others, you're not so good at – so delegate them! You need to leverage your time to enable you to work on higher value activities. You also need to create the space for the rest of your business to deliver on their requirements.

Let me know if you would like to know more about implementing effective business process reengineering (BPR) – all it will cost you up front is a good cup of coffee!

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