Understanding the steps to improvement and more profitability, is a critical part of the process for any business owner. In a recent article, we discussed the importance of defining core values and the guiding principles of your company. Then, we tackled the issue of how to set yourself apart to become the contractor of choice by providing services that exceed customer expectations. Now, let’s identify the pathway to move toward these goals and ideals.
Visualizing the end goal is important, especially as part of an overall goal setting strategy. But when building a strong foundation, it’s important to focus on the journey so you don’t miss important steps along the way. At various milestones, you should have a new objective. Because for the more ambitious goals, the way to get there is achieved through a series of steps. As an example, you might commit to increasing revenue from $2 million to $3 million on your path to $20 million. Or maybe you have the long-term, goal of retiring in ten years. Then set your sight on the Contractor of the Year award which will lead to more customers and ensure a path to early retirement. It’s also alright to set up these small benchmark goals while still choosing to make a commitment to long term ones, like growing your business to $20,000,000. So, define the goals, long term, short term, and milestone benchmarks. Then, finally the last thing, is to assess whether these goals are realistic and attainable.
When I do a presentation for a class, I ask the students, “What is a goal?” The typical answer is that it is the thing that we try to achieve. I then ask, “What is a reasonable success rate in achieving your goals?” The typical responses are 80 – 90 percent; although most say that the important thing is always trying our best. However, that might be where we veer off course because “trying your best” is an oxymoron and has little to do with true growth. Learning to be better, is a much better goal even if it first implies a failure of some sort.
Years ago, I was certified in the Six Sigma program at the green and yellow belt level. Six Sigma procedures were designed to improve processes to a level of attainment of 99.99966%. In theory, it makes sense that if the process is flawless, the outcome will be as well. And Six Sigma is an excellent process tool.
However, there is a flaw in this concept because it dismisses the value of first steps. It also completely disregards the fact that a company is only as good as its people. It disregards the learning within upper management that must happen along the way if a company is to continuously improve. A successful process is never only defined as the point from A to point B that results in profitability. It is a culmination of all the little steps taken forward and backwards, and then forward again, that must happen to refine the process.
Thus, there needs to be a consensus among the company and its members, or a value statement perhaps, that the process is just as important as is arriving at profitability.
Most managers are bred to ignore the need for finetuning along the way and instead to deliver the win at whatever cost. It is a complete disregard for the process and the value derived from it. For much can be learned when we place as much importance on that which isn’t working, as we do on that which is.
Daily in our own businesses, we as managers assess and celebrate our growth in the form of winning percentages. Of course, this kind of winning inventory taking, is critical in motivating and growing our teams for success. However, while failure should never be the goal, the truth is there will always be room for improvement. So, instead of having the perspective that winning 99% of the time also equates to also having failed 1% of the time, decide instead to focus on the 1% as an opportunity. Taking inventory and identifying the places as a management team where you have failed 1% of the time, means constantly working toward improving the process.
You either achieve them or you have failed to achieve them. Realistically achievement implies a certain amount of failure. People make mistakes, equipment breaks, and in real life, there is never a “Deus ex machina” moment to save us. However, there is a huge difference between acknowledging and growing from failure, and simply accepting the defeat.
The solution is always in the process. What’s in the way is the way. The following steps will help you find clarity in the ever-evolving process to real achievement.
1. Identify, write down, and define your goals
2. Process map and flow chart the steps to reaching these goals
3. Use the Six Sigma approach and identify what steps in the process add value to either the customer, the coworker, or the company. If there is no value to doing it, eliminate it and simplify the process to reduce the chance of errors.
4. Avoid using the “the check list method” of a final inspection to assure compliance. Finetune your process so efficiently, that a list is unnecessary.
5. If there is seemingly no way to refine the current process, then deconstruct the process and create it from scratch so that it better aligns with your current business model
Finally, as a final note on goals, process and improvement, focus on continuously working to improve the process. Weave this into your company values so it’s part of the company culture. Failure is implied on the road to achievement, and it can be our best asset if we are all willing to learn from it and do it differently. Accept failure as an opportunity to learn and work towards the solution.
If you do all this, the company will continue to grow, and the people you employ will feel more valued and validated for your efforts. And shouldn’t that be one of the most important first benchmark goals?
Next time we will look at the concept of “sacred cows.”
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David Dombrowski started his career with 15 years at GE with their international leasing division and then joined Ron Smith original team with Service America. He holds a Master HVAC license holder for North Carolina for the past 35 years and has been in the management team with ARS of Raleigh, a $30 million location. Married for 42 years he is the proud father of three daughters and 2 grandchildren
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