21 Jul 2018 / by Cerius About Helping Companies Avoid Painful Lessons Learned / in Interim Executives, Interim Management, Operations
Modifying Business Operations is Like Changing the Tires on a Moving Bus
Modifying business operations while your business is up and running is complex and challenging. But if done the right way, it can reap huge benefits!
Have you ever tried changing a car’s tires while it was in motion? Seems like a silly question to ask. Even in NASCAR, they stop the car for 11 seconds or so. I recently had a client say to me, “I need to bring in an Interim Executive to help us change the tires on the bus while the bus is still moving down the highway. Possibly even help us determine if we should be driving a bus.” I don’t think I have ever heard it said more clearly.
This is what most organizations feel like when they are trying to improve their operations while still driving the business forward. We see the need for basic improvements in some areas. Here are some of the more common ones that cause a great amount of pain yet get little or no attention.
- Documenting policies and procedures – how do we take the brain trust that is in everyone’s heads and get it on paper.
- Cross training – how do we make sure we have more than one person who can perform any one task.
- Strategic planning – if we have time to get everyone together for this, it is forgotten within a month of the meeting.
- Plan implementation – we know what we need to work on but don’t have time or resources to work on it.
There’s a reason so many companies have the above challenges. There’s no time to dedicate to modifying business operations given the team’s current workload. There’s no one recipe for all organizations.
Every company I have worked with needed a different approach to getting things accomplished outside of their everyday business and work tasks. If you are currently at the beginning and hear yourself saying, “Things aren’t working the way they should,” here’s one way to break it down. I have chosen this example since it is one of the most mentioned frustrations from business owners.
Identification of operations that need fixing
What needs to be fixed? Where do we need to improve? What are the actual issues (not just the symptoms of the issues)?
For example – We have had a lot of staff turnover, and nothing is getting documented. All of the knowledge that someone gained while they were in the role went out the door with them. Onboarding new people feels like we are throwing them into the deep end to figure everything out. There’s minimal documentation in our company, and we keep reinventing the wheel. We want clear roles and responsibilities and ‘how to’ documentation (aka processes and procedures) for everything on the roles and responsibilities. Everyone should know what they are responsible for, how they do it and where they go to for information when they join our company.
How will we address what we have identified? What are the next steps? What needs to be done?
For example –
We need to put together roles and responsibilities for everyone in the company. We need to have documentation supporting how each of the responsibilities is performed. If I am in accounting and I am responsible for accounts payable then I have a list of procedures explaining to me how to process accounts payables. This includes who does what part of the process and any supporting documents. If I need to fill out any forms then I know where to get the forms.
Execution in modifying business operations
Simply put – getting it done. Divide the plan into small projects. Most people like a beginning and an end since an end means you’ve achieved something. Getting a few small wins is motivating. Start with a single project and develop the routine of how each of the little tasks that make up that project work into the rest of everyone’s daily workload. How do they get tracked, updated and reported on? Focusing on a single project will help the team figure out a good rhythm and is the simplest way to build this muscle.
Keep it realistic. Once the team gets in the routine of accomplishing the smaller tasks and complete a project or two, it starts to take a life of its own. They start coming up with their own improvement projects. Often, it is the simplest things that can have the biggest impact.
Yes, the above is a lot of work but it is less work than most see it as once it is broken down into manageable projects. Determine who in the company can help manage and drive each of the above (most companies have at least one person), or if you need some outside assistance. Bringing in an outside resource can be beneficial in a number of ways:
- Provides more focus. The outside resource helps ensure the ball doesn’t get dropped.
- Can help the team build the needed tools and experience to learn to drive it themselves.
- Provides needed expertise to quickly answer questions and keep the ball rolling avoiding unnecessary frustrations and delays.
Case In Point:
I had a client who had a long list of things to work on. We actually started with the most daunting and impactful first and focused solely on it. That one project took about four months to complete. We worked on it little by little. Most of the work was done during our weekly one hour meeting so little other time was taken from their daily work. By the end, they had a solid understanding of how we approached it and the steps we took to get there. Over the next three months, the team accomplished 4 other projects. Once they got past the first one with my help, they ran with the rest of them and did a quick monthly check-in for additional input or advice.
A lot can be accomplished with a little once it is clear what needs to be done. You may not be able to stop the bus in order to change the tires but you can figure out where along the way you can fit in a few rest stops and change it one tire at a time.