When I speak to business owners about their business operations, they usually to say something like “We’re doing alright”, “No major fires right now”, “Our customers seem happy, no complains” or “The team are doing well”. When I ask them how much growth they’ve had in the last 3 months, more often than not, they say in some way “Less than 5%”, and then explain why they feel that is. Right now, we have global change happening, but there are still winners in business.
So I ask them how they feel about where they are at in this moment, and the response is always the same, in principle; they feel stuck, uncertain about the direction they are going in, worried about their revenue streams and thus investing in something new, and (this is the big one), it just doesn’t feel right.
When something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t see it, it is always something that’s hiding behind a process, system, or team member – like a stuck domino. You are standing at the front of the line, you know the dominoes have stopped falling, but you can’t quite see where it stopped. This is where having the right operational structure and and team support within an open, honest company culture will save your operational health (and your business growth) every time.
These blocks are common, ever-occurring and like that itch that you just can’t scratch, hiding just below the surface. The goal isn’t to never have a glitch again, the goal is to be so aware of what’s happening inside your business and with your customers, that you can pre-empt the changes needed, or get to the root of a problem as quickly as you can, as a team, and solve it so it’s better than before.
In my 11 years’ in business, I’ve seen this come up all the time – across different industries, business stage and size. Things look good at a glance because nothing has gone ‘wrong’, no massive customer complaints have come up, and your team say “Yes, all good here right now”. But there is a block in the business flow, things take a while to complete and the momentum you’re driving for is short of some energy. The solution? A direct, honest, connected approach to building your operations.
Identifying organised disorganisation
There are 3 main elements which are inherently problematic with the narrative we’ve just explored. Business operations can appear trouble-free, but it may not be a clean, secure structure under the surface.
- Smooth process doesn’t automatically equal smart process – it could be taking twice as long than it needs to. If so, what’s the loss? Financially for the business, moral of the team, project growth?
- No customer complaints, while a good sign, doesn’t mean customer feedback is being heard, or that the experience is at its highest potentail for the customer. And, it doesn’t mean you are creating raving fans of your brand.
- What question is being asked to get the response “Yes all good here” – something like “how are things going?”. The response is often a defence by an employee who is trying their best to impress and produce ‘smooth’ running work. Plus – good could mean different things to different people.
I’ve heard all three in abundance, and with the best of intentions. While keeping things running without any ‘loud bad noises’ can be a good sign, it can also be covering up what’s preventing growth, increasing customer retention, revenue and expanding your customer base.
It really got me thinking how to make what appears unknown, appear. Then it hit me. Organising disorganisation is the coverup to where the pain points actually are. It’s what gives the short term satisfaction – ticking off items on a to-do list- but doesn’t drive actual results for business growth and success.
Your business is a matrix and made up of many, many tiny influences and elements that become the entirety of the business. The larger your business, the more matrix connections you have. And the matrix is fragile.
Let’s take these 3 elements and explore how they take hold in a business, and ways to remove it.
Smooth process, inefficient mapping
If things are running smoothly, that’s a great sign that your team have mastered the existing process. They know what they are doing, they can now do it in less time. This is great teamwork, behaviour and integral working. The process is now running at minimum time.
But is the process optimised? Are there any parts of the process which could be improved and/or automated to provide better service to customers, less manual activity internally and less time and financial resource? Are the right people doing the right activities that maximise their skills and talents, growth and development?
Asking new questions will give a new perspective, and uncover where things that may be running smoothly, are not smart working at the most optimised level in supporting your business plans and growth. From this, you can derive a meaningful set of metrics that show quality, experience and efficiency which can keep everything on track.
Mapping out the optimised, beginning to end journey for your customer. Then by layering the best practices, process and systems to connect your operations internally, you have created a journey that makes sense to everyone involved.
What no customer complaints could really mean
It is, of course, a good sign when you don’t have customers banging at your ‘door’ with stories of bad service, product or experience. But this metric will not show how your business could to serve your customers in new, better ways, how you can stand out from your competition, or how you can innovate, grow and expand your offering.
Customer feedback, NPS scores and ratings are some very influential factors considered when new and existing customers consider purchasing.
Asking for customer feedback is essential to understand your customer. I have been surprised at the number of businesses who dont collect AND review, analyse and use customer feedback. In order to get the feedback to help your business, you need to know what you want to achieve, and reverse engineer some of your questions to provide that essential feedback. For example, asking a customer if they would recommend you and why (to either a yes or no answer), gives you a solid understanding of your brands trust, your audience and your service / offering quality.
One vital element when dealing with customer complaints is to building a safe environment for your staff to relay the entire situation without fear or judgement. An environment that encourages to solve problems for a genuinely better service far over one that shifts blame will grow much quicker with their customers and their staff loyalty (and office / team happiness – a huge factor when building your business!).
How to tell if things are truly running well
This follows closely with number 2 – how safe the team feels to express their observations and opinions. It’s pivotal to create an ecosystem internally where honesty is encouraged, otherwise all of these undercover disorganised habits, stay covered.
A retrospective for a project is crucial and gives a central place for the team to connect and discuss. This builds trust, respect, understanding and excels your productivity ten-fold. It is just as important as looking at what’s working. If there’s a bad process using up time or a mistake having a knock on affect further down the line, it’s always a positive discovery to move forward progressively better each time. This is one way to know your business; finding the root of any problem, block, or challenge, bringing it to light as a team and finding the solution that will increase efficiency, service and productivity.
The 5 principle rules of effective systems
I have 5 rules that I always call on when I’m looking at restructuring systems and processes in a business. They form the connectors between your strategy, your people and your operations:
- Never compromise on quality.
- Never do something that makes it difficult for someone else; customer or internal. I call this ‘Pass the torch’. Think continuity: Olympic athletes would never pass on half the torch.
- Never duplicate without an exceptional reason, voted on by the whole team.
- Always choose the most direct route – and use new systems if you need to. Invest 1 hour of research to find a better way, to save countless hours in the future.
- Always build a manual system or process that someone else could do just as well as you, with as little instruction or training as possible. This keeps things simplified, effective and smart. This is only when it is not best to automate the end to end process.
The Operations Detox
I often compare this way of looking at business operations with a body health detox.
What’s lingering in your business systems that needs a clean up and clear out? It’s just like detoxing your body. You trust that by taking the right action and eating and drinking the right things, your body will go through cleanse, and be fresh and energised afterwards. And you know eating that snickers will set your detox back to square one.
The principle is exactly the same in your business. Identifying and removing all the elements, big and small, that are not keeping your business movement slick, clean and optimised. Keeping what is conducive to your ultimate goal – optimum business health.
(Psst… There is cleanse guide on the Conscious Leadership Toolkit; it’s number 3 and called Leadership Mindset Cleanse – it’s here if you haven’t checked it out yet).
What to know what your business operations health is?
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By Michelle Milner-Eradhun, Founder @ Know Framework