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Archive for January, 2013

A new year – time for new resolutions?

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Goodbye 2012. Hello 2013.

A New Year represents renewal and the chance for a fresh start. Many of us will take the opportunity to make resolutions of personal improvement – to become fitter, get thinner and be better in some aspect of our lives. Some of us will even deliver on those resolutions too…

So what resolutions might you make in your own business? New Year resolutions for business? And why not? The start of a new year offers the opportunity to look at your business afresh, to start new initiatives and to retire old ones. All seems possible with the whole year ahead. In this spirit I offer three ‘2013 Business Resolutions’ that you could make that would stimulate and challenge you in the grey days of early January and if followed through would make major improvements in your business – with little investment other than time (and the courage to make change):

1. I will encourage more ‘crazy ideas’ within our business.
Crazy ideas? At a time of austerity do we really have time for such things, you might ask. Shouldn’t we be focusing on more grounded matters such as efficiency improvements and cost reduction – not on fuzzy, nebulous stuff like this? The simple answer is that you need to do both (more on efficiency later). ‘More of the same’ can only go so far. As Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking said, “You can’t dig a new well by digging the same hole deeper.” Truly getting ahead means doing something different.

To increase your differentiation from your rivals you need to create radical ‘do different’ products, services or ways of working. Only by allowing time and space for your employees to ‘think outside of the box’ are you likely to get some ideas that are truly revolutionary. Create the right conditions for this with space and time for innovation, clear management support and direction-setting together with a recognition and reward structure. Google’s well known ‘20% of time available for personal projects’ for its engineers has been a key element of its success in innovation. Separate out ‘ideation’ from implementation. Allowing space for ‘crazy’ ideas without the immediate application of rigid evaluation criteria allows opportunity for ‘crazy’ ideas to evolve into radical but nonetheless feasible business ideas. ‘Get crazy, get real’ is the approach to follow. Establish a simple process with some seed funding to enable controlled experimentation and prototyping of ideas. Then take the most promising ideas forward.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that ‘do better’ innovation such as incremental improvement is any less important to your business. This is the core of business innovation, accounting for 99%+ of improvements and needs to continue and indeed accelerate in these challenging times. But a business that is effective at innovation will operate a balanced portfolio of innovation activity including some radical/risky/’crazy’ projects as well as the more ‘sure’ projects.

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”
Thomas Edison

2. I will pick three key customers and go and give them a good listening to.

You might think you do this already – but are you simply telling them about your products/service offerings and listening to them within the confines of your existing offerings? To truly listen to them, try and stand in their shoes and understand their key business issues. Work to truly appreciate their underlying challenges which may be so accepted by them that they are not questioned and may not even be recognised. You can then determine their root cause limitations to their business. Then you can investigate how you could potentially reconceive the service you provide to them (or at least greatly improve it) to help them address their limitations and thus increase the value you provide to them.

In my work with professional service clients, I have found that the all-pervading ‘client satisfaction’ survey is almost a barrier to true client improvement. These surveys offer little insight on real client problems and give little value to clients. This is because they do not seek to understand the client’s business, but only the client’s view of the effectiveness of your service transaction. I have found it much more useful for Partners and Executives to meet with clients and talk specifics – about their business. Clients will always be pleased to talk about their business – if they know you are truly listening.

At the very least you will improve your working relationship with your client in working this way. You will also stand apart from your rivals who are stuck in the traditional ‘broadcast selling’ mode of doing business….

“All the innovations that have powered the company’s success have come from listening
to its customers and watching how their lives are changing.”
Terry Leahy, ex-CEO Tesco

3. I will identify opportunities for dramatically improving efficiency in one of our key services.
And by ‘dramatic’ I don’t mean five or ten percent improvement. I mean twenty five to fifty percent improvement. This is the level of cost reduction that can be achieved by radical re-engineering (I have seen this myself with many clients) – where you take a clinical look at your processes and services to dramatically reduce waste and increase value. From my experience over the last 20 years working with clients in service and industrial sectors, most businesses operate with inefficient processes for delivering services to clients or for supporting employees. In good times such waste is tolerated and then simply accepted.

There is a vast amount of waste in today’s businesses – despite all the investment in IT and other technology. Waste exists in unnecessary process steps, in time spent in inspection, checking and rework, in delays, in unnecessary variation, in ineffective technology systems and in performing work with over-skilled employees.

Lean thinking is highly effective in identifying and reducing such waste – if it is utilised. Business Process Re-engineering can drive dramatic improvements through process redesign. These are not new techniques. The foundations of Lean thinking originated over 60 years ago and re-engineering is nearly 20 years old. These are well proven improvement methods. So why do so many businesses operate with so much inefficiency? What are the barriers that stop these techniques being effectively employed to tackle this mountain of waste?

Lethargy could be one explanation. But really it is Fear.

Fear of change. Most importantly fear of leading change. Someone is needed to stand up and take the lead. To champion change. To challenge existing methods, to encourage others to participate in the programme of change, to apply the tools and then to persist in making the required changes in ways of working. And most importantly to simply start. Pick a business process or a service that is important and clearly needs improvement. Put a team together – with people who know the process, with people who are change-leaders, with users or customers served by the process. Help them apply the core techniques of Lean and re-engineering. And truly persist. For change always takes longer than you expect. Then use the results of improvement to engage others and your now-experienced team and start on other processes. But that is for next year.

But for this year, focus on just one process. And just start.

Read in December 2013:

So, what happened? Did you make your resolutions? Did you work to realise them? Did you successfully engage others in achieving them? Can you see the benefits? Perhaps you did not achieve as much as you would have liked. But did you achieve more than if you had done nothing? You should celebrate successes. But a good motto for leading change is “To be pleased, but not satisfied.” There is always more that can be done. Time to make your resolutions for 2014…..

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Energizing Change

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