Would I be stating the obvious in saying that growing any business is challenging? Probably – but preparing for change can ease you in the right direction.
You’re learning, growing and changing in real-time – at the speed of business. You get an order or a new customer that mandates additional help. Quick – what do you do? Scramble? Round up the usual help? Pull your husband/wife/partner away from what they’re doing? Call in the kids?
I’ve taken this road and here’s what I learned along the way.
I know – you’re going to put down this article right now and open up Word and write out exactly what needs to be done – right? No, I don’t think so. It’s unlikely you’ll do that now because you’re already stretched beyond reason. The best way I’ve found to do this is by starting a checklist – simple – like this:
- Go to bean container and grab a large scoop.
- Review picking order for ground or whole bean.
- Grab a handful of 12 ounce bags.
- Grab labels for current coffees.
- Apply labels to as many bags as are needed for each order to be picked and packed.
Training is needed simply because you can’t rely on your husband to do things the way you expect them to be done – how do you expect a high-school student or a temporary worker to “get” what you think is the ideal approach to making your business sing?
- Dedicate 15 minutes to reviewing your checklist with your new trainee.
- Walk through the steps on the checklist yourself and show your trainee how you would do this packing.
- Talk about what you just did.
- Ask the trainee if they have any questions.
- Ask the trainee to do the same thing you just did.
- Review the steps and point out any errors/omissions/changes made to your trained process.
Everyone falls short in this department! There’s not enough time to do the work – much less review! Don’t kid yourself. Things happen. Systems can be improved upon – even by someone else! Get into this habit weekly – you’ll thank me later.
- Sit down with your charge.
- Ask them to fill in/write down any step that was missed in your written explanation of the packing process you showed them this week. You can refer to the written checklist you gave them – hopefully they’ve made some notes to themselves.
- Ask if there’s a way to improve upon this process.
- Add the idea or new step in writing to the packing process.
- Thank them for the input and preview upcoming processes you’d like to improve upon.
- End the meeting eye-to-eye with a handshake.
The interesting thing you’ll find is that motivation follows action. It’s easy enough to learn to do stuff, but growth requires help – in the form of labor. People want to help but they need instruction or they’ll start making it up so they can look busy. So, get busy and plan some training.
There’s a philosophy behind this approach to business and rather than bore you with the details of my business life I’ll give you some reference points, steps to take on the way to improved process management, a guideline and a couple of addendums I’ve gathered along the way.
Most businesses grow organically – which can be good because business ideally is a learning process. But, as Michael Gerber points out in his excellent book “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” you might fall into the category of a “technician” if you’re running a business – although not necessarily a manager or an entrepreneur.
The basic premise of this book is based on the idea that you need to round out your education as someone running a business and you also need to anticipate working on your business as opposed to in your business.
This idea anticipates training people – and that means writing stuff down so training can continue to be passed on and your business can evolve and progress beyond your personal limitations – whether that’s time, money or anything else that might prevent the business from improving.
Pen & Paper
Using a piece of paper and a pen you can start to change the path of your operation – and this documentation process is no different than what the Fortune 500 companies do – except to the degree to which this work is done and the technology employed to build, access, retain and share the documentation.
If you decide you want to follow this path you can count yourself lucky because technology – especially browser-based communications have made this much easier now. There are so many ways to document now that if an idea comes into your head you can jump out of the shower (that’s when ideas typically come into my head) and enter it into a web-based program like Google Drive or something more specific like Touchstone, http://www.businessdesigncorp.com/touchstone.htm, which anticipates the training and review pieces as well.
Taking the time not only to train but to shadow has been my preference over time. This simple process of following someone around for agreed-upon periods of time allows for capturing the steps needed for a variety of processes and checklists in fairly short order. But it’s just like shooting a video – quite a lot of editing is required after the shadowing occurs. This is usually a good opportunity and use for the weekly 15-minute review with whoever you have recently shadowed.
The experience of working with and training someone can be both gratifying and frustrating. One thing for sure is you’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly. I would consider a strength suspension of judgment. Another personal strength might be patience. The ability to listen seems to be a good virtue as well. And measuring your comments in advance of offering advice is often considered valuable in maintaining good relations (I learned that from my wife).
The Rule of 5
An operation philosophy that holds true for me is the “Rule of 5” which basically says you can’t/shouldn’t/would be well-served to manage no more than 5 people. That is to say don’t have more than 5 people reporting directly to you as a manager. Why is that you may ask – because you can’t effectively document, train and review (see above) the work of more than 5 “report-to’s.” So, before you get your panties in a bunch and tell me about how many people you’ve managed over all the years you’ve been in business and how well your kids are behaved as a result of your parenting style let me qualify what I just stated:
1- Manage – Management of processes, not people, is the route you take on the way to process improvement. You can be friendly and a nice person to work with – and your staff will be as well. But if you haven’t defined processes in a detailed enough way that your staff can do the work and ideally pivot on a dime when you’re not available you’ve got problems under the surface that will pop up more often than you can imagine.
2- Effective – To be effective you need to get work done now – while the customer is yours to have and to hold – asking and answering questions and moving things forward in real time. This requires documentation, training and review (see above). If someone is waiting for your decision and they’re on the phone or in front of a customer, the customer is going to get the hesitation dance: wild gyrations will occur ultimately ending in facts misconstrued, misunderstandings and the associated mutilated bodies lying amok. You don’t want this.
3- 5 – 5 people – 1 meeting each week for training; 1 meeting each week for review. Training occurs in real time on-the-job so you can move forward satisfied with the fact that the person you trained will, ideally, improve on the system and the continued documentation of the system so they, NOT you, can train the next person to DO the work of the processes being learned and trained to.
4- Quality – not quantity of processes improved upon. There’s quantitative easing (which I know absolutely nothing about!) and there’s quality processes – which is the continual regard for and attention to the process of learning and improving what we do each day. Most people who own or run businesses and/or departments, myself included, try to accomplish more than what they can do well. This means you’re spread too thin. If you’re not taking the time to dig deeper, then, your systems and your business will stagnate, corrode, coagulate and just generally go downhill. We want to avoid this.
If you’d like to contact Karl for more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org