Where is your business broken?

by Kate on October 4, 2012

Whether you think it is or not, there are parts of your business process that don’t work, and it’s costing you money. If you want to improve sales or control costs, look for the broken processes and address them.

It’s a natural part of business that this happens. The processes worked in the past, but as time passes and business grows or declines, or changes and they no longer serve so well. The problem occurs when we become so convinced we are fine and what worked in the past is still right, that we are not prepared to look for ways to do better.

Look around and you’ll find examples all over the place. Here are some I’ve noticed recently. In each, one department meets their targets, but somewhere else – both internal and external – there are costs in time and productivity.

The other day, I received some speaker notes from an event organiser. The document was long, produced in colour, included maps and venue diagrams, and was personalised to me. Someone had to create that document and attach to individual emails to many people. I’ve no doubt it was designed to be helpful, but to use it people would need to print it (paper cost, toner cost, environmental impact) or make notes from it. Time and money was spent on putting it together, and turns out it isn’t so helpful to me in practice.

A marketing department designs a promotional program but the way finance is set up they can’t execute on the invoicing for it without leaving the customer wondering where the promised discount is. Result is calls to customer service, which chews up time, erodes trust in the business and may lead to lost customers (and the cost of replacing them).

I call a local business for a price, the sales person eventually comes up with one from a computerised pricing system,┬ábut doesn’t ask for contact information. I end up buying elsewhere, but the people I called had a chance to add me to their database, and even to follow up to see if I got the job done. Are they so busy they don’t need my business or my referrals? I doubt it. Somewhere in that business a process may be broken, training needed, the goals and measures aren’t quite right or staff don’t understand the importance of sales.

Let me be clear, these are not criticism, it’s just the stuff of business. My point is this, issues like this occur in business all the time and if we want to do better we must look for productivity blockages and remove them. Not every wobbly system is deserving of attention – some fixes aren’t worthwhile (at least not now), but we should still look.

As long as things are going OK, there’s not much inclination to look for ways to work smarter, or for the real blockages in productivity. Eventually though you discover profits are lower, headcount and costs have bloated or the software that promised to make things work better isn’t being used properly (or is, and still didn’t help). Even if there were more sales, you can’t service them.

And at that stage you’re left with few options other than redundancies or holding back on needed projects.

So, what’s the solution? ┬áSome things to consider:

  1. Make it easy for people to suggest improvements, both customers and staff. Look into customer service breakdowns, or internal mistakes and ask “Is there a process that wasn’t followed, a process that should be created, or a change that’s needed?”. With this, it’s important to focus on the process, rather than blaming people for what didn’t work.
  2. Educate people about how a business actually works and makes money. Many people are so caught up in their functional roles they don’t get it about business needing to generate and support sales, and continually find ways to improve processes, if they are to thrive.
  3. When working on projects, involve people from various parts of the business, or ensure you ask for input from them.
  4. Include project updates in company meetings so everyone gets an understanding of what’s happening and can ask questions.

If you want a better business, more sales and better cost control, lift the lid on your business processes and see where the opportunities are.

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