Posts Tagged ‘continuous improvement’

by Richard Martin

That’s the title of a song popularized and sung by Nat King Cole. Here in Canada, and especially in Quebec, things tend to get lazier, hazier, and yes, even a bit crazier, in the summer. I think it has to do with our (he says clearing his throat)–shall we say–interesting climate? Canadians spend most of the year fighting against the weather, so when it gets nice for about 2 months in the summer, we tend to let things ride a bit more. Unfortunately, a lot of people kick back so much that they put everything on hold. “Too many key people are on vacation.” “We’ll get to this after the summer.” “Nobody’s thinking about this right now, so don’t be a party-pooper.”

Well, life goes on. We can’t just pretend that business and life stop because it’s summer. In most areas of the world, summer is actually when things get done and life gets more hectic. Back in January I kicked off the new year with a list of the steps for ensuring the continuous and continuing focus throughout the year on building organizational and strategic readiness (See this link.). Not just once or twice, but actually incorporating a readiness mindset into all your processes and systems on a regular basis.

Here’s what I suggested for the 2nd quarter:

April-May: Issue guidance for next fiscal year so that the entire organization can identify their planning focus and prepare to hit the ground running when the next year starts. These plans should be briefed up the “chain of command” so they are fully aligned with the strategic and operational guidance and direction.

June: Review performance of first half and adjust plans and focus to end of current year. Submit initial budget forecasts, especially for funding of special projects, new product development, marketing initiatives, etc.

And for the 3rd quarter:

July-August: Senior leadership reviews long-term plans and projects under the 2-3 year forecasting framework. Budgets and plans at all levels are reviewed and adjusted in accordance with strategic forecasts and intent for next fiscal year (starting in 4-5 months).

September: Senior leadership confirms overall budgets and plans for next fiscal year and issues updated guidance and direction to organization. Subordinate elements of the organization adjust their plans and forecasts to align with this guidance.

Well? How are you doing so far? It’s not too late to get caught up on the 2nd quarter tasks. As for July and August, these are the perfect months to look ahead and gain a sense of where you will head at the start of the next year.

Seems a bit premature? Actually, it’s when people are focused on other things, on their vacations, and the fine weather, that you should be thinking ahead. You probably have a bit more time to reflect and plan, and to prepare for the post-Labour Day rush (see September above).

Yes, you heard it here first folks: Doing more of the same will get you more of the same. I know, not very original but, unfortunately, quite true. Which is probably why it’s such a common refrain.

In business doing more of the same doesn’t just mean you have the same products and services you’ve always had. It can also, and usually does, mean that your processes have not changed to meet the new realities of your market. This could be the market for talent or the market that buys your products and services. It can also, of course, mean your competitors.

A client of mine hired me to help them improve their sales processes by accelerating their closing times and conversion of prospects to firm buyers. When we analyzed the situation, we quickly identified the key problems. First, they were presenting information in their proposals in the same way they had been doing so for the last seven or eight years or so. The market had changed drastically in that time, particularly in the last 3 years, with the slow down in the economy. Buyers were asking for a certain type of information presented in a certain manner. My client had to adjust their presentation and proposal format to better adapt to the needs of their customers. No amount of doing the same thing over and over again was going to work. They had to change.

A corollary to that key finding was that customers were taking longer and longer to make their decisions about investing in my client’s services. The sales staff had to compensate by doing part of the operational staff’s job, just in order to close the business. When the project was finally handed over to operations, much of the work had to be redone. This had two major effects, both of which were costing my client a lot of lost business and opportunity. The ‘extra’ planning work done by the sales staff was not remunerated by the client. The additional work that the operations staff had to do to get the project back on track with the customers was also costing a lot of money.

There were many other problems with this sales and operations model, but these are enough to see that my client had to adapt to a new reality in order to stay relevant to its customers. The innovation and creativity had to be focused on improving internal processes, not creating new products and services (although there’s nothing precluding that either).

Bottom line. You have to change with the times. For this, though, you have to on the lookout for differences of importance in the environment and adjust your practices, processes, and products to remain relevant. Whether it’s my client or any other business, doing more of the same will always get you more of the same. Realizing this and doing things differently at least gives you a chance to adjust, adapt and thrive in a new environment.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.