Business Improvement: It Is (Not) Complicated

10-02-2020

"It is complicated" - a standard quote my clients employ multiple times when working on their business improvement agendas. There is no denying that some challenges require measures with some complexity involved. However, more often than not solutions are relatively straightforward; it is our natural tendency to doubt, fear or object the unknown which causes the sentiment of complexity. I will briefly illustrate a few different situations I encounter in my work, and how you could go about these.

"How do we find time to do this"

Business improvement comes with setting clear priorities and metrics. Paradoxical as it may sound, priority setting can be overwhelming as it requires people to abandon certain routines and to fundamentally rearrange their working days. New ways feel like "on top of". Where do we find the time? First of all, it is important to deliberately reduce time spent on activities which add limited value. An effective way of steering an organization towards prioritized goals is to visually show progress against these. A frequent (daily/weekly) 15-min get-together around a performance dashboard ensures all colleagues focus on the same topics. In addition, it is helpful to establish a clear weekly meeting schedule with prescribed agendas, attendees (fixed & optional) and running action lists. Yes, it takes some effort to set it up and to develop the new routine; the benefits are worth it.

"We can't miss him"

I often get asked to coach key employees on making necessary changes in their ways of working. These employees typically have a lot of knowledge and experience, they have considerable impact on company culture, and often they regard themselves (and are regarded) indispensable. On various occasions I have had to conclude that these people will not adapt, to which I recommend my client to take a different course. They always understand, yet they find it complicated. What will happen? Who will do the work? Then I perform the reverse roleplay: what will happen if you don't? Talented colleagues will not step in, or worse, they leave because visible actions and measures do not correspond with alleged ambitions. Quality of people is the cornerstone of a high-performing organization; do not let difficult decisions get in the way.

"Our customer is king"

Loyal customers - hard to come by in this volatile world - should be cherished. Not endlessly however. Internally perceived dependency on certain customers has made some of my clients make suboptimal decisions with regard to renegotiating terms and setting priorities vis-a-vis their other customers. Yet again, what is the alternative? It takes courage to say 'no' to long-standing relations that do not treat you as an equal partner and hence erode value. And still that is the way to go. It frees up (mental) capacity and time, and provides positive energy for the organization to develop promising customers and prospects. It also works the other way around. How difficult of a decision is it for an organization to up the level of cooperation with their own suppliers?

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Business improvement is rooted in various levers, ranging from strategy development, organizational design & alignment, culture build, commercial & operational excellence, and much more. Some sort of change is involved when tackling any of these levers, and this often causes feelings of complexity and uncertainty. Yet, some solutions are genuinely simple. Showing courage, breaching old convictions and executing relentlessly will all contribute to desired results.

It is not complicated.