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The greatest strength of an independent organisation is that house keys are at risk. This focuses the mind to a far greater extent than the employee of any larger corporate organisation.
The result is an excellent tactical, day-to-day focus.The result is a drive to generate creative solutions on any given project.Consequently, I would always back the street-smart entrepreneur in a commercial fight.What sometimes suffers, however, is the longer-term strategic direction and an end goal.
A well-known Managing Director of a systems integrator recently commented to me that £5 million was the glass ceiling for a business like his.It was impossible, and even dangerous, for them to get bigger.Upon reflection, I think that this statement is the wrong conclusion to the evidence presented.I believe independent systems integrators are all capable of bridging tradition.The issue is creating the time and vision to do so.
During my seminars with these entrepreneurs, who work seven days a week, running towards the cliff of retirement, there is one killer diagram which seems to get their attention.Taken from Kaizen, it shows the Japanese perceptions of how management should be spending its time.Many independent organisations, and their management team, spend their life in the bottom layer of the diagram.This does not have to be the case.
Stay modular:You never see a big Macdonald’s restaurant.Do not build empires; simply create more independent business modules.The structure must be clear, and not overlapping.Build a series of operations, sized to your management strength.
Make it your fault:Your sales staff will tell you that there are only two reasons why you lost a project:because the customer was stupid or the competition was stupid.This is a shame, because if the fault was yours, you could do something about it next time.
Grow your staff:You cannot promise your staff a job for life, but what you can promise is that they will be a better, more employable person when they leave than when they joined.
Get some USP’s:Create the elevator pitch and decide what is unique about your offering.Decide upon your values, and over-communicate them.
Measure:Facts and data, financial or non-financial, kill an argument or an objection stone dead.
Share the load:Trust and delegate to your supervisors.If they do not hold the pay review of your engineer, then they are not his or her boss.
Recruit for talent:You can teach people knowledge, and give them experience, but you cannot teach them a personality.Have subordinates to the role, part of the interview panel.
Have a process mentality:Don’t fix the person, fix the process.Then everyone will benefit and the improvement will stick.
The above should be treated as a jigsaw puzzle, not a shopping list.
A staged process
The are a number of steps when creating a smarter or more attractive organisation.These include:
Modularise the operation.A clear structure and vision.
Process creation and improvement.
Create immediate and long term goals.
Put financial measurement in place.
USP / Elevator Pitch / differentiators.
Why? Sales ability, attitudes and funnel.
Create boards, a team of CEO’s and share the load.
Culture and climate creation.
Client base & expansion review.
5 x revenues exercise with end goal vision.
Internal and external marketing of solutions.
Key account sales techniques.
Decision making process.
Fault and blame.
Communicate the vision, structure and process.
Sales process and effectiveness.
Process training.Waste and variation elimination.
Continuous organisational improvement programme.
Recruit for talent.
Put non-financial measurement in place.
Continuous personal improvement programme.
Complimentary products and services.
Final thought - Creating a culture
Continuous improvement is everyone’s job:If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it improve it. Everybody’s job is to do their job and improve their job. There are a number of “quality hostile” attitudes that we fight against. For example, “we have always done it this way”. Continuously improving process leads to less fire fighting and greater efficiency. Each problem is seen as an opportunity to improve the process. To encourage continuous improvement, we discourage fear, secrets and blame. Improvement should be targeted at bottom line, not top line. Growth and improvement should be sustainable to ensure we service customers in the future, not just at present.
We manage processes not staff.This means that “fault and blame” is discouraged.When a problem occurs, it is better to fix the process that allowed it to occur, rather than the individual (who will forget later). Others will not then fall into the same trap.
Small customer-focused teams, not empires.Empires are still possible unfortunately, in even a 10-person operation.Consistent teams support the same client. Our work is based on profit centres, which encourage teamwork.This allows a consistent approach to customers, irrespective of which entity is called upon to do the work. Any rewards must be team based rather than individually based.
The members of staff closest to the customer makes decisions.Decisions are made, in the customer’s real and perceived needs.Decisions are also based on facts and data rather than anecdotal evidence and gut instinct.The member of staff closest to the work is, with training, best placed to make decisions. A manager’s job is not to make these decisions but coach how decisions must be made. Decisions should be made based on what is best for the business, rather than the perceptions of hierarchy. Ownership is encouraged within the teams. A share of the growth in profit is distributed through the team. With bottom line ownership comes trust. Each employee is given high levels of authority and, for example, business credit cards.If staff are to be allowed to make decisions, then they must own the decisions.There is no such thing as “the company” which takes all the blame.
Flat organisational structure.Multi-layers of an organisation, in such a small group, add inefficiencies, hence increased cost for the customer. Growth comes from adding future teams not layers. This allows us to continually create operations that get ever closer to the customer.
A clear definition of who is the customer.The person who is, or is going to use our end product. All other parties we define as contractors, partners, sub-contractors etc. Actions must be taken in the interest of “customers”.
Having clear definitions of quality.For example,“Consistently meeting or exceeding customer expectations”.Note the lack of financial elements here, and also the fact that we, on a daily basis, do not define whether something is quality or not. The customer does. We also understand that quality leads to lower costs not higher costs. Higher costs come from fire fighting, false economies, inefficiencies, poor morale and constant recovery strategies.