Improving a business is a daunting task. There are almost endless things to juggle as a business leader; staff, management teams, clients, market conditions, results, operational issues, resources and many many more. With so many plates spinning in the air it can create a situation where you just don’t even know where to begin.
The first thing you must do to bring about effective change is to identify where the biggest challenges lie. The higher up you rise within an organisation the more stretched your lines of communication get with those at the coalface of the business and this creates a problem. When you’re no longer in touch with what your most junior employees do on an hour-by-hour basis you can’t effective lead your business to support them best. Tesco’s march to dominance in the supermarket wars of the late 1990s was fuelled by their ‘back to the shop floor’ program where it was compulsory for upper management to do a week in an entry level position. It certainly wasn’t glamorous for those senior executives who manned the tills in Enfield or stacked shelves in Crewe, however it gave them priceless experience on the frontline and showed them how they could better support their employees so that they could better serve their customers.
Here are simple 3 step strategies that you can put into practice without even needing to get out of your chair.
1. Run an anonymous staff survey
The biggest changes in organisations happen on the front lines. Leadership and strategy are the modern poster boys in organisational development, yet both of these are pointless if your customer facing employees aren’t able to perform to a level you require. Time and motion studies transformed how businesses got the best out of employees in the early 20th century. Businesses of today don’t need to worry so much about the physical organisation of workplaces or departments like their counterparts of 100 years ago did, but they should worry about the mental exertion being placed on employees. With the new century we need a new study, this time focused on the demands that accountability and responsibility place on employees. In the age of information we’ve become obsessed with it, and if we don’t have data or evidence that our employees are working we can wrongly assume that they’re sat around idle. Bit by bit this has lead many companies to demand more evidence, data and paperwork from their staff, all of which diverts precious time and energy from the job their employing these people to do. No wonder they aren’t getting the results they’re looking for!
To escape this trap the first thing to do is identify what is holding back your staff. What things are consuming most of their time, giving them the most stress and producing the most problems. Build a survey to send out to staff. Put in questions such as:
“What could the business change to enable you to do your job more effectively?”
“What takes up most of your time?”
“What do you have to do that doesn’t add value to your role?”
Allow staff to feedback anonymously. It must be anonymous because this is the only way to get honest feedback. It might turn out that the last initiative you introduced to raise sales isn’t working, and it’s actually causing your team more problems than it’s solving. You’ll be hard pressed to find a employee who would openly admit that to the senior manager who introduced it. This is why anonymous surveys shine an invaluable light into your business.
2. Fail fast and move on.
Once you’ve collated the anonymous staff feedback it should identify a range of problems. Ironically, often these revolve around initiatives or programs that the management team has introduced. Ditch them. Your staff are telling you that they don’t work, so don’t stay committed to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time or money making it. Fail fast and move on. By removing what isn’t working from your business will remove an obstacle for staff to up their game. Once you remove as many obstacles as you can get together with your staff face to face to ask them what they need to do their jobs better. By doing this face to face shows shows that you’re committed to improving their performance because you’re investing your own time and energy into them. This makes change much easier. You’re lifting them up rather than dragging them along.
3. Rinse and repeat
Let’s say your first big focus was to improve sales. Once you’ve begun improving it and staff are happier under the new environment apply the same principals to the next area. That could be operations, marketing, training and development or any other number of areas in your business. Pick one and repeat the process. Applying this approach throughout your business will systematically drive performance, and even small gains in each area accumulate to make great leaps and bounds for the organisation. Before long many of the challenges, issues and headaches your business faced will be a distant memory.
I hope these strategies prove useful to you in your own business, and enable you to drive performance onwards and upwards. Let me know how you get on if you put these principals into practice by leaving a comment below.