My colleague Phil Symchych in his newsletter #27 "Cash Isn't King, It's the Ace - The Financial Manifesto" writes "after 25 years as a management consultant and CPA advising private companies on growth and building business wealth, I have developed these 12 financial philosophies and strategies that help clients to accelerate profitable growth, maximize the valuation of their companies, and dramatically increase their personal wealth.
Over the years I have assisted over a 100 budding entrepreneurs as they developed their businesses using their home office as their first base. Those were heady and exciting times, both for me as I learned about their businesses and for them as they ventured out into the marketplace with their products and services. We discussed five essentials, among others, as foundational for adjusting to their home office. They were important then and they are just as important now if you are thinking about establishing or have already established a home-based business.
Discipline: I encourage you to review your disciplinary practices. Just as there are distractions at a external office setting – people interrupting you, desktop messes, noise, emails, shifting priorities, you get the picture – there are distractions in the home setting – television programs, social media, friendly telephone calls, poor priority setting, a neighbor dropping by for a coffee, and desktop messes to name a few. I have often said that sometimes it takes more discipline to operate a business from home than from an external office. At home there are no supervisors or minders watching you and urging you on to better perform. At home you are the leader-manager in charge. It is completely up to you. Your performance or lack there of falls completely on your shoulders. And to perform well you need discipline to:
Take Breaks: You can get lost in your work especially if you feel you are on a roll and ideas are flowing and tasks are getting accomplished. However, a huge mistake that home-office practitioners make is not taking nutrition or energy producing breaks. What I mean by ‘energy producing breaks’ are breaks that take you away from what you are doing at the moment and giving your mind some rest time. Energy producing breaks include going for a quick walk, tending to a household chore, taking a five-minute meditation break, or fueling up with an energy bar or a dish of fruit. The point here is the need to break from your office work and focus on something else for short periods of time. This gives your brain rest and up ticks your over all energy. Research suggests that 90 minutes of concentrated effort and then a ten or fifteen break produces more in the long run and contributes to alleviating burnout.
Separate Office: It’s important that you find office space for yourself and your business. This is somewhere in the home or apartment that you can call your office. For some this is initially on the dining table or in a bedroom. The point here is that you need a space to conduct your business, where you can keep all the important stuff related to your business. For some that means a place for your computer, paper, envelopes, books and whatever else is needed; for others who claim they are completely mobile - everything they need is on their mobile device – that means they also need someplace within their home to call their specific office space. To those who fall into the latter category I have yet to find a serious business person who has everything on their mobile. If you cannot find a space within your home, consider the growing number of co-op offices that are popping up where business owners can rent a desk or small office at a reasonable rate.
Network: Working from home can be a lonely and isolating experience. We know that business grow based on relationships. In order to build relationships we need to be in contact with people. Simply stated we do this is by getting out of the house or apartment and meeting customers and colleagues in the field. It is important to expand relationship building reach by joining a professional association, a business network association such as Chamber of Commerce, a women or men’s business network, a service association such as Rotary and Kiwanis International, or becoming active in your faith-based community. Getting involved in outside activity helps you build necessary relationships and provides a social outlet that you would not experience by keeping yourself isolated in your home office.
Administration: One of the things I heard most often from home-based business owners was their push-back on administrative tasks. This is one area where procrastination was the word of the hour. Administration is often seen as an afterthought, but not paying attention to the detail that administration asks of you, may cause serious difficulties in the long run. Take for example not paying attention to outstanding bills, up-dating client information, attending to customer invoicing, or submitting due taxes. In the long run not doing due diligence on these matters costs you money, affects your cash-flow or impacts your customer relations. So before procrastinating on administrative tasks think about the loss of income, customers and cash-flow. Three important ingredients for a successful business.
Thank you for reading
Richard P. Fontanie
Since the advent of on-line shopping I have been interested in its impact on in-store retail outlets. During the past ten years I have noticed two significant shifts: 1) Big Box retail outlets keep closing their doors or reducing the number of stores they operate; and 2) Small Box retail outlets are refining the customer experience.
The "click and buy" internet experience tends to be impersonal and cold, however, it is balanced with convenience and timeliness. We can purchase items, any time of the day or night, pay for them with a click, and receive them at our door step within a day or two. But, the experience lacks the social aspect of the shopping experience. That may not be important for the harried professional and time pressured young family, but it is important for those who want and need attention for a special purchase or the meet-and-greet of neighbors and acquaintances in an ever-disintegrating community fabric.
Big Box Resizing
The "click and buy" internet experience has had a significant impact on the "Big Box" stores. Often sheer size alone makes them less flexible to meet changing demands. In the past five years we have witnessed retail outlets that have either closed their doors or in the process of significantly reducing the number of their outlets throughout North America. Here are just a few “Big Box” stores that had strong brand power in the not too distant past and are now closed or reduced in numbers: Eatons, Sears, Radio Shack, JC Penny, Payless Shoesource, K-Mart, Zellers, Ben Moss, Danier, Guess, Chapters-Indigo, The Gap, Hudson Bay, and Macys. Who would have thought that these household retail names would disappear or find themselves in such economic straits that they need to close hundreds of stores, placing thousands of people out of work? (Read more: "over 5000 stores closed in 2017" ; "Major US Retailers Are Closing More than 6000 Stores" ; Canadian Retail Continues to Polarize as Stores Close
There are several reasons why stores close their doors or downsize besides an inability to keep pace with on-line shopping. These may relate to: an inability to keep up with consumer trends; old management processes, systems and technology; a response to economic downturns within their local marketplace; and the fluctuation of taxes and the Canadian dollar.
Another major factor may relate to the 'big box experience.' The 'big box experience’ is one that often overwhelms customers by the: size of the store, expansiveness of the merchandise, sparsity of customer service personnel, quality of products, pressure to push them through the payment line-up, and intrusiveness of security mechanisms. All of which take away from a ‘positive customer experience’.
We do see, however, "Big Box" stores attempting to keep pace with the changing customer needs. Walmart has realized that their personnel need customer service training and improved wages. They are also gearing up to give Amazon a run at on-line shopping. I have also noticed that many of the "Big Box" stores are re-designing their expansiveness by developing specialty stores within their stores. These includes everything from coffee shops to banking outlets. They are trying to turn themselves into ‘customer convenience stores’, or a concept of a mini-mall within their store. And, most of the "Big Box" stores that have downsized are frantically trying to catch up with the "click and buy" phenomenon. The question is, is it too late for them?
Small Box Refinement.
What the "Big Boxes" and "click and buy" lack, the "Small Boxes" replenish. The owners and service personnel of small boxes were always close to the customer. They knew the regulars by name, their sizes, preferences, and in many instances their family members. They connected both on a social and an emotional level. They couldn't compete with the Big Box stores on price and quantity, but they could outwit them with service and quality.
The "Small Box" stores are finding unique ways to draw new customers. They are combining their customer service strength with new approaches to further advance the customer experience. They are not "pushing the sale," but guiding the customer in making decisions and offering opportunities for them to test products. They are creating convenience, ambiance and activity to attract customers. They encourage, what may be called ‘encounters over the counter’, such as: special tasting times in bake shops and coffee outlets; come and go evenings to try on new clothing coupled with refreshments and meet designers and tailors; or, enjoyable conversation and a free cup of brew while you browse.
Although they don’t have the selection and quantity of merchandise they do have access to the manufacturers and can bring a product in within a few days, or have it delivered to the customer's door - just like their big brother counterparts. Price may be a different matter. Often their limited purchasing power doesn’t allow them to compete on price, so they scale up on product knowledge, quality and service.
Employees find a greater sense of purpose working in the "Small Boxes" because the relationships are more meaningful. They are not hired just to stock shelves. They are there to build relationships and create a "Cheers-like" culture where "Everybody knows your name." Their face-to-face encounter is further enhanced through social media and email follow-up. The result is that the employee retention rate for the "Small Boxes" is much higher and customer loyalty is strengthened when compared to the "Big Boxes". (Want to know more: Money Magazine, Kristen Behler, "The Future of Shopping" December 2017; Carl Sewell and Paul B. Brown, "Customers for Life" How to turn that One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer; Darrell Rigby, Harvard Business Review, article https://hbr.org/2011/12/the-future-of-shopping
Where Do Customers Really Shop?
Although there is an increase in the number of people shopping on-line one recent Global study by GfK (Growth from Knowledge) found that people still want to shop in-store. The research pointed out that yes customer's felt that on-line shopping, saves money, is easier, has better selection and shopping is faster; but, in store shopping allows customers to feel and see the products before they buy, is also easier, and makes it easier to return products. The interesting finding from my perspective was that: getting information about a product or service and better pricing or saving money was about equal between the two choices for shopping.
The implications for retailers are two-fold: a) "it is imperative that retailers (and their manufacturer partners) innovate to create reasons to visit, to increase propensity to buy your store, category or brand…and that retail touch points will become more important than ever." and the "second implication is that, to succeed in the future, retail needs to create synergy between on and offline, not diversity. …In future there will be less debate about on and offline, and renewed focus on the fundamentals of choice, price, convenience and experience, and how to meet and exceed shopper expectations in each and across all."
Here Comes the Future
Retail outlets, from my way of thinking, will always struggle to find the balance among the pressures of quality, quantity and price. "Big Box" stores often sacrifice quality in the interest of quantity and price; and "Small Box" stores sacrifice quantity and price in place of quality. Both are continuing to search for ways to attract and retain customers by providing an improved customer experience and timely service.
However, today's retail businesses are not waiting for the future, for them the future has already dawned. Here are just a few examples:
Drone delivery. Drone Delivery Canada has a developed a drone that can deliver goods, food, medicine, bulk mail, and emergency aid. Amazon is testing merchandise delivery via drones.
Robotic service. The Japanese are experimenting with robotic service within the hotel industry, and China is experimenting with robotics in the restaurant business.
3D printing. Home grown manufacturing with 3D printing is well underway. We can now replace parts, make new objects, tools and even medical devices. Go to Youtube.com and type in 3D printing and you will be able to view several examples of the technology.
Augmented Virtual Reality. With virtual reality we will be able to: try on clothing in the style and color we want without leaving our home, test drive vehicles, and purchase virtually anything we want.
Facial recognition. Many countries and major outlets are now experimenting with facial recognition, not only to control fraudulent behavior but also to track customer data. This is still fraught with privacy issues, but the technology is available and being used today.
Driverless Delivery trucks. Europe, United States and Canada are experimenting with driverless delivery trucks, which may shorten delivery time, reduce traffic accident deaths and put thousands of truck drivers out of business. There is still some time to go for this to happen. Some futurists see the requirement for drivers in the city, while hubs will emerge on the outside of the city where driverless trucks take over. Read more
Omnichannel retailing: The name reflects the fact that retailers will be able to interact with customers through countless channels – websites, physical stores, kiosks, direct mail and catalogs, call centers, social media, mobile devices, gaming consoles, televisions, networked appliances, home services and more. Conventional merchants will need to adopt a new perspective – seamless. Read more omnichannel experience.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie
For the past several years during the month of April, Jake and Kate land in our backyard fishpond. Kate nests near-by and Jake goes out to forage. Early in the morning and evening, during the nesting period, Kate comes back for a dip in the pond and looks for the food we put out for her. We look forward to our Spring visitors as we know Summer is just around the corner and the flowers will soon bloom. We believe our back yard has become Jake and Kate's private resort for a Spring Retreat as they prepare for their off-spring. Once the ducklings have hatched Kate trots them off to a bigger pond. Jake and Kate are only with us for a short but a very productive time.
Spring is a great time to renew your business with a Strategic Planning Retreat. A Strategic Planning Retreat is a short and productive time away from your busy place of business to look back at what your organization has accomplished over the past year and to look ahead and set new goals for the future. Here are six ingredients to prepare for a successful Strategic Planning Retreat.
Be clear about its purpose
A Strategic Planning Retreat is an opportunity for a business leadership team, board members, management and selected personnel to focus their energies on such areas as organizational renewal, strategic and long-range planning, values clarification, new policy directions and macro change requirements. In most instances a Strategic Planning Retreat sets the direction for change. If change is not on the agenda, then the retreat is all about continuing the "same old stuff." And, if that is the case the planners are dealing with the present and extending what the business is "doing" today into the future, rather than peering into the future and making changes to achieve higher levels of success.
Clarify who is involved
It is important to view a Strategic Planning Retreat as a fundamental requirement for the continued growth of the business or not-for-profit organization. It is an on-going process and not a one-time event. The leadership team must be committed to the process and dedicated to subsequently lead and manage the results of the retreat.
Key people required for a retreat include: Business Owners, Board Members, Executive and Senior Managers from all departments, and, others as deemed necessary for the success of the retreat. Small organizations include most of their employees.
Planning for a retreat begins several weeks and often months in advance. Tag someone with the responsibility to scan the environment for information that will impact the organization in the long term. This person scans newspapers, magazines, news bulletins, industry literature; and looks for legislative or regulatory changes, industry developments, public policy issues, changes within the marketplace, competitive and collaborative activities, research developments, and pressures within the organization. The information is collated and sent out to the attendees with the expectation that they will read it and come to the retreat prepared.
Depending on the size of your organization, it is also advisable to identify: a) an internal coordinator for administrative purposes with authority to book facilities, arrange for lodging and meals, set up rooms and order special requirements; and b) someone who is an objective outsider with strong facilitative skills who will enable full participation of the attendees and guide the process to a successful conclusion.
The best time for a Strategic Retreat is at least two months before preparation of an annual budget. This allows the leadership team to incorporate the new initiatives and change requirements identified at the retreat into the budgeting process. If this is a first retreat, then hold it at least three months in advance of the budget planning cycle.
The length of the planning retreat could last up to two and one-half days. The length of the retreat depends on the numbers in attendance, whether the retreat is a first, the size of the organization and the change issues that need to be resolved.
Planning retreats are best held outside of the office complex. This frees those in attendance from unplanned interruptions and distractions. The location should lend itself to informality; the room set up should allow for all those in attendance to see each other, such as a horseshoe seating arrangement; and there should be opportunity for small group breakout sessions and for fresh air walks.
Our best retreats are held in park settings and resorts. However, It is critically important to remember that this is not a vacation. It is a short, intensive working session that requires concerted individual and team mental effort.
The attendees bring their creative intelligence and any documents circulated to them in advance to the planning session. As a back-up, the coordinator should make sure that there is at least: one copy of all materials that were sent out in advance, a copy of the previous year's planning document, an organizational chart and any other documents describing the organization and its intention.
What to do
Learn from Jake and Kate who annually home in on their Spring Retreat and make it a practice to renew your business with a Planning Retreat every year. It will pay dividends for you including:
Auther: Richard Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Up-dated from Fontanie Learning March 1, 2018
During my career as a social worker I had the privilege of working with many individuals who found ways to overcome adversity. However, it is with my work as a business coach and consultant where I gained the greatest insight about people overcoming tremendous odds. This work spans over 30 years and included working with over 180 Start-Up businesses.
I have worked with business men and women who turned their backs on addiction, poverty, depression, and unemployment. Some were mothers and fathers who deeply desired to give their children a loving and secure home even though they became mothers and fathers too soon; and others had dropped out of school at an early age only to return at a latter age.
These were people who, in most instances, did not come from privileged backgrounds. They were unable to obtain bank loans, lacked financial resources and had no angels to back them. They were people who are often viewed as individuals who don't succeed in our society. Yet they did, and continue to do so.
As I reflect on my work with these business men and women I have tried to garner lessons about what sets them apart. Their life stories point to several common themes which I believe are the stepping stones to their success, and which are signposts for all of us who strive to better ourselves in business, at work and in life. Here are six of those signposts.
1. They made a clear choice. They made a choice to rise above their perceived limitations, and the limitations others placed on them. This was fundamental to their new-found freedom. As one couple told me, “we decided that we were not going to live like my parents and siblings. We were not going to live in poverty, and the only way we could see ourselves out of that 'jungle' was by choosing to move out of it and making a commitment to stay out of it. It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t, but we did it and we continue to do so.”
2. They took control of their lives with a sense of hope and optimism. They didn’t like talking about their past. Some were willing to share their story to those who lived in situations similar to the the one they had left so that they could be a role model for them. They were future focused, optimistic and full of hope. At times, some were slow to trust, but when they did they trusted whole heartily. They were not concerned about the downturns in the economy, because they knew they had reached their own bottom and had dug themselves out of it. When others talked about economic troubles they reflected on what they had overcome and understood what it meant to struggle through adversity. However, like most successful business people their optimism was also tempered with caution. They watched their pennies. They didn’t want to lose what they had gained.
3. They had a deep belief or faith in a power beyond themselves. Many of them were not religious or church-going people but they often pointed to a conversion or a healing process that was beyond their own making. Their stories were told both with a sense of humility and a sense of awe that can be described as “I have been blessed and I am thankful to be in a space where I am today, especially when I think about the bleak future I once faced.”
4. They had a sense of determination and tenacity born from overcoming a difficult time in their lives. They were concerned about slipping back, but that concern seemed to push them ahead. They were single minded and unwilling to let the challenges that confronted them, win. Their sense of determination and tenacity was often expressed in ways that affirmed their optimism such as: “been there, got the T-shirt, so this is just one more challenge to overcome;" or, “We face the world with optimism, we will overcome this too;" and, in a more vernacular language, ”sh*t happens. Let’s get on with it. I’m a determined bu**er, you know.”
5. They were eager to learn. They didn't pretend to know everything about their business. Sure, they made mistakes, mostly from a place of "unknowing" rather than from a position of “knowing it all.” They were grateful when a coach or a mentor came along to assist them with difficult decisions. They also surrounded themselves with people who compensated for their weaknesses. A common comment from them was, "I employ people smarter than me." Something that I often hear from most successful business people.
Openness to learning was one of the criteria our firm used when we screened those who wanted to start a business. Our experience and assessments determined that this was one of the essential ingredients for their success. It was also one of the most telling markers when we reviewed why they failed. Those that didn't make it unfortunately didn’t learn from their mistakes, read, or seek out a coach or mentor, and in general they thought they knew all.
6. They rejected toxic influences and celebrated their journey. Many faced one of their most difficult decisions - to escape from the milieu that pulled them down. For some this meant leaving a dysfunctional family, siblings, and/or relatives; for others, it meant turning away from so-called friends they knew for most of their lives. They had to make that hard decision and not to look back. They knew that if they didn’t reject these people they couldn’t improve their lot in life. More than one individual said (and I'm paraphrasing), “it wasn’t easy leaving family and friends behind, but if I didn’t I would be in the ‘hell’ they are in now.”
The most successful of these business men and women learned to become comfortable within themselves. They continue to project a humble self-confidence, give back to their community, have become role models for others, and often celebrate their difficult journey on the road less traveled.
None of them are saints, and all of them have weaknesses just like the rest of us. I have been enriched by knowing them, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for what they have accomplished in their lives and in their businesses.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere in ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in the wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost, from The Road Not Taken.
Thanks for Reading
Richard P. Fontanie MSW. FCMC
We learned last month that another national store, Sears Canada is currently closing dozens of its stores and laying off over 2900 staff across Canada. I'm struck by the number of businesses that were once thriving and are now no more or in the process of massive restructuring.. What happened? The answer is quite simple: The market shifted while the business didn't shift with it. It reminds me of the saying, "if we don't keep up, we will be left behind."
Just look at some of the market shifts that have taken place in the past five to seven years:
Businesses of all sizes need to keep their eye on the “shifting winds of change” if they want to survive. They will either have to close, adapt or continually diversify their products and services.
Two Important Questions: What is happening in your marketplace that will affect your business? Are you keeping abreast of emerging trends and technologies that will impact your business? Keeping a close eye on future developments may allow you to survive the next shift in your marketplace..
Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC Up-dated from the archives Fontanie Learning Solutions
Image: Clip Art
We are experiencing gigantic swings within our economy. Business owners are cautious and uncertainty appears to be their by-word. Yet given all this hesitation many businesses are optimistic and expanding their workforce; others are holding the line but still need to hire new employees due to employee retirements or employees leaving to improve their education or find work elsewhere.
The bottom line suggests that whether you are expanding or strategically maintaining your business position you still need to hire strong leaders and managers, or people who can eventually move into those positons. That being the case what skills should you look for to grow your business and meet todays challenges? Here are some clues:
The ability to work within a diverse work environment. Many businesses and organizations have four generations of employees within their workplace. Each generation brings something different which may be expressed in their attitude towards work and the way they build relationships with each other and customers. Leaders, managers and employees need skills to work within this environment.
The ability to accept other cultures. Our wider communities are no longer primarily populated with people of Caucasian background. They now reflect the cultures of the world. We have a global village in our back yard and in our places of work. In order to work effectively together – to have successful teamwork – everyone requires strong listening skills and an attitude of openness and acceptance.
The ability to think strategically. Today’s work environment is on speed. Customers want faster service; employees want quicker answers to their concerns. Businesses gear up with the latest technology only to find that they are behind. The ability to respond with a mind set that is aligned with the company’s vision and values is critical when things are coming at you with a furiousness of a hurricane.
The ability to use metrics. The old saying “you can’t improve what you don’t measure” is true today as it was yesterday. Filling in data to provide the information necessary to measure performance is often a mind numbing chore. The ability to design and collect measurements in an unobtrusive way is a skill that is increasingly required. So too is the ability to provide data in meaningful pictures and summaries that is easily understood and supports critical decision-making rather than bogging it down in meaningless detail.
The ability to influence. The importance of influencing others while maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships cannot be underestimated in todays work environment. Leaders need to look for people who have positive attitudes, highly honed listening and communicating skills and the ability to read the mood of others appropriately. Strong influencing skills are required at every position and at every level of an organization if businesses are to be successful going forward.
The ability to learn. John was just let go from a company because he wouldn’t keep up with current requirements. Notice the word is “wouldn’t” and not “couldn’t.” John thought he was safe in his position because he had been with the company for many years. Employees at all levels of an organization need to be open to change – and this means learning new ways of doing things, keeping up with technology and being a continuous learner. The ability to learn from mistakes, improve oneself and move with the times are essential requirements when filling positions in today’s workplace.
When considering your next hire, whether for a leadership position or otherwise, review your requirements and keep in mind the above six qualities. People are the life blood of your organization. so take the time to hire the right person with the right qualities for today's work realities.
When sailing we keep an outlook for the changing winds as they may push us off course. This is a good analogy for keeping our eye on the changes that may affect our business strategies. Maybe this is why we refer to identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) affecting our business as an environmental scan.
Completing an environmental scan is nothing other than keeping our eye on the winds of change and adjusting our course accordingly. Like sailing, sometimes there is a major storm which causes a crisis within the business, and like sailing we don't change the initial destination. We may need to sail to another port for safe harbour and when the storm passes or the crisis is resolved we set sail again to our original destination - unless of course there is no longer a business case for that aspect of the business.
During the strategic planning process we complete an environmental scan to determine the push and pull of the winds buffering our business. How do we do this? First we don't wait until we have a strategic retreat to complete the scan. Environmental scanning is an ongoing process and we use the strategic retreat to review the information to get a clear sense of what will affect our business in the coming one to five years. And since it is an ongoing process we may be able to avoid a business crisis in advance of it hitting the business. We shift the strategies to meet the winds of change but we don't change the destination barring the exception stated above. This allows us to view our Strategic Plan as a "living document" and we adjust it to meet changes in our marketplace.
Here are eight ways to keep an eye on the winds of change within the marketplaces:
The winds of change in the broader market place are outside of our control, but constantly having our antenna up will pay dividends in managing our strategies and will keep our businesses in a constant state of renewal.
Up-dated from the Archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.
Much has been written about Toyota’s approach to Lean Production, Manufacturing companies throughout the world have spent millions of dollars on learning the system. More recently the service industry in health and education are imitating or modifying the practice, with varying degrees of success. Again with a great investment in consulting, training and process improvement measures.
But what about small businesses who can't afford such a huge investment? Well, there is a way to become "Lean" without breaking your bank account and without going through all the seemingly complicated consulting and training. The easiest way for a small business to initiate a cost effective "Lean" process is to understand the principles behind Toyota's Lean approach and apply them to the business. Let's break those down into four easy principles that you can begin using today.
1. Create value for customers.
The most effective strategy that a small company can have is to focus on the customer. Customers are the lifeblood of any business, without them there is no business. Cost effective and value added services develop customer loyalty and referrals. Review the way you service your customers. Here are several questions to get you started:
Are we customer-centric? Do we have a customer service purpose and values statement? Do we provide customer service training that will add value to the way we relate to customers? Do we have reward programs for our customers? Do we invite customers back when we have something new to offer them? Do we periodically follow-up a purchase with a thank you note? Do we make it easy for customers to buy our products? Do we know our customers' wants and needs? When was the last time we sat down and talked to customers? Do we know our regular customers by name? What processes do we have in place to serve customers? Are they cumbersome or are they customer friendly? What do employees say about improving the way we go about serving customers? Are goods placed in easy reach? Are our offices and retail outlets attractive and inviting? How can we reduce and remove "red tape" and replace it with "green tape"?
The key to adding value for customers is to keep asking questions that will prompt you and your employees to find answers on how you can consistently deliver customer-centric service.
2. Improve efficiency and eliminate waste that doesn't create value for customers
Review the way you do business by pulling apart the processes you have in place. A process is nothing other than a series of steps you take (or procedures you have to achieve something. Clarify what you have in place. Eliminate those that are unnecessary and make those you keep more efficient. Here are some examples:
Stop printing out copies of material that you can keep in your virtual filing system (but make sure you have backup copies); send letters and invoices by email; use a simple document scanner to keep virtual copies of material thereby cutting down on hard copy file folders and filing cabinets; reduce the number of meetings or make them more productive; coordinate sales calls to an area rather than driving all over the city; recycle all recyclable waste material; centralize office equipment; reduce the number of interruptions you have in a day; review where you store inventory to make it easier to fulfill orders; keep your inventory current; call customers in advance to confirm appointments and their expectations; develop standard procedure manuals; keep your shop floor and desk free from clutter; make it easy to identify tools by having a visual tool wall and color coded containers for larger tools or small parts.
3. Continuously improve people and products
I often hear employers say "people are our greatest asset," but when I question that statement I find they invest little in providing training for their employees. If people are your greatest asset, then you need to develop a culture where continuous learning is normal and accepted.
Consider learning opportunities that will enhance personal and organizational productivity, influencing and building relationships, problem solving, decision making, planning projects, selling goods and services, servicing customers, strengthening teamwork or any other area that is specific to your business.
People are genuinely open to learning when given the opportunity, and they think highly of an organization that invests in their on-going development. Individuals who are kept current with new or renewed skills contribute more effectively and work towards improving results.
Continuously improving and renewing your products or services is critical in today's changing marketplace. I see and hear the catch phrase "new and improved", but sometimes I wonder whether it's just a marketing gimmick so that customers will buy a product that is often on the decline. The phrase is overused as often little is new and even less is improved. It's time we became serious about improving and renewing products.
Continuously improving products is all about understanding your customers demand for your goods and services and developing a process to respond to them in a timely fashion. Small businesses can:
Keep an eye out for new products that complement and add value to their existing line; remove products that don't sell and add real value to a "renewed" product; market test a new product before launching it to understand how it adds value for customers; visit customers to assess how the goods or services they purchased met their needs and satisfaction; ask customers for suggestions on how you can improve your product or service; send out satisfaction rating forms with space to answer the question 'How can we improve our service or product?"; provide current information to customers that help them with the product or service they purchased from you.
Customers need to see and feel that your company is acting on their behalf by providing them with quality products and services they perceive as having real value. They become sceptical when they perceive the only thing that has been renewed is the packaging or the marketing slogan.
4. Live respectful values.
Spend considerable time in developing a positive values-based culture. One of the first things I do when I walk into an organization is to take a quick temperature of the culture. I watch how people interact with each other. I look at the "organizational graffiti" on the wall, for instance: are their motivational posters or are negative images lurking in individual offices, at the cooler, or in the photocopy room. I listen to the language and messages that employees, supervisors and customer service representatives use; I observe if people are being told what to do rather than being involved in finding solutions.
One can tell a lot about how people live company values in a relatively short time. Whether we agree or not, customers feel this as well, and their first impressions stick. They will walk out of a place of business with that impression and will tell their friends about what they saw, heard and felt.
The key in developing a positive values-based culture is to encourage everyone in an organization to act with respect, honesty, integrity, trust and collaboration. Small business owners can clarify their own values with employees, be positive examples, and engage employees in developing a set of values for the business.
Once the values are clarified then everyone has a responsibility to hold each other accountable to ensure they are carried out. This is viewed not as a negative or punitive act but one where people are genuinely committed to upholding them. Living respectful values increases employee satisfaction, improves customer service, and strengthens a business's reputation.
As an owner of a small business you don't need to get hung up with using the words that explain Toyota's concepts such as Kaizen, Kanban, Mudo-Murii, Gumba. You may want to learn what they mean but use language that your employees and customers understand. Use simple language similar to the four points above and seek solutions to the questions:
Throughout the clarification process be genuine and supportive of employees and always keep your focus on what is in the best interest of your customers. In the end (which is a bit of an oxymoron as there is no end) you will create an on-going process that has invaluable rewards, such as:
A culture focused on continuous learning designed to improve people, processes and products
Here are a few more resources for you to check out:
Up-dated from the archives Fontanie Learning Solutions
Each year I look forward to receiving the top 50 and 100 employers list. I receive both the local as well as the top 100 for Canada. My interest for receiving them is somewhat selfish but it is also fuelled with a sense of pride and admiration. Selfish because I primarily want to work with successful companies, pride because many of the companies I have worked with make the top list, and admiration because it takes a concerted effort for companies to reach the top.
Top performing organizations are found across our economic landscape. They come from the private, not-for-profit and cooperative endeavours. All of them mirror attributes that stem from their vision for the future, strong leadership, employee commitment and excellent customer service. When I look closely at them, here is what I find.
Top performing companies have longevity. It goes without saying that the passage of time gives them longevity. However it is what they have done during that time that's important. The ability to work through economic swings, changes in the marketplace and crises earns them their stripes. They have been in business usually for over 30 years and many for over 100 years. They grew incrementally, usually from small beginnings to what is now for many a global outreach.
The leadership team is clear about the company's vision and mission. More importantly leaders model the company values. They know why they exist and what they deliver and protect the company's image with integrity and sound stewardship. They keep their vision, mission and values in front of their customers through strong branding strategies.
If you go into any of the top performing organizations, you can't help but notice their branding power. Their vision, mission and value statements are present for anyone to see. They provide consistent messages to the outside world and often only a word or a phrase or a logo is needed for anyone to recognize the brand.
Their leaders and managers "walk the talk" to use an old cliché. The leaders and managers have a strong allegiance to the company and are committed to achieving not only financial gains for their shareholders but to developing an organizational culture where people want to work. They realize that financial gain only comes about by strong team effort built on trust, recognition and just rewards. The leader managers are optimistic about the future, respect their colleagues and employees and reflect the values the company deems important.
Top performing companies don't leave things to chance. They develop contingency plans to soften the blow of a crises or to meet changes in the marketplace. They allocate resources to scan the marketplace to ensure their products are relevant and cull those that aren't. They recognize that developing contingency plans to meet changing circumstances is not easy. Sometimes contingency plans call for the need to reduce employees. When Top Performing Organizations are confronted with the people reduction scenario, they do so in the most humane way possible by: searching for all possible ways to retain staff, building in internal on-going career coaching, and calling upon external career transition coaches when necessary.
Top performing companies are employee centric. They are concerned about their employees careers, and find ways to continually upgrade employee knowledge and skills. They view learning as an investment in their future and understand that even if the employee leaves the company they will be their ambassador for years to come. By placing emphasis on their employees careers, they know they will benefit in the long term as they will have a natural pool to draw upon when the time comes to find successors for those leaving the company. I also find that they have strong team practices, experiment with differing organizational models to meet new requirements, engage employees in the decision-making process, and promote a pleasing and flexible work environment.
They are customer centric. Top performing companies know that the ultimate key to their success is the promotion of customer service next to none. They have a strong customer service strategy that ties in with their overall strategic direction and values. They spend an enormous amount of energy in making sure that their employees understand who their customers are and how to best serve them. They know that a culture built on customer service means that everyone in the business treats everyone else as if they were their customer.
Top performing companies work hard at becoming top performers, but they are not perfect. They have issues and problems like any other company. These could include hiring staff in times of a heated economy, continually training employees when the economy is weak, dealing with employees who don't take appropriate responsibility and accountability for their actions, making sure they have an appropriate mix of products and services, or resolving a host of strategic or organizational issues. It's not that they don't have problems, it's how they deal with them that counts. They recognize that they can't take things for granted and rest on past successes but always need to keep going forward with continued discipline and agility.
Lessons Learned: When top performing companies begin to lose those attributes which have propelled them to the top, they begin to slide off the list. To keep themselves on the list they keep their leadership team working at peak performance. If businesses want to join this elite group then they need to have in place disciplined leaders who: maintain strategic focus on the changing requirements of their marketplace, commit to the business's vision, mission and values, develop an organizational culture with an engaged workforce, provide top notch customer service, and have the flexibility to meet unforeseen contingencies when they arise. What is encouraging to me is that I find that many successful small businesses have the same attributes as their big brother counterparts, only on a smaller scale. They won't make the top 100 list but they are top performers just the same. To these businesses, I also salute.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC From the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.