The old adage says “Work on Your Business, Not in Your Business”. How do you stay strategic, finding and removing barriers to growth?
Share your strategies and techniques in the comments below. Here is one approach we use.
This is one of our favorite techniques to help our clients and our own business get out of tactical, crisis thinking into game-changing solutions that break down barriers and enable productivity, performance and growth.
Got a thorny problem or barrier? You have to ask the right question. It starts with “HOW”, not “Who”
Like “How come we are inconsistently profitable?”, or “How come we can’t deliver a consistent customer experience?” or “How will we grow to the next level” or “How come our marketing isn’t producing the right leads” or “How come we can’t get an invoice out in less than 45 days?” or “How come only a few of our distributors are meeting goals?”
A manufacturer went to meet with their distributors to talk about their upcoming product lines. At the end of the meeting, the manufacturing CEO got an earful about how hard it was to get service from the company. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, the CEO had heard from employees how hard it was to “please the squeaky wheels.”
Presented with these ‘facts’ it’s pretty hard to know how to begin to un-ravel this problem. The way people talk about the issues is mired in blame and conflict… not a tasty meal most people want to dig into.
Frame the problem correctly. Symptoms are easy to see. The root of the problem is not. Which is why we so often get carried away with throwing a solution at what we think is the problem, so we can feel relief that something at least is being done about it. Yet symptom-based solutions rarely solve the real problem.
The CEO of the manufacturing firm had to back up the problem to the real issue and turn down the blame noise: Distributors are her customers. The end-users are the distributors’ customers. Both groups are struggling. “How can we deliver a consistent customer experience so everyone gets what they need when they need it?”
Answering this question is the goal. The outcome that she really wants is that both her company and her distributors are able to provide a consistent customer experience at lower cost with higher margins.
To get to the heart of the problem to reach this outcome, you have to be able to hear all the concerns and the complaints about everything to do with the “How come” problem statement and map them as a sequence of events. Why? Because companies are like plumbing systems: when there is bottleneck in one area, it’s because of problems further on down the line.
This process helps you know which domino starts the entire sequence of hiccups. That first domino is the right problem to start understanding so that you then apply a carefully thought out solution.
How do you collect the complaints to get to that first domino? Get everyone that has some intel on this problem (which is everyone who contributes any info to the situation) and collect the complaints, concerns, observations and analysis – neutral statements, no blame.
The CEO sent out the product quality (a great listener) specialist to collect the distributors’ complaints. Then she empowered a team of managers from finance, shipping, manufacturing, sales and IT to process the complaints, find the first domino and build a new flow of how distributors’ needs would get met.
Next step? Test the impacts of the solutions on the next event in the sequence. Hit a snag? Refine the solution so that the snag is taken care of.
The team designed a rush ship program on some products for two day delivery, a whopping five days faster than current delivery dates … for a fee. The CEO was impressed but the team hit a snag.
Distributors liked that idea and were willing to pay. But they needed some of the products not on that list for their more demanding customers who want it yesterday. Working with manufacturing, they created a crack team who could churn out the desired product overnight.
With that premium priced solution, distributors sold more emergency orders, and started winning more orders overall, beating out their competition… and margins went up in a down market! And everyone was happy again.
Where can you apply this technique in your business?
What other strategies do you use that work for you and your business?
If you would like help doing this type of strategic problem solving in your business then let’s talk. You can schedule our discussion here