One of my first big technology projects involved custom programming for a point-of-sale (POS – and you thought it stood for something else 😉 ) system. Programmers were on site almost round the clock for months and the cost was out of control. Nightmare doesn’t begin to describe it. Disaster doesn’t either. It was a mammoth failure. The only thing that came out of it was a deep education for all of us involved. Mostly, let’s don’t ever do this again!
But you can’t just stop using technology.
You can’t neglect to put in the work to future-proof your business.
And we all need to find ways to be more efficient.
The question is, “How can we best accomplish these things?”
People. That’s the answer. A goodly number of them. And not just anybody, but people qualified to provide valuable insights. People who may disagree with each other, too.
If I had it to do over, my POS project in the early 1980s would have been handled differently. Back then we had technology folks who claimed to know what they were doing. Things were so new I failed because I trusted they knew more than me. I knew what information I wanted, but I had no idea how to get it. The technology nerds at the time were arrogant in their prowess because at the time, Management Information Systems wasn’t even a thing. As business people we were sort of hostage to the few people around us who claimed to know how to get stuff done. Part of the failure was the early stage of the tech. Part of it was my human failure to incorporate more brains into the room to figure it out.
You SHOULD be giving attention to these activities and areas of your business: technology, future-proofing, and efficiency. Not everything will involve a computer, but much of it will.
Today, I want to spark your imagination and give you some practical tips that may help in your quest to elevate these things inside your business.
Step 1 – Get the right people in the room.
This isn’t always easy because too often I have found people do it too quickly without enough forethought. They think of the obvious players to have in the room, but it’s often the least obvious who can provide the greater value.
Make your list of the usual suspects.
Now, make your list of the most unusual suspects. There are people who have an insight that the most brilliant people in the room may lack. I’ve encountered countless times when a low-level team member recognized something that the brainiacs in the room were overlooked because he was dealing with the problem every day. They weren’t.
Who touches this process? Who does it every single day? Are they in this room providing input? Make sure they’ve got a seat at the table.
Think of anybody who may be able to provide insights to help you figure this out. I’d strongly encourage you to assemble a very small team, including yourself (I like the number 3 because it’s small and odd-numbered) to review WHO is going to be involved in vetting the projects.
Nothing is more important than in assembling the right team to help provide good answers and solutions. This team will provide the discussion and debate necessary to provide the best possible answers to all questions, and perhaps more importantly, they’ll be able to think of all the best questions to ask.
Pick the right people and don’t be afraid to invite outsiders.
Step 2 – Dive deeply inside your operation.
Question everything. “Why do we do it that way?” was among my top questions. Always.
Find out the reason. It can be enlightening.
It’s remanence of the story of the man who’s wife sent him to the store for a ham. After he bought it, she asked him why he didn’t have the butcher cut off the end of the ham. He asked his wife why she wanted the end cut off. She said that her mother had always done it that way and that was reason enough for her. Since the wife’s mother was visiting, they asked her why she always cut off the end of the ham. Mother replied that this was the way her mother did it; Mother, daughter and the man then decided to call grandmother and solve this three-generation mystery. Grandmother promptly replied that she cut the end of the ham because it’s the only way it’d fit in her pan.
Ask questions. Lots of questions. Find out why you’re doing what you’re doing. You may learn there are reasons just as stupid as having too small of a pan.
Step 3 – Dive more deeply into other industries.
Industry tunnel vision is real. We’re all prone to suffer it. We see “best practices” in our industry and assume that’s literally “the best way.” Often times, it’s not. It may simply be the best-known way by so-called industry leaders.
Copycat cultures in every industry are dangerous. It limits beliefs, stifles creativity and gives a vanilla sameness to things. Look at any industry and you’ll quickly see it. Listen to advertising for car dealers. They’re all doing the same thing and saying the same thing. Why should a customer go to one dealership over another? No reason. Not usually.
When you more closely examine how other industries tackled a similar problem you begin to expand your thinking. Make appointments with other CEOs or operators willing to share with you stories of how they’re tackling these issues. Take your small team with you (another reason why I don’t like to assemble more than 2 other people to go with me). Let them hear and see the insights of other industries.
Step 4 – Assemble the information so the discussions and debates can be lively. And fair.
It’s important to put every idea on trial for its life. But it’s equally important that the trial be fair. Don’t omit important information because somebody already has an end in mind.
When parties start squaring off in opposition to one another on what course to take, at some time of your choosing stop the discussion. Then ask each side to take the opposing view. Force them to flip positions so the truth can emerge. This also helps each side more clearly see the viewpoint of their “opponents.”
Step 5 – Try for consensus, but accept the best answer for your enterprise.
Personally, I’d like to reach consensus if possible because it makes for a higher-performing culture. It’s not always possible though. The way I attempt this is to influence and persuade. Not manipulate or coerce. But sometimes people don’t see it. Or don’t want to see it. They’re too dug into their position and unable to see anything beyond their own biases and viewpoints. That’s okay, but you can’t be swayed from doing what’s best by it.
Give yourself whatever time is necessary to make the decision. Then assemble the team and let them know the decision. Everybody must accept it and without moaning. Or resentment. Or threat of sabotage. Make sure everybody salutes the decisions and commits to making it a success.
Step 6 – Don’t be afraid to course-correct.
Even with all that prep work the decision may prove wrong. Or slightly off course. That’s okay.
Regroup and figure out what you can learn now that you’re some distance into the project. What isn’t working as you thought it would? Is something working better that nobody saw coming? What has changed?
Questions, questions, questions. Leverage them as long as you must to drill down to what actions NOW need to be taken to get things on track.
Make the changes as quickly as you can. Let the team see how willing you are to course correct. This isn’t about somebody’s ability to be “right,” but rather it’s about getting it right. No matter what.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!