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Seeing into the Future

As an owner or a manager of a business you have a clear responsibility to steer your organization to make it a success. Simply assuming that the next year will be the same as the last and forgoing any evaluation is accepting that you will allow your business to float where ever the market currently leads you.

No matter what its size, location or focus, all companies can be described in terms of inputs, outputs and a process in between. A great deal of work has been done in this area and if you are a student of continuous improvement, then you are probably aware of the 4 step Deming cycle. If not, consider this article your 5 minute summary.

Step 1 – Plan

Try to look at your business with fresh eyes. Imagine you are a consultant. Seek inputs from your employees, have lunch with the competition or use the competition’s services. What are the most important factors that contribute to what you define as success for your organization? Obviously, financials are important and should be considered but what are the other, harder to evaluate, areas that could be improved in the coming year? What were your employee and customer satisfaction levels, retention rates, and referral rates? What were your failure modes? Do you have a way of measuring these factors? Even just setting up a system to track certain factors is a great way to start down the path of continuous improvement.

Step 2 – Do

Once you identify the areas that could benefit from improvement, pick the ones that you want to target. Brainstorm possible solutions with your team. (Recent testing suggests that asking individuals to come to a brainstorming meeting with a few ideas beforehand is more effective than asking for them live). Choose the ideas you want to follow and next lay out a plan and commit resources to make it a success. Book a year of monthly meetings, send out a list of these corporate goals and break them down so every level of the company can demonstrate achievement, autonomy and mastery. Make sure your goals are as specific as possible, clearly measurable, obviously attainable and relevant. Each goal should have a deadline and a single person responsible for its completion.

Step 3 – Check

Make sure to perform check-ins at regular intervals. Be responsible for any unintended negative consequences as well as the positive effects and never stay the course on a bad decision just because it was your own idea. If you see something that needs further adjustment, do it right away.

Step 4 – Act

Based on this new stream of information, how will you act differently? If it remains business as usual then you have achieved nothing more than going through the motions. Run small test batches in test markets with your new ideas. Make system changes and take risks. Most of all empower the individuals in your company to feel they can deviate from the script if the situation warrants it. Creating an environment of innovation is much better than any single goal.

Try out these four steps in the New Year and see if you improve the productivity, agility and responsiveness of your company. Remember, constant improvement is key.