Monday, 22 July 2013

Four questions to transform your business

I was reading a typical business guru post on Linkedin in the other day. It was telling companies how to make the best of their social media presence, and it was a load of typical worthless business-speak. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but this tosh makes my blood boil.

It was all about defining your goals, clarifying your vision, making sure you had a strategy roadmap, and god forbid you forgot your governance and guidelines. Does someone actually remove these people's brains and replace them with mush? Do human beings really speak like this? It was interesting to put this alongside the TV show Undercover Boss, where a senior executive from a company is secretly given a job on the shop floor (or equivalent) to see what it's really like to work there. Anyone who has a tendency to come out with business speak ought to have a go at the undercover boss game (clue - you don't need TV cameras to do this) and see if you still want to spout this garbage at the end of the process.

The sad thing in a way about Undercover Boss is how it is exactly the same lessons that get learned every time. The business processes get in the way of doing business well. The company doesn't treat its lowest paid employees as human beings. The people on the shop floor know how to improve things, but you don't talk to them. (Clue: don't think a suggestion scheme is the answer.) Running a business with employees is more about understanding people and helping them do things better to achieve your aims than it is about budgets and goals and visions and mission statements. Of course you need to know what you are trying to do and to keep an eye on the finances - but as soon as you start communicating in business speak you lose the plot.

If you are a senior executive in a company with employees, I think you need to ask yourself some serious questions - and do something about the answers:
  1. Do you know from experience what working life is like for your lower paid workers? Try out (anonymously if you can) some low paid, customer facing (if available) jobs for several days.
  2. Do you personally talk one-to-one with people doing the lower paid and customer facing jobs, asking them how things could be done better? Do it. Regularly. Don't rely on feedback forms and management reporting. These are people. Talk to them. And if you promise them change, make sure it happens.
  3. Do you find yourself spouting management speak? This is no way to talk to ordinary human beings. Try explaining your business to a ten-year-old. What you say to them is what your business is all about, not your vision and your mission statement.
  4. Do you personally talk to your customers on a regular basis? Feedback forms and customer response systems give you an anodyne and misleading picture. At least once a week personally talk to some real customers about their experience. What went well, what you could do better, what they would like to see.
It's not rocket science - and this is the main problem. If you listen to management gurus like my friend with the strategy roadmap to good governance (or whatever it was), they have to come out with this complex and meaningless rubbish, because you aren't going to pay them $5,000 a day for them to tell you to talk to your staff and your customers and to make things better as a result of what you hear. And yet that will do so much more for your business than any recommendation you might get from your friendly neighbourhood guru.

So what are you waiting for? Are you taking action on those four questions? Get started today.

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