Systems are wonderful. You can sit down after the Christmas and New Year break, confident that you’ll be able to pick up exactly where you left off. With no problems.
Or can you?
Perhaps that’s not your experience. Perhaps – when you get back to your desk – there’s a moment of dread. A moment where you’re thinking ‘Oh no – not again…!’
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The world is full of systems that were started for a perfectly good reason. And which have long since outlived their usefulness.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about ‘old-fashioned’ systems. It’s very tempting to change a system simply because it seems a bit passé, but that, on its own, isn’t enough of a reason. Consider, for example, the fuss that was made about fax machines being used by the NHS. If you want a good example of 1980s tech, look no further. Fax machines were wonderful when they first appeared, but that was long before we had something called email. So surely it makes sense to use email instead?
Or does it?
When older is better…
In conversation with a friend who’s worked in the NHS I asked exactly that question. She grinned. ‘Of course email’s better. But not for everything.’
Surprised, I asked what she had in mind.
‘Simple,’ she said. ‘A nurse is writing a note – by hand – because it’s the quickest way to communicate an urgent request. She sticks it in a fax machine, presses a preset number to send it to a colleague, and the job’s done. It would take her twice or three times as long to send an email. And she doesn’t have the time. Even if she were allowed to use a smartphone in the operating theatre…’
So it may be old. But if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. If it is broke, on the other hand…
Why systems go worng…
There seems to be a rule that the bigger the project, the more likely it is to go wrong. Without casting stones at any particular administration, that seems to go double for major government IT projects.
So why do they fail so often?
I like to think it’s a collision of good intentions. A consultant friend recently told me about his experience with HMRC’s very first self-assessment form, long before the days when there was handy software around to help him fill it out. It took him two weeks, during which he, as a full-time freelancer, earned nothing at all. ‘They should have been paying me to do my tax!’ he laughed. So what did he think was the problem with it?
‘When I looked at it, I could see that someone – perhaps a consultant like me – had tried very hard to make it clear, straightforward, and easy to complete. All the signs were there. My guess? I think that after that it went through about half a dozen different civil service desks. And every single one of them added their own feedback. They’d have pointed out all the little exceptions. All the tricky details. In fact, all those things that make our tax system totally unsuitable for self-assessment – unless you’re a tax accountant. And that form was the result.
‘So yes – that particular road to hell was paved with good intentions. And millions of people had to travel it. All I can say is “thank God for software.”‘
…what can you do if you’re faced with a similar chimera?
A good place to start is with comments and feedback from people who have to use your systems, but had no part in creating them. People coming to it with a fresh pair of eyes. If they’re told what it’s meant to do, they may very well come up with fresh ideas and fresh approaches for delivering the results you really want.
As opposed to delivering frustration, annoyance, and bad feeling.
And if you could use a little help – and another fresh pair of eyes – why not book a free initial consultation?
Love your business? If it’s your own venture – yes, you probably do. Or at least, you probably did. But if the love is fading, what can you do to bring it back?
Let’s face it, most of us start a new venture with bucketloads of enthusiasm, undiluted by experience. Until, of course, experience kicks in. And that once-golden vision begins to look a little – well, tarnished.
It happens. We’re only human. But it doesn’t have to. Because all too often people fall out of love with their business for avoidable reasons. Perhaps, for example, because it isn’t working nearly as well as it could. Enthusiasm, after all, will only take you so far if you’re working six times harder than you need (or want) to.
So what’s the answer?
Well, you could look for inspiration to Ole Kirk Christiansen, the man who invented Lego. Without (to start with) knowing the first thing about plastic.
Because he was a carpenter…
Ole Kirk Christiansen’s story
What Ole did have was a burning desire to create quality toys that would help children to ‘play well’. Or since he was a Dane, ‘at lege godt’. Which was the origin of the name ‘Lego’. And because he was a carpenter, his first toys were made of wood. Like most business startups, he began with what he knew, what he loved, and what he was good at. Wooden ducks. Wooden bears. Wooden bricks. With his own young son as an enthusiastic beta tester.
In a country still recovering from war – and from the bitterness and humiliation of the German occupation – people were in the mood to rebuild. Ole found that children, too, liked to build things – and, like many Danes, he was a man who looked to the future and found it exciting. And one of things he found most exciting was the wealth of possibilities in new materials like plastic.
So he experimented with plastic bricks. Simple ones to start with, that didn’t lock together. Until his son complained about them. So the LEGO brick was born. And patented.
Ole’s grandson still runs the business. It’s a little larger now, but Ole never fell out of love with it – and nor has his family.
Play well, work well, live well
So what can we learn from Ole’s story?
First, that passion counts for a great deal – and that he most certainly had.
Second, that doing something you love can still involve change and development. It doesn’t mean doing exactly the same thing you started with, because a successful business will evolve and grow to meet changing demand and changing conditions. You may need to shift its direction, think again, and try something new. The first Legoland, in Denmark, was a complete gamble. Ole’s son, Godfred, expected 125,000 visitors – and got 1.5 million…
Thirdly, that you may need to adapt and change your processes. Because what worked well for a carpenter turning out individual toys was hardly going to work for a factory turning out millions of plastic building bricks. Because Ole was prepared to make those changes, he never fell out of love with his business. And his love was amply repaid.
And fourthly, that even the most successful business may face unexpected challenges. The rise of computer games led to a prolonged crisis for LEGO – which they resolved by an impressive new strategy that embraced and exploited the new possibilities of online play.
So if you no longer love your business, give me a call. I’d be delighted to help you rekindle that romance. Why not book a free initial consultation?
If you keep just one New Year resolution this year, here’s the one to stick to: ‘You will delegate the work you don’t need to do yourself.’
In an earlier post you’ll find ideas to avoid being a ‘busy fool’ – by deciding what to do, what to delegate, and what to dump. But when you’ve made that important decision, the next step is even more important. Because you need to delegate the right work, to the right people, for the right reasons – and get it done in the right way…
The right work
Good – you’re clear about what task you want to delegate. But now you need to take a long, hard look at what, precisely you are doing, and how you are doing it. How would you describe it to someone else? What, exactly, would you ask them to do?
It may sound like a silly question: after all, you probably think that the answer is obvious.
But is it?
If it’s obvious, you should be able to write down what’s needed in a sentence or two. If you can’t, it may not be as obvious as you thought…!
Puzzled? Don’t be. In all likelihood you’ve been doing that job for months or even years. You know precisely what to do and how to do it. But all that information only exists in your head. And until it exists somewhere else, in an accessible form, you can’t really expect anyone else to do it for you.
So – write it down. And, perhaps, discuss it with the person you’d like to do the job. They may well have questions. They may also have suggestions: other ways of doing the work that are simpler, or more cost-effective. That’s the benefit of bringing in someone to help you, after all!
But only, of course, if they’re the right someone.
The right people
If you value your business, you don’t want just anyone to work in it. You’ll want people with genuine, proven ability who can make a real contribution. In fairness, that could include members of your family, but they may well have other things to do which they would regard as more important. (Like doing their own job. Or feeding the cat. After all, they may not want to work for you…)
If they’re an employee, be sure they are a good ‘fit’ for the job you’re asking them to do – and that they feel willing and able to do it. If they’re the right person in principle, but lack the necessary experience, you’ll need to invest in training them. That may well be a good investment, but you need to be confident that it’s worth making.
If you’re looking outside the business, at someone you don’t know well – such as a Virtual Assistant – you’ll need to check out their credentials. (And, ideally, what other clients think of them – perhaps via social media). Anyone can talk the talk, but you need the substance. And you need to get on with them on a personal level, as well – after all, they’re effectively going to be a part of your team.
The right way
Of course, trust is an issue, too. Depending on the nature of your business you may need your outsourcing supplier to sign a confidentiality agreement – especially given the more stringent rules around data protection from May 2018. And consider any terms and conditions you may need to apply – including, for example, permission for them to outsource work which, for any reason, they cannot do themselves.
Think of ‘trust’, and inevitably the next word you are likely to think of is ‘risk’. So what are the risks of outsourcing the work you have in mind? If something went wrong, what effect might that have on your business? Your answer is likely to shape your initial agreement with your new partner.
If the risk is relatively low, the best approach is probably to arrange an agreed trial period so you can see how the arrangement will work. If the risk is greater you will certainly want to set specific terms and conditions around the trial, and arrange for regular performance reviews. You will also want to have a Plan B available in case it doesn’t work out!
Inevitably things you haven’t thought of will come up (they always do) but a good, responsive outsourcing supplier will be aware of that and respond to feedback. If they don’t – or if their response is less than helpful – then it’s time to move on and find someone else! Every good business welcomes feedback. (You do – don’t you?)
Need a little help? Then please get in touch for a free fact-finding consultation.
Let’s face it, if you’re looking for the ultimate process then look no further than the North Pole. (Or Greenland. Or Lapland. Mr Claus seems a little cagey about revealing the location of his head office…)
Think about it. Billions of presents, all with a need to be supplied – and delivered – just in time. (Urgent: Little Johnny (Ref UK263-MR-CO2348978230) no longer wants the Iron Man Mk III rocket suit – he’s just seen Thor: Ragnarok and now he wants a scale model of Asgard and a throwable Hammer. NB that Little Johnny’s Mummy would like this item mislaid in transit…) A worldwide communication network that needs to be up and running every second of every day in the run up to the Main Event. And a distribution nightmare. (The right present, to exactly the right address, within a 24-hour window sliced into immutable 6-hour segments…) Well, it would certainly keep me awake at night just thinking about it.
So how could he possibly do it?
Theories abound, of course. Including several that involve messing with the fabric of reality and some ridiculously esoteric physics. But I’d go for something more earthbound.
He has help. Lots of it. Obviously.
Turning a challenge into a process
Want to do something that seems impossible? Then you divide it up into smaller tasks. And then divide those again. And keep going until the whole thing is a connected series of small, bite-sized pieces. (But note that key word ‘connected’…)
That, after all, is how humans reached the Moon. And how they’re already planning to build a colony on Mars. (Maybe they should have a word with Santa about sleigh-tech…)
And the lesson from all this?
If you want to grow your business in the coming year, and that seems impossible, think again. Work out what needs doing. Divide it up into bite-sized pieces. And then consider who – other than you – could do that job excellently as part of a planned and connected system.
And should you need a little help to design that system – well, you know who to call…
So here’s wishing you a very happy Christmas – and an exceedingly prosperous and successful New Year.
E-commerce? What a great idea! Just get a website out there, automate everything in sight, then sit back and let the cash roll in…
Well, that’s the dream. (And that’s precisely what it is – a dream!)
The nightmare comes when you’ve done that, and suddenly realise that ‘sitting back’ is no longer an option. For (at least) one of three possible reasons:
- Your website is indeed out there, and everything in sight is indeed automated – but you don’t have any customers.
- The website is working well and generating loads of business – but you haven’t actually worked out how to deal with the orders.
- You’re dealing with the orders – but you’re struggling to cope with the (inevitable) barrage of calls from customers who have a query, a problem, or a chronic inability to understand the internet…
And that’s the nightmare. (At any time. But especially just before Christmas.)
So – how do you get closer to the dream? And further away from the nightmare?
E-commerce – it’s all about process…
Like many things in life, e-commerce works best if you do some planning ahead. And in this case the planning you need to do starts with that all-singing, all-dancing website.
If you’ve designed the order process yourself, then you understand exactly how it works. (Hopefully.) But how does it look to a new customer? The time to ask that question is before you launch. And certainly before you do any marketing. Because you don’t want to spend the next six months dealing with abusive phone calls from people who couldn’t complete their orders.
Or, more likely, listening to the silence – because they all gave up and went somewhere else…
Success comes from planning. Thinking ahead. Anticipating problems. And then beta-testing, again and again, until even the most obtuse internet user can order your goods and complete the payment without picking up the phone.
And that’s just the order process. After that comes fulfilment. (At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen…)
What’s your process for managing stock levels – and reordering enough (but not too much) when you’re starting to run out?
How are you managing postage and delivery? Have you priced them properly on the website – and have you got a simple way to update them when (inevitably) the prices go up? What delivery options have you got in place – and how are you fulfilling them? And what’s the process for missed or failed deliveries?
There’s a lot to think about, and a lot to go wrong – but only if you haven’t made the right plans in the first place.
So if you need a little help – please get in touch for a free fact-finding consultation.