Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Friday, February 29, 2008

A lasting solution

We set up a meeting/business planning process with Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company. You should have a similar system in place if you want your business to survive hard as well as good times.

In my last post, I suggested some possible quick fixes if your business is caught in a sudden downdraft and you are in crisis. However, over the last few years (and my survival of a business crisis/decline more of my own making than the economies), I learned that quick fixes often don't work, are dangerous, and mask real problems and solutions. (I sought to suggest ideas that are safe and proven, of course, but many emergency fixes aren't so good.)

To achieve a longer range solution, you need to redesign your business systematically to combine consistent standards and an organized process to integrate/develop your employees' talents, foster loyalty and "pull up your socks" effort, and adapt in an organized manner to changing circumstances.

I've reviewed dozens of successful businesses and they all have a couple of things in common:

  • Employees have a stake in the business; not just superficial ownership, but a real sense they belong. They are often more skilled at their respective crafts/responsibilities than their supervisors but respect their bosses as they enjoy their own work and career progress.

  • The business has a disciplined and organized planning and "change management" system usually involving regular weekly meetings and bi-annual serious planning and integration efforts. Note this is not the bureaucratic "endless meeting" ritual that many governments and large companies observe -- our meetings are disciplined, short (regular meetings are never more than an hour) and encourage participation from everyone involved.
I cannot overstate the importance of building these processes into your business even though superficially, there are significant costs. After all, when your employees are meeting, you aren't working with clients or doing the actual work. So, in our business, the weekly sales meeting time is deliberately set for later in the afternoon late in the week, when few people are buying anyways. Our general weekly meetings (at 1:30 pm on Mondays) are designed to accommodate every one's schedule and allow for time zone issues as the business grows.

The bi-annual planning and budgeting sessions are more expensive and challenging because they require everyone to be at one location -- and that really increases travel and accommodation costs. Although we are still now a small business, we needed this year to buy plane tickets and find hotel accommodation for three key employees for our April planning session. I found relatively inexpensive plane tickets and accommodation in a comfortable but not-to-expensive hotel, but travel costs alone are going to be more than $2,000.

But that isn't the only expense.

We need a meeting facilitator and in my opinion, these meetings cannot be chaired/managed from within the business. The consultants are not inexpensive but are worth every penny. We use Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, but you may find your own consultants and advisers closer to home.

How important is all this stuff? It is vital -- to nip potential issues in the bud, resolve concerns and find answers. You'll often find short term solutions with lasting value are discovered at these meetings. For example, at a planning session two years ago, an employee suggested we review and sell our directory listings more effectively. We found a 'quick fix' with about $20,000 in revenue -- and best of all, this is a recurring revenue stream that does not require a dedicated salesperson to maintain. (Our administrative employee handles this responsibility -- and collects a truly satisfying top up bonus for her salary for her work on the project.)

If you haven't systematized this meeting/planning process, I recommend you make it one of your quick fixes -- it will become the basis of a permanent solution to your challenges. The biggest challenge, I think, will be finding your facilitator and consultant -- I had good luck with Bill Caswell, but you will find the options are hit and miss, otherwise (but especially if you are in the residential field, you might want to consider Michael Stone, or if you are an AEC professional practice, try Bernie Siben.)

P.S. You'll want to read Michael Stone's latest blog entry, especially if you are a general or specialty trade contractor facing payment problems within your community -- the nonsense he describes, alas, is a trait of a recession and screw ups and dishonesty unfortunately become glaringly apparent in hard times. I'll discuss these issues in the next blog entry.

No comments: