Eliminate Meaningless Work

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Photo by Eugene Shelestov on Pexels.com

We can laugh at the paper shuffling reference as a bygone era, however, you would not be hard-pressed to see manual processes still being run today. Regardless of the efficiencies, cost-savings and better customer experience of digitization, old habits can die hard, especially in businesses.

Never mind if your livelihood depends on such inefficiencies. Innovating a workflow can easily eliminate the need for headcount.

It’s scary when efficiency keeps rolling back the tide and exposing waste. What may have been necessary or productive once is now either wasteful or meaningless work. This goes for digital processes as well.

There are cheaper, faster coders that can deliver an app from anywhere in the world.

You don’t have to manually enter data from one system to another. Using a tool like Zapier can automatically push data wherever you want. Or just make rules between your apps with IFTTT.

Bench is data mining, commoditizing and automating bookkeeping at scale.

Alibaba gets product entrepreneurs prototyping, testing and domesticating products.

Being a middleman these days can be quite wasteful, especially if you are in a production process. Better to figure out how to be more valuable and use the speed to get better results.

Meaningless work has a rapid half-life, especially when business owners and managers are squeezed to deliver better results and profits. Furthermore, you and I are consumers. We are part of the demand audience. We are snobs. We insist on food being delivered instantly, hotels being seamlessly booked and a car to pick us up when we push a button on our phone. Imagine some paper shuffler processing our requests and bottlenecking the exchange.

In your own work, take a look around and get rid of waste. You may have more time with automation. That’s a good thing. Now you can take the extra bandwidth and put the energy into the main thing that produces results for your customers.

Look across your business. It’s required that you eliminate waste. Consider Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno’s moral stance in growing your business, “It is not an exaggeration that in a low growth period, such waste is a crime against society more than a business loss. Eliminating waste must be a business’ first objective.”

Quick Waste Elimination Tips:

  • Write out the steps you do from attracting a customer all the way to putting money in your bank account. What steps can be removed or modified?
  • Write down all the software and apps you use. Get rid of 20% of them.
  • Find the 10% of best customers you have. Meet with them and do bigger deals.
  • Get rid of paper. Move information into systems.
  • Make it easier for a customer to buy from you or get support. Increase the speed and responsiveness.
  • Design a continuous recruiting process for talent.
  • Define who you like to work with. Only work with those people.

The Goal of Your System

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If you are sitting comfortably, there’s not much incentive to improve your systems. However, disruptors such as technology, competition and atrophy (i.e., Groupon), may force your hand to get your systems more efficient.

I’ve been sharing out various books around the area of business growth and efficiency lately. A classic I would recommend if you are serious about getting your business systems working optimally is The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. You get an insightful and packed story that illuminates the complexities, sensitivities and systemic relationships of complex systems.

You also learn about what the goal of a system is: throughput. Your challenge is to drive throughput in the midst of dealing with natural forces including statistical fluctuations, dependencies, inventory, operational expense and bottlenecks.

It’s tricky business, and if you are not careful, you can damage your systems in the pursuit of efficiencies and make throughput worse, not better.

If you get myopic around local maximums, for example, you can cause your system’s throughput to suffer overall.

Systems with their dependencies and obedience to natural laws have to be respected, analyzed and refined carefully to avoid unintended consequences.

I have seen so many businesses with good intentions that violate the principles of The Goal and see negative impacts on their cash flow. It’s not pretty, and sometimes it’s hard to understand.

There are undoubtedly higher efficiencies that would make life easier, make customers happier and put more money in your pocket.

What if you could increase your throughput and your cash by 50%? Does it appeal to you to move the needle? All that lost opportunity and money could be a fantastic motivator to keep growing so you are not vulnerable when change comes to force your hand.

Get ahead of that inevitable decrease and drive the throughput. That is the goal of your system.

Build In the Cost

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Part of living in reality is accepting all its shortcomings and inefficiencies. All the inputs you may work hard to put into a system – materials, technology, talent, management, etc. – will not work at maximum efficiency or ever be balanced.

When your systems become more complex, there is going to be more leakage and failure points. And a good system designer will account for the cost that comes from trying to make a workflow or system work.

That cost plus comes from the dependencies and statistical fluctuations which are a natural part of life.

People get sick. A vendor doesn’t deliver goods you need on time. A strategy missed the mark. You get a software virus.

Every working day has these types of statistical fluctuations and it has an impact on how your business and workflow will operate.

It’s why accounting for the costs that are natural from everyday work as well as Old Man Murphy is so important to consider. You have to have margin that’s based on the inevitable inefficiencies which will impact your results.

I think it makes operational efficiency somewhat of an art as well. You don’t know what will impact your well-intended and well-laid plans. You can only know that there are places in your workflow that will take a hit, sometimes sporadically, and other times regularly.

When it comes to getting business results, the cost side of your systems are real and if your expectations can have a buffer to what is ideal, you can rely on a lot of flex in your outputs. This is especially true with people-dependent processes and systems.

I like to think about contingency planning along with continuous improvement in known areas that will require support at untimely intervals. This not only keeps you from being blindsided, but you manage the risk from an imperfect world we all have to tolerate.

Consider where your costs will arise and how it impacts your overall results, whether that is in selling, demand generation or operational workflow. Mitigating that cost can go a long way towards allowing for continuity and sanity.

Building the Boring Business

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I enjoy drama, action and suspense when I watch a movie to relax and let my mind and emotions wander. However, I don’t find heroics and craziness entertaining or useful in business. In fact, my goal with entrepreneurs and business owners is to build a boring business based on systems, processes and execution that produces consistent cash flow.

That sounds reasonable, but often it goes against the programming and nature of the owner operators that believe charisma and heroics has won the day. I get it. We like superheroes and long to be one.

Emergencies pop up and uncertainty continually deals a hand here and there. When I see volatility or repeatable drama, then my conclusion is that something foundational is not working.

If you ever have gone on factory tours of large manufacturers of cars, electronics or packaged goods, you don’t see chaos and frenetic energy. You see systems that drive output. The systems are there to drive towards a singular result. It’s a boring business and it works to get goods into the hands of customers. The goal is making the customer happy and drive revenue.

But well-run businesses do not simply appear overnight. There’s thought around how materials, information and talent flow. Systems work well with focused results by removing the crises, variables and gotcha’s that snare lesser performing operations.

The boring business happens because of strong leadership and a commitment to not repeat insanity from continual failure. This not only includes project management or operations but in how the business cares about and manages client relationships, grows revenue via a continuous pipeline and continually innovates. These are all parts of a business that can be creatively systematized. The energy and creativity for a boring business can be put in the design and execution of processes that stay ahead of chaos.

Sure, you can spend time getting lost in details and putting out daily fires. But when you step back and take a look at anything that repeatedly pops up and slows down the main event – making your customer happy – have you really solved the root problem of poor systems? Is a lack of commitment to process simply leaving the door open for problems later?

Perhaps team members need regular training and testing of their knowledge and skills. Or you may need a knowledge base and repository to keep information so you don’t have to keep reminding people how business should be done.

In many cases, you might simply need to notice the repeatability and frequency of problems. Do you like heroics simply because it appeals to the ego or makes you feel like you are working on something?

I like drama to stay at the box office or in my recreational fun going up or down mountains. When it’s completely possible to keep a business focused on delivering value and driving revenue, no thanks. Give me the boring business instead and leave the adventures for other parts of life where it belongs. #nodrama

Unburden Yourself

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I cannot overstate the value and pleasure of an unburdened life and clear mind. It’s too easy to overcomplicate our lives with so many things that simply do not matter. I have observed the reality that Robert Ringer puts forth about human nature:

Human beings, by nature, tend to seek ways to complicate their lives. Given a choice between a simple and a complicated method to accomplish an objective, most people will opt for the more complicated course of action. This is one of those great mysteries of life from which there is no logical explanation.

Some examples I have observed that create unneeded complexity where it’s a giant burden to people:

  • Maintaining high overhead instead of simplifying with technology.
  • Hiring friends and family for their comfort and familiarity over competency for a job.
  • Having complex legal structures, locations and operational redundancies in a business.
  • Traveling to the ends of the earth to work on deals that may or may not materialize when there are simpler deals locally.
  • Developing many different products and services that don’t pay off compared to a few that do.
  • Working in high hassle industries where most of your time is spent on non-productive work that doesn’t help your customers. i.e., high regulation industries.
  • Selling with manpower vs. systems
  • Constantly in drama
  • Always overworked and not having time
  • Managing too many open accounts
  • Continually adding every new technology or gadget
  • Maintaining social appearances
  • Arguing
  • Social media
  • Narcism

When you have much more noise than is required to get your goals, everything gets harder, unnecessarily. Why? It’s such a waste. It’s a blind spot, for sure, if you can’t fathom or see the possibility of boring, efficient results.

I don’t want to run around in chaos. I like working in calm and ease.

I don’t want drama. I like enjoying my wife and three kids laughing and snowboarding 50 mph down mountains.

I don’t want busy work. I would rather work little on things that matter with big payoffs.

I don’t want a ton of uncaring associates. I would rather have a few good friends.

I don’t want to talk about meaningless chatter. I want depth and honesty.

All the things we let leak into our lives have costs. And managing a ton of little details, costs and superfluous junk becomes a burden. It’s like dragging weights through life when we are trying to go fast.

What if you started shedding? Might be hard. After all, Buddha observed,

All unhappiness is caused by attachment.

You can certainly be happier, feel lighter and get results. Ever notice your burdens?

Fix The Users Not the Technology

When life was hard and we had to shovel dirt with a stick, welcoming innovation in technology allowed for large jumps in productivity and happiness. Maybe people then were thinking about how to make a better stick and work harder with it. The task at hand was pretty simple – make a hole.

We do far more than make holes today. The speed of technology advancement makes what is remarkable today boring in a few months or even a few weeks. And within this amazing world we live in, we can innovate because platforms, tools and preceding knowledge allow us to shortcut towards innovation.

If a third world country wanted to provide a communications system for their citizens, you won’t see them putting in telegraph wires first then land lines then old rotary phones and big coiled handsets.

Innovation has allowed onlookers to simply step in with current technology at a low price point. Those new connected countries would bring in fiber, cell towers and satellite. They can skip the steps and partake immediately because of current, cheap technology.

The tools are not out of reach any longer. You get to use the same tools of top executives and leaders everywhere.

However, if you walk into an organization that is using Salesforce.com, marketing tools and even email, you will see a wide range of competency and misuse. It’s not surprising to see 10,000 emails in someone’s inbox. It’s pretty common to see a team of people continually chiding each other to put the information into a CRM so everyone can see what has happened.

We have the tools to get the work done today. The gap is in the talent and leadership to make technology work. New and shinier platforms will continue to launch in the marketplace with the difficult task of getting attention and people to switch from something they are already using. We can only handle so many more apps, logins and interfaces. And yet, the technology will continue to pour in bottlenecked by humans that can only absorb so much.

Strategy, training and leadership are the crux points on whether you or your team will actually be innovative towards growing, making money and changing the world.

Is that where your thinking is? Make these powerful tools matter.

Big is Much Harder Than Small

Just because something is working on a small scale does not mean it will work on a larger scale.

You might be able to buy and sell a few computers or hardware but running a division of Hewlett-Packard or Dell is a different game altogether. The amount of resources to manage to get an output has layers of complexity that require deft juggling and trade-offs.

You can have an assistant providing customer service in your consulting, law practice, or professional services. This can alleviate the ongoing bottlenecks to deliver your work with quality and timeliness.

But if you have to scale up and go 10x in clients, data and information flow, by necessity, you will need more people. Now you are in the game of talent management and having to coordinate everyone to align, work and execute in a concerted and cohesive fashion.

Small works because the inputs and outputs are relatively simple. You can satisfy the requirements of your customers by simply working harder. You have a lot of room to make mistakes. You can be sloppy. It’s small, so tweaking how you deliver, sell, market, and support your customers can be done with quick decisions and actions.

If you are big, you have to move many more pieces. Your team is locked into a workflow. They learned to do their job within an architecture that takes more energy to turn should you change your mind. And you have to get them not only acting the way you envision but thinking with you on what is important and how their work matters.

This is why small can be appealing. You don’t have to run an efficient operation all the time. You simply have to stay ahead of customer expectations.

When you get big, you have to manage the team’s expectations and your errors can be more costly. It’s hard to shift to a new process, system or way of doing things when you have new information that you want to act on.

If you are small currently, you will have a challenge in scaling up. And it’s not trivial. The last thing you want to do is underestimate the costliness. Running a big operation demands more. If you’re not up for the hassle, then consider the luxuries of staying small.

Perhaps use the ambition and bandwidth to build something else small and run it in parallel. See if you can gain the net revenue with less hassle this way.

Have you found challenges in scaling up? Do you like small or big?

Your Business Systems Are the Product

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From Rich Dad’s Robert Kiyosaki’s B-I Triangle tools and resources.

If you are an entrepreneur or investor in a business, it is so critical to heed the advice and framework that Robert Kiyosaki shares in his appeal that systems, not products, need your focus.

Simply put, “Money always follows management.”

It’s takes a special person to be an effective entrepreneur. There are trade-offs and myriad problems to solve which get more complex the further you grow your business.

Sometimes, we can overemphasize an area because it might be a comfort zone. If you come from a legal background, you might take too much time on legalities and hedging risk. If you have been a salesperson, then it’s easier to pay attention to getting the next deal than aligning the communications and workflow. If you are a marketer by background, you may be tempted to obsess about the look and feel of artwork that is more than good enough.

I agree with Kiyosaki that having a good enough product with a stellar business system is much more important than the opposite. We have a world filled with amazing products. Every day we are presented with something awe inspiring. Yet, it’s hard to move us to buy.

Take a walk through a Brookstone, and you see innovation and creativity to the hilt. But they are considered novelties compared to what is familiar, reliable and fits within our worldview.

Heck, a boring product that people buy regularly like shoes can become remarkable because the business system behind it creates extreme value in reliability and delivery. Zappos did not get into trying to make better shoes. They made a system for delivering the shoes you like in an elegant way.

So, if you are trying to pursue that next great idea, consider where you put your efforts. Maybe increasing your product’s quality actually has a diminishing return.

What if your leverage and impact comes from improving your business systems, and that has a much higher impact on your revenue?

Some systems you can improve:

  • How you sell.
  • How you position.
  • How you communicate and collaborate internally and externally.
  • The enabling platforms and technologies for keeping your business going.

These are all important. Consider which of these systems require more of your time and energy and focus on them uniquely.

These business systems are the actual product.

How strong are your business systems compared to your product?

 

Courting The Customer

Don’t sell. Court instead. It’s a much better way to connect and woo your customer.

It’s delicate. You can’t annoy people and expect them to like you. Pushing ads in people’s faces only creates a repelling effect. You will be ignored.

Yet, out of desperation, businesses sell hard today. They see all the shiny new tools available for marketing and abuse the mediums by spamming. Whether it’s web spam, email, banners, social media or mobile, noone wants to be sold through any of these methods. Lucky for all of us, we can turn off sales technology with filtering technologies, and we do.

It’s not that technology is bad. It’s how so many marketers damage brands by misusing such powerful tools. The old economy afforded heavy selling because it was a one-way conversation. Today, brands and customers interact. It’s a real-time world with our attention becoming increasingly scarce and prized at the same time.

It’s easy to spam and blast people with messages they will ignore. We don’t advise it, however. There’s too much collateral damage to your brand. Instead, the process has to be broken down. Your customer does not want to be sold. They want to be courted. Courtship in the sales process looks a lot like dating:

  1. Know where they will be. Using an out of place billboard is a bad investment. So is trying every type of desperate ploy to get attention. Think about the relevant places. The inbox is sacred and important if you can have subscribers. Social media strategies need to be about bringing value and creating conversations. People interact in rational places for your brand. Think it through.
  2. Make it about them. Your message has to connect. Pinpoint what your customer cares about or is concerned with. It’s important to have a focal point for your message in this area.
  3. Give gifts. Gifts show care and open up a relationship. This can take many forms. It may be tangible, virtual or personal. In any case, it has to be relevant. The creativity needs to be around the human experience and what will be appropriate.
  4. Invite them to a dating experience. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you immediately. Likewise, allow your buyer to get to know you. Date them. The more they get to know you, the more trust gets built at a comfortable pace.

Courting your customer takes a lot of extra thinking and planning. It may mean letting go of the addiction of overselling and learning to build relationships with care and an attention to connecting.

What’s the alternative otherwise?

Location Is Irrelevant With A Cloud Organization

Some of the teams we implement cloud computing systems for work in one location. Many more are distributed and work all over the country and the world. With Google Apps, for example, a team can be in completely different locations and feel together in one environment. Their collaboration is in real-time and everyone can get things done accessing resources and people available in a secure environment. It is the magic of the cloud. You can manage your business and customers from a web browser or mobile device.

Your location is much less important in the cloud. The thing that matters is whether you are logged in, and that matters only depending on whether you are working in real-time vs. sequentially.

One of our recent implementations of a team has their organization spread halfway around the world between various states and South America. Having a central knowledge base where they can get answers in a Google Site helps everyone to get aligned around business process.

As things continually change, the process can be updated, knowledge can be shared easily and systems can be updated to enable customer communications and follow-up for sales, service and marketing functions.

Ask someone a simple question, “Where do you go to get things done?” See if they truly answer, “The office.” Most people get distracted in an environment where people can interrupt them and are tempted to do so easily. We get work done through focus and moving information on a screen. Ideally, this is in a central cloud computing system.

Perhaps the old ideas and habits keep you from broadening your perspective on what productive organizations are already doing today. How about exploring and use the cloud to lower your real estate footprint, allow people to work from home or work wherever they want. It will force you to make the work about systems rather than face time.

How can you apply this to your startup or business?