Accounting, Business Improvement

Renovate Don’t Stagnate

My former boss and the major shareholder at Attaché Software, Mike Rich, often spoke about the concept of businesses reaching a point in their life-cycle (perhaps ironically) where they “run out of gas”. He contends that they have 2 options: renovate or stagnate.

Too many Australian businesses have stagnated. It is not good for the stakeholders of those businesses. It is not good for the economy. This is why I have set-up Value Adders – to make a difference. To help businesses to use technology and best practice business process, to grow and fulfill their potential.

Below I have compiled a list of the top 20 tips I have to renovate businesses. I don’t profess these to be original, but I recall a university professor explaining to me during a first year lecture:

“The difference between plagiarism and academic genius is about 5 sources”

  1. Executive buy in: unless the people at the top are willing to acknowledge change is needed and invest in that change, change will not happen.
  2. Pride in the company: as Jeff Sutherland states in his book “Scrum”, an essential ingredient in an effective team is transcendence. A purpose beyond just getting paid. Staff need to feel connected with the brand and a higher purpose for ensuring its success.
  3. Shared Vision: associated with pride in the brand is belief in its purpose. Ensuring all staff understand the company vision and actually believe in that vision, , is essential.
  4. Reality check: talking openly about the company’s shortcomings is important. Jim Collins in “Good To Great” calls it “confronting the brutal facts”. Belief in purpose does not come from only discussing the positives. It also comes from acknowledging short-comings and genuinely working to resolve them in an honest and open way.
  5. Empower cross-functional teams: I can’t speak more highly of the power of empowering small, cross-functional teams to innovatively and quickly get things done. At Attaché we’ve adopted what is called Agile Scrum. It is no coincident that the principles of Scrum reinforce the Family/Village/Tribe model adopted by Flight Centre. The basic premise, people work best in teams. In Scrum and the Family/Village/Tribe model the number of members of the team is limited to a maximum of around 7. It is past this point that the politics of managing interpersonal relationships starts to breakdown the effectiveness of the group. Its not our fault, its evolutionary psychology.
  6. The right people in the right roles: cross-functional teams drive project success, but an org chart still has a role. I am a firm believer that an org. chart is never static, it evolves as the organisation evolves and getting the right people into the right positions for their skillsets, passion and the organisation is critical.  In time, many businesses find that some staff will simply be under-utilised compared to what they can offer, others will have plateaued in their careers, some roles may in fact be redundant. Ensuring the right staff are in the right roles that challenge and excite them is very important and is a critical ongoing task for management.
  7. New ideas often come from outside: The injection of new staff with experience across alternate views, processes, industries and ideas can reinvigorate and refocus the organisation.
  8. Company culture is the responsibility of the executive: Lencioni in his book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, discusses the importance of company health and how it all begins and ends at the top. Creating an innovative, healthy staff environment has been the primary goal of the Attaché executive and the results have been significant. Creating organisational clarity, as Lencioni explains through his easy to read fable, is an ongoing imperative of the executive. In practice, this is far harder then it sounds, but its importance cannot be understated.
  9. Change the environment to change a company: if the same staff are coming into the same environment every day, then the momentum to change processes and culture will always be stifled by the viscosity of familiarity.
  10. Set SMART goals: the organisation needs to breed a culture of goal-orientation. In order to maximise the likelihood of success, all goals need to be: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Time-bound.
  11. Seek advice – its not what you know its what the people you know know: its amazing how many people are more than happy to have lunch, a beer or a coffee and impart their knowledge. Network with peers (and peers of peers) who have particularly expertise and be willing to listen to what they say. LinkedIn is the game changer – you get transparency over connections to be able to reach out to the people who might be able to help.
  12. Multi-tasking is a fallacy: unfortunately we humans cannot actually multi-task we can only switch task and at this, we aren’t very good. I first learned this from Dr Adam Fraser when he spoke at a conference I attended many years ago and I had it reinforced by Jeff Sutherland. The premise: focus on the task at hand and don’t let yourself be distracted (by emails or other tasks). Accepting that our poor brains just aren’t great at switching from one task to another and structuring your work in recognition of this fact, will drive efficiency.
  13. Read: there are a million and one books out there.  The books that have most influenced me in business include: Good to Great; Getting Naked; Getting Real; Fish!; Who Moved My Cheese?; SCRUM; The Lean Startup… There are a lot more, too many to mention…Don’t have time to read? Check out this start-up (http://readitfor.me/) who create summaries of the top business books for easy digestion of the key points.
  14. Staff Training: encouraging staff to engage in training, whether internal or external to the organisation is very important. External courses give staff exposure to how other companies operate and their experiences are invaluable. Internal courses empower the staff to better understand what, how and why we do it.
  15. Communication: at every level of the organisation, from top down, open and honest communication is needed. What I have found is staff are far more likely to buy into the vision if they know and understand what it is and how they can contribute.
  16. Don’t Hate The Player Hate The Game: Jim Collins in Good To Great, talks about getting the right people on the bus as core to transforming a company. But Jeff Sutherland in Scrum points out that a poor company culture and inappropriate processes can make good workers seem inefficient and non-deserving of “a seat on the bus”. Jeff suggests: “don’t hate the player hate the game” – improve the culture and the processes and often you’ll be surprised by the improvement you’ll get out of individuals.
  17. Continual Improvement: Don’t accept anything is ever finished or how it should stay. It is as simple as ABCI – Always Be Continually Improving. I’ve formed a continual improvement committee, made up of a mix of different staff from across the organisation, is an effective mechanism for improvement. Their job, you got it – ABCI!
  18. Act, don’t dither: Another Jeff Sutherland quote from his days in the airforce – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. As a pilot the worst thing you can do is not make a decision at critical moments. Modern business is the same. Consequences come from indecision and slowness to act, far more than making the wrong decision, decisively.
  19. Have fun, don’t dwell: we spend too much of our lives working not to have fun along the way. Celebrate the milestones/achievements with your team. Furthermore, if there is one thing I learned from my time working with Attaché Software’s major shareholder, Mike Rich, it was: if you try something and it doesn’t work, don’t dwell on it, don’t keep throwing good money after bad (don’t fall for the Sunk Cost Fallacy), accept that the idea didn’t work the way you expected and simply move on to the next thing that will improve your business.
  20. Patience: Trust in the process, trust in the people, be patient and it will happen. As anyone who knew my younger self will attest, patience was never one of my strengths. In reality, having kids has probably been the number reason I have learnt to be patient. But in business, I have also realised that change, in particular changing a company culture, does take time.

And so there is my list. I probably could have kept going, with many, many more, but hey, 20 was a good number to start with. I hope you found some inspiration.

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