Control What You Can

The last two years have shown us all that the world, let alone the business environment is not a predictable place.  This has always been the case but now it seems magnified to the extremes.

Owning and operating a business is hard enough, let alone in such an environment in which the volatility constantly interrupts plans, daily operations, work flow - the list can and does go on! As a business owner, particularly a small or medium business where there may be more susceptible to these fluctuations, it could be daunting, very daunting.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can still control and manage a significant amount of your business.  There are many aspects that are in your control, it just takes a lot of effort and focus to stay on task when there is a lot of ‘white noise’ or distractions going on.

So let’s break this down into aspects that we can control. For this I go back to a previous blog I wrote which broke down Lean for Small Business. The key aspect here was to look at the business in three different components - Business Systems & Processes; People; Customer.

The Business
Looking first at what you can do from the ‘business systems’ aspect of your business.  In times of crazy volatility, always look, review and reset the purpose of your business.   Edwards Deming described the ‘Constancy of Purpose’ as his first 14 points of management. The reason why you are in business in the first place, the direction you are going, the priorities.  Keeping the focus on the true north.  When there is a lot going on, this is so important to have as a backstop for decision making - what is important and what isn’t.

Create a plan around the purpose.  Previously I talked about the double plan approach.  The first plan is about getting through the next 2-4 weeks.  It is your game plan for the here and now.  What is important, get those actions to the top of the list.  It is more operationally focused with a sprinkling of strategic actions.  The second part of the plan is the long-term aim and goal. Get this plan up on a wall, make it visible - who is doing what and when.

The other significant aspect of the business system you can control is the standards and processes you have internally.  Does everyone have the same expectations, know how to do different tasks or roles of the business?  Do you have visually documented procedures?  Is your work area tidy, organised and standardised?  This is where I often find the nuggets of gold in terms of opportunity for a small business.  It helps to manage the firefighting when it’s busy.  This is the stuff that is an investment in your future business success. By taking a business improvement approach, you are building the capability and capacity of the business.  Also it enables the team to practice change, making improvements on a consistent basis allows the business to be flexible and adapt when required.

The People
Sometimes this can feel like herding sheep, but invest in your people.  This can be as simple as taking the time to communicate with everyone what is going on and be transparent.  You can absolutely control how and when you communicate with your team. While things might be a bit stressful, start each day with a quick stand up meeting, check in with each other, acknowledge the small wins from the previous day and start the day with some positivity. 
Think about how you are engaging with your team.  If you are working from home and there is time up your sleeve - get some training going, talk through the stuff that is bugging them. I have written many posts around engagement and leading for change. If you are really stuck about what you can do, ask your team.  It is OK not to have a clear picture, so asking the right questions from your team is an awesome way to go.

If there isn’t a clear team vision of what ‘good’ looks like, spend the time upfront getting everyone on the same page.  That is what I use Lego® Serious Play® for. Investing this time helps clarify the purpose and focus for the team. It can be also used to explore opportunities - most importantly you are engaging the team.

The Customer
This could be changing everyday, so maybe it might serve you well to connect with them more often. Are you delivering your product or service in a way that meets their needs, this could have shifted in recent times.  Build your relationship, ask how you can add value to them. You might not be able to control their decision making but there is the opportunity to minimise the volatility by having pro-active conversations with your key clients and even suppliers.  Improve the value chain for yourself but also for your clients. How can you create more value by eliminating any undue waste in the business.  Remember, if it isn’t adding value to the customer, it is waste.

All of this can feel quite daunting, the good news is that it is all under your control.  Take a few of the ideas and think about how you can implement them.  Start small, start slow.  Small steps is all it takes to begin the business improvement journey.  Yes it is hard at the beginning while you are still dealing with a lot of the original chaos, but bit by bit the momentum changes.  There will be a point in time where you can suddenly see that the majority of the day is under control.

If it still feels daunting - get a couple of your senior staff together and brainstorm all the main issues or challenges the team are facing.  One issue per post-it note.  Then focus on the top 3-4 issues and begin to write 4-5 things you can do to minimise or eliminate them.  Bit by bit, breakdown the issues so they become manageable tasks.  Again it won’t happen overnight, but the sense of control, the sense of achievement will create its own momentum. By focusing on what you can control and influence, you are beginning your business improvement journey that will allow you to become more adaptable, more resilient to the craziness that surrounds us all.


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