If you’re super busy and you’re using hand-written forms or checklists, but you have a smartphone, pad, or laptop, I’m going to show you how to create an easy online replacement for those paper forms. As an example, let’s say that you own a golf cart maintenance company that uses paper carbon forms to record all the information for service and maintenance done on each cart you service. I actually just created this type of online form for one of my customers and it took less than 60 minutes to create, test, and send them the links.
I’m going to show you how to create the online form using Google Forms. It’s free if you have a Google account, and you have a Google account if you use Gmail. Even if you don’t use Gmail for your business, it’s totally worth it to get a free Google account just to gain access to all the great free features. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Google sales person, there are lots of other ways to put your paper forms online…just very few that are totally free and this easy.
Once you’ve logged into Google, you want to select the square matrix in the upper right corner. This gives you a drop-down list of all the Google apps. Then select “Drive”. This will bring you to your “My Drive” where you’ll store all your files. If you haven’t used Google Drive before this will be blank. If you have used Google Drive, then you can skip ahead.
To create a new “form”, select the “NEW” button in the upper left corner. This will give you a drop-down list of the styles of documents available for creation. To get to “Forms” select “More” and select “Google Forms” at the top of the next drop-down list. This will open a new Google Form for you to work on.
First, let’s select a background color scheme by selecting the color palette in the upper right-hand corner. Let’s change the color scheme to blue. You can also select a photo or picture from Google’s library or download one from your computer. Let’s select the sailboat picture. Your form is looking better already.
The form has two pages: “Questions” and “Responses”. The “Questions” are where you put in all the information that you want on your form. We’ll discuss “Responses” later.
You want to name your form. Select “Untitled form” and type in the name you want. This will rename the file also. You can also type in a form description below the title if you would like. If you leave it blank, it will not show up in the final form.
Next, let’s create the body of the form. Enter the title of first information you want filled in by selecting “Untitled Question”. You can always go back and change any of the pieces of the form later. To the right, select the drop-down list to change the type of answer you want filled out. Let’s use “Short Answer” for this question. Let’s go back and change “Customer Information” to “Customer Name”.
On the bottom right corner of each “question”, you’ll see “Required” with an on/off switch. If you want the person filling out the form to be required to fill in that particular question, turn the switch on (to the right). Next to “Required” is three vertical dots indicating a drop-down list. Selecting the drop-down list gives you the choices of “Hint text” and “Data validation”. Hint text is the text below the Title of the Question that instructs the person how to answer. “Data validation” is used if you require a specific type of answer such as an email, a phone number, or a text answer of a certain length. You can see that the choices for each drop-down list are descriptive by just moving your cursor over each. If you decide you don’t want either, just go back to the three vertical dots drop-down list and un-check what you don’t want.
To the far right of the form, you see a vertical list of symbols. The “plus” button is to add additional questions. The “Tt” button is to add additional an Title and Description. The “photo” button allows you to add pictures and photos from your library or computer. The “play” button allows you to add videos from your library or computer. And the “equals sign” button allows you to add a new section which shows up in the form as a new page.
Now let’s add a new Title and Description called “Section 1 – Quarterly Maintenance Requirements” and a description. Then, let’s add another question and call it “Quarterly Maintenance Checklist”. Let’s make this a checklist and type in all the tasks that are potentially required for the checklist. Pardon my typing. Now let’s add a comment or notes question at the bottom.
Reviewing your form creation, you just realized that you need more customer information at the top. So let’s go back to the top and add questions for Service Date, Reason for Service, Address, and Golf Cart Identification. You can see how you can move back and forth in the form to add questions and sections where you need them.
Again after reviewing your form, you realize that it would be clearer to have the customer information in one section and the checklist in another section. So let’s make the checklist in a different section. You see that all you have to do to delete a question or section is to select that area and then select the “trashcan”.
Now let’s make a couple more sections. These easiest way is to select the three vertical dots drop-down list and select “duplicate section”. Then just change whatever you want to in the new section. By now, I think you’re getting the hang of it. It’s really easy.
Now let’s look at the “Responses” page of the form. Click on “Responses”. On the right side there is a three vertical dot drop-down list. This offers choices of where to save your responses. If you select “Select response destination” you can choose to have a Google Sheet created automatically to keep all the responses for you with the same name you gave the form. This is recommended and the easiest. Or you can save your responses to an existing spreadsheet if you already set one up.
On the right below the drop-down list is a switch called “Accepting responses”. If this is one, the form can be filled out and the responses recorded. If you switch this off, when someone tries to fill out the form they get a notification stating that the form is no longer accepting responses. This is a good feature to have to be able to notify people who may not be using the latest form, or if you are using the form for time sensitive responses.
If you would like to see a preview of what your form looks like as you’re working on it, click the “eye” in the upper right corner of the form. This opens a preview of the form in a new tab in your browser. You can even test it by entering information and working your way through the form. You can see that if the person filling out the form does not enter information in the “required” questions, they will receive an error message and will not be allowed to continue through to the next section.
When you’re done with all the sections, just click “SUBMIT” at the bottom and all your responses will be saved in the spreadsheet your created. In addition, a link will be provided to fill out the form again. This is useful in situations like this example, however, if you want to you can turn this off.
If you switch back to the tab with the form, you will see on the “Responses” tab, a general summary of the answers that you have received. For a more detailed look at the answers, go back to your “My Drive” and select the Google Sheet with the same name as your form. This spreadsheet provides a time-stamp showing when the person filled out the form, and all the responses to all the questions.
To provide a person with the link to be able to fill out the form, just right click on the form file name, and select “Get link” from the drop-down list. A popup will show the link and you can just copy and paste it into an email, text, or other document, or social media, or website.
That’s all there is to it.
Mahalo and much success,
The short answer is…really, really important. All businesses have a culture, whether you recognize it or not. And that culture reflects on everything from how your employees treat each other to how they treat your customers to how you treat them. A strong, positive, healthy culture can improve your company’s reputation, productivity, quality, employee and customer retention. While a negative, in-congruent, unhealthy culture can lead to your company’s eventual demise.
Culture in business can be defined in many ways. However, Josh Bersin’s definition seems the most succinct “culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization”. This basically means that everything that goes on in your company and between your company and your customers and vendors defines your company’s culture, and in essence makes up part of your brand. It’s what people “feel” when they interact with your company. Which supports the answer to the question about how very important culture is for your company.
Unfortunately, if you think you may have a culture that is not helping your brand or meshing with your mission or values, you need to work to change it. And changing a company’s culture is no small task. The first step is understanding and defining your company’s culture so you know where you stand, and how much work you have in front of you.
We offer a free cultural assessment to help you do just that here.
Once you have a grasp on what your culture looks like, you can take steps to begin to transform that culture into one that matches your goals, mission, and values. And in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced business environment, even small companies need to understand that “it’s not about who’s bigger, better, brighter, or faster; it’s about who is empowered to leverage the power of culture to optimize an organization’s bottom line” (Denise Pirrotti Hummel, Oracle). In other words, you need to care about your culture, and take care to groom your culture to keep your company competitive, locally or globally.
Mahalo and much success,
Bersin, J. (2015, March 13). Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/03/13/culture-why-its-the-hottest-topic-in-business-today/
Groth, A. (2013, January 22). Workplace Culture Is More Important Than Anything Else. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/workplace-culture-is-important-2013-1
Hummel, D. P. (2012, May). Understanding the Importance of Culture in Global Business. Retrieved from Oracle.com: http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/profit/archives/opinion/050312-dhummel-1614961.html
Luanne Kelchner, Demand Media. (2015). Importance of a Healthy Corporate Culture. Retrieved from SmallBusiness.Chron.com: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-healthy-corporate-culture-20899.html
Morgan, J. (2015, January 23). The Importance of Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/01/23/the-importance-of-corporate-culture/
Vaishnavi, V. (2012, September 26). The Importance Of Maintaining Company Culture As Your Business Scales. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickvaishnavi/2013/09/26/maintaining-company-culture-as-the-business-scales/
Happy Holidays to all…
…no matter what holidays you celebrate…Lynn, Bob, Niele, Koa, and Seppe wish you all the happiest holidays and most successful New Year ever!
Mele Kalikimaka & Hau’oli Makahikihou!
Lynn, Bob, Niele, Koa, Seppe
I’m going to cheat a little here. This article by Roger Bohn from Harvard Business Review is so outstanding that I’m just going to include it in its entirety. Have fun!
By Roger Bohn
FROM THE JULY–AUGUST 2000 ISSUE OF HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW.
In business organization, there are invariably more problems than people have the time to deal with. At best, this leads to situations where minor problems are ignored. At worst, chronic fire fighting consumes an operation’s resources. Companies with complex R&D and manufacturing processes are particularly prone to destructive fire fighting. Managers and engineers rush from task to task, not completing one before another interrupts them. Serious problem-solving efforts degenerate into quick-and-dirty patching. Productivity suffers. Managing becomes a constant juggling act of deciding where to allocate overworked people and which incipient crisis to ignore for the moment.
For several years, my late colleague Ramchandran Jaikumar and I observed fire-fighting behavior in many manufacturing and new-product-development settings. When we described what we’d seen, people instantly recognized what we were talking about—indeed, most of them said they fought fires in their own professional lives all the time. Yet with a few exceptions, the fire-fighting syndrome has stayed off the radar screens of organizational theorists.1 It deserves far more attention. In fact, fire fighting is one of the most serious problems facing many managers of complex, change-driven processes.
From our observations, fire fighting is best characterized as a collection of symptoms. You’re a victim if three of the following linked elements are chronic within your business unit or division.
- There isn’t enough time to solve all the problems.There are more problems than the problem solvers—engineers, managers, or other knowledge workers—can deal with properly.
- Solutions are incomplete.Many problems are patched, not solved. That is, the superficial effects are dealt with, but the underlying causes are not fixed.
- Problems recur and cascade.Incomplete solutions cause old problems to reemerge or actually create new problems, sometimes elsewhere in the organization.
- Urgency supersedes importance.Ongoing problem-solving efforts and long-range activities, such as developing new processes, are repeatedly interrupted or deferred because fires must be extinguished.
- Many problems become crises.Problems smolder until they flare up, often just before a deadline. Then they require heroic efforts to solve.
- Performance drops.So many problems are solved inadequately and so many opportunities forgone that overall performance plummets.
The recent Mars Climate Orbiter crash is an example of the insidious nature of fire fighting. The crash was traced to a simple communication problem—one engineering group used metric units of measurement, another used English units—but that explanation masks a more complex underlying problem. According to a NASA report published shortly before the crash, the subcontractor staff early in the project was smaller than planned. This led to delays, work-arounds, and poor technical decisions, all of which required catch-up work later. Engineering staff was borrowed from other projects in their early phases—thus forcing those projects into the same position. Engineers worked 70-hour weeks to meet deadlines, causing more errors in the short run and declines in effectiveness in the long run. Early warning signs were missed or ignored. According to a report after the crash, the navigation error that caused the crash could probably have been corrected by a contingency burn, but a decision on whether to perform the burn was never made because of the crush of other urgent work. This is classic fire fighting.
Fire fighting isn’t necessarily disastrous. Clearly it hampers performance, but there are worse alternatives. Rigid bureaucratic rules, for example, can help a company avoid fire fighting altogether, but at the price of almost no problems getting solved. Also, sometimes even a well-managed organization slips into fire-fighting mode temporarily without creating long-term problems. The danger is that the more intense fire fighting becomes, the more difficult it is to escape from.
There are some companies that never fight fires, even though they have just as much work and just as many resource constraints as companies that do. How do they avoid fire fighting? The short answer is that they have strong problem-solving cultures. They don’t tackle a problem unless they’re committed to understanding its root cause and finding a valid solution. They perform triage. They set realistic deadlines. Perhaps most important, they don’t reward fire fighting.
A Simple Model of Fire Fighting
Before we can move on to what to do about fire fighting, we need to look more closely at its underlying causes. A simple model captures the essential issues. (See the exhibit “How Problems Flow Through Organizations.”)
How Problems Flow Through Organizations
Let’s assume that the organization is a factory-engineering group, although it could easily be an R&D facility or a software development group. As problems arise—from customers’ complaints, special orders, quality lapses, supplier difficulties, and other sources—they are sent into a queue until an engineer has time to work on them.
As engineers finish a problem, they report to a manager who presides over the queue, deciding which problems are the most urgent and who should solve each one. Solving a problem takes time: an engineer must study the symptoms, confirm that the problem is real, conduct background research, diagnose its causes, search for a good solution, and implement the solution. Problems come in different shapes and sizes and hence require different amounts of time. Allocating the tasks is itself fairly complex. Each engineer works on several problems at once, and each is better at some problems than others. Engineers may function in teams, and the teams for each problem can differ. Vacations and routine tasks complicate scheduling. Each of these complexities reduces the attainable efficiency of the system and makes the manager’s decisions harder.
A key number in this system is the traffic intensity—the number of problems relative to the resources devoted to problem solving. Traffic intensity increases when there are more problems or when the problems take longer to solve. It decreases when more problem solvers are brought into the picture.
When there’s some slack—when the traffic intensity is below about 80%—the system works well. But when the traffic intensity nears 100%, problems start sitting in the queue for a while. When traffic intensity is greater than 100%—that is, when there are more problems than can be solved, even if everyone works flat out—organizations get into real trouble. The queue lengthens and problems aren’t resolved for long periods of time. Suppose, for example, that a factory is ramping up for a new product, and roughly three significant problems crop up every day. Four engineers each take an average of two days per problem, so every day the queue of unsolved problems grows by one. By the end of the third week, 15 problems are waiting for attention.
When severe fire fighting sets in, managers and engineers find themselves spending more time responding to irate queries than working productively.
As the queue grows, the engineers and their managers experience various pressures—the self-imposed pressure of knowing they’re behind, pressure from customers who want the product immediately, pressure from senior managers who are upset by customers’ complaints. This is when severe fire fighting can set in. Managers and engineers let some problems jump the queue for political reasons. They drop problem A (a machine that keeps breaking down, causing bottlenecks) to find a solution for problem B (a serious quality defect) because B reaches crisis proportions. They put lots of effort into problem C (implementing manufacturing changes for a new set of product enhancements), only to find that the enhancements are indefinitely postponed because they did not work in beta testing. And they find themselves spending more time responding to irate inquiries than working productively. (See the exhibit “Rational Rules, Irrational Results” for more detail about the seemingly reasonable organizational responses to over-long work queues.)
Rational Rules, Irrational Results Organizations have developed many rules of thumb for problem solving. And indeed, when a company is not under stress, these rules may be good ones. They can also be helpful for knowledge workers who are developing their individual reputations. But when an organization is in fire-fighting mode, these rules are pernicious.
In other words, work becomes far less efficient precisely when the most work needs to get done. The longer the backlog, the more things bog down. Engineers start spending time away from normal work—they’re stuck in meetings to set priorities about which fire to fight next; they’re handling special rush jobs for customers whose orders have been delayed; they’re solving problems that later get “overtaken by events.” In general, they’re dealing with the chaos and information overload that ensue when fire fighting is rampant. But that’s not the worst of it.
Counterproductive Problem Solving
The really bad news is that under fire-fighting conditions, pressures push engineers to solve problems not just inefficiently but badly. They don’t work on a problem long enough to uncover its root cause—they just make a gut-feel diagnosis. Then, instead of testing their hypothetical diagnosis offline, they introduce a hasty change in the process. And if the quick fix doesn’t solve the problem completely (it is usually unclear whether it helped or not), they leave it in place and try another solution. They don’t solve the problem because they don’t take the time to approach it systematically.
At best, this superficial problem solving, or patching, takes more time than systematic problem solving. Consider the following example: A manufacturer of steel cords had hundreds of machines in one facility. Because machine uptime was important, the company encouraged maintenance engineers to respond to breakdowns as quickly as possible. Even so, overall performance didn’t improve. Only after the company started keeping and analyzing records machine by machine instead of person by person did it realize that engineers were constantly interrupted while repairing one machine because another had failed. They would make a quick fix and move on to the next machine. Each original machine breakdown, as it turned out, generated many visits; on average, a problem was patched three times before it was finally solved.
Patching not only takes more time than systematic problem solving, it also fails to fix problems. A longer story shows why. A colleague and I recently helped an electronics company solve a major yield problem. The company fabricated parts in one U.S. factory and assembled them in another. The company had transferred assembly to Asia to reduce labor costs just as a new product was being introduced. At about this time, the assembly yields crashed; half or more of the devices failed. Customers were pleading for more product, but the company couldn’t meet demand. The result was an outbreak of fire fighting. A team was charged with finding a quick solution. Each member had a pet theory about what was happening and how changing the process would fix it. The Asian factory dutifully implemented one trial “solution” after another. Because of constraints at the factory, it took about a month to get the results from each trial.
Although this went on for months, the team got no closer to understanding the problem’s cause. Because team members didn’t think they had time, they never ran a controlled trial in which the same batch was assembled in both Asia and the United States. Hence there was no proof that the problem was due to a difference between the two facilities; it could have resulted from a change in fabrication that happened to coincide with the factory move. After all, the fabrication process was ramping up at the same time. Ironically, the company’s senior management talked a lot about using modern quality methods and systematic problem solving. But once the pressure from customers got too great, people fell back on patching, believing it would deliver faster results.
We suggested that the company develop a scientific understanding of the problem. To that end, we used lab experiments, mathematical analysis, and large controlled experiments in the factory. The main problem turned out to be previously unknown temperature sensitivity in assembly, the direct result of a process change that had been instituted to solve a problem the year before. It had been happening in both the U.S. and Asian plants, but seemingly inconsequential differences between them made the situation much worse in Asia. Once the cause of the problem was understood, fixing it was straightforward. Based on its new knowledge, the company also improved yields on many other products. And the knowledge gave the company a significant advantage over competitors grappling with similar problems. It took months to solve the problem this way, but fire fighting had taken even longer, to no avail.
When changes are introduced haphazardly, as they were for this process, they are frequently institutionalized without careful study. For example, noted author Primo Levi worked briefly after World War II as a chemist in a paint factory. Many years later, he met an old friend who was still working there. The friend told him the factory was producing an anticorrosion paint that contained a compound likely to accelerate corrosion. When the friend had questioned his bosses, he was told that the paint had always been made that way, that the compound was absolutely necessary, and that he shouldn’t change anything. As it happened, Levi had first included the compound in the formula. He did it strictly as a temporary measure to counter contamination in an important raw material, but his rationale was forgotten when he left, and the recipe was carved in stone.
Haphazardly introduced changes raise an even more serious issue: they can easily create new problems elsewhere in the process. That happens all the time in software development: while patching one bug, you create another. The same thing often happens in factories. In a metalworking factory, in order to improve performance of their part of the process, engineers changed the makeup of a coating. Months later, the company’s biggest customer developed a major problem: a metal framework that needed to be affixed to a rubber part no longer stuck to that part. The problem, stemming from the change in the coating, turned out to be extremely expensive for both the customer and the company—all the more so, of course, because the cause didn’t become clear for a long time. Patching can create new problems whenever the patches are not validated carefully.
Haphazardly introduced changes can easily create new problems elsewhere in the process.
Patching can be justified in a few situations. For example, in software development it’s common to add code that checks for a particular error. If that error occurs, the software delivers an error message and stops further computation. This is a patch because it does not solve the real problem, but it does prevent it from worsening. And in manufacturing, it’s common to add another inspection step when an as-yet-unresolved problem exists so flawed products can be pulled. This weeding out raises costs, but it avoids passing on the defective parts. Such superficial solutions are acceptable if several conditions are met. First, the patches should ameliorate much of the damage even though they don’t address the cause. Second, they should be solid enough that they won’t break down later. And third, they should have a better benefit-cost ratio than other solutions. The key cost here is not dollars but engineering time.
With those exceptions, patching is destructive. Solution rates fall and the number of hidden problems rises. (See the exhibit “The Effects of Firefighting Syndrome.”) The new problems that patching has created, and the old ones that it has failed to solve, act up more and more, until a large fraction of the incoming problems are actually old ones returning. The engineer’s environment becomes increasingly chaotic, which makes it harder to run experiments and pin down problems. In some cases, the organization’s ability to solve problems collapses completely, and overall performance plummets.2 At that point, senior management may need to take drastic action—like outsourcing much of the work, shutting down and starting over, or bringing in a massive infusion of outside help. Such turnarounds are a major drain on money and management time. And even when executives intervene, they sometimes make fire-fighting worse by tackling only the current crisis without fixing its deeper causes. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid reaching such a crisis point.
The Effects of Fire-fighting Syndrome
You Can Prevent Fires
There are several ways to eliminate fire fighting. They can be loosely sorted into three categories: tactical, strategic, and cultural.
Tactical methods can be put into effect quickly without making high-level policy changes. Although some of the methods are culturally difficult in U.S. companies, many are simple to apply once a company recognizes the dangers of fire fighting.
Add temporary problem solvers.
When the rate of new problems jumps, bringing in temporary assistance is a good short-term solution. Fire-fighting departments, the real kind, put out calls for fire-fighters from neighboring areas to deal with the biggest blazes. In high tech, most hard-disk-drive companies have learned to send development engineers from the United States directly to their Asian factories when they start manufacturing a new product. These extra troubleshooters bring crucial expertise because they have often seen related problems during prototyping. Furthermore, this practice creates a powerful incentive: the U.S. engineers quickly learn that patching problems in development leads to more problems during ramp-up, leaving them in Asia longer.
There are drawbacks to temporary workers, of course. First, they’re effective only when the excess workload is sporadic rather than chronic. Second, pulling problem solvers from other parts of the organization risks setting fires in those areas. Third, temporary workers are often unfamiliar with the situation.
Shut down operations.
It’s been said before, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When the number of problems becomes too large, shut down operations until all are solved. Or, allow a new problem into the queue only when an old one is removed. Organizations where fire fighting is not part of the culture do this instinctively during product ramp-up. Some Hewlett-Packard development centers shut down a pilot line for the rest of the day once a certain number of problems is backlogged because until those problems are solved, there is no stable baseline for detecting and solving additional problems. Few companies have the fortitude to limit the queue size during normal operations.
Another approach to limiting the queue is to do deliberately what will happen anyway: admit that some problems will not be solved. The triage technique, borrowed from military medicine, controls the queue by regulating entry. Rather than let problems queue up indefinitely, or work their way through the queue only to be worked on sporadically, decide whether to commit resources to a problem when it first arises. This technique is organizationally difficult. It is much easier to tell people, “We’ll get to your problem as soon as we can,” and delegate it to someone who is overworked, than to say, “We’ve decided your problem isn’t critical so we’re not going to fix it.”
Strategic approaches to fire fighting take longer to implement than tactical methods, but they pay off across a range of projects and over long periods. Even if they don’t eliminate fire fighting completely, they increase the number of problems solved. The first several changes we mention focus on product design, but they have a major impact on manufacturing as well.
Change design strategies.
New product design has come a long way in the past decade. In some industries, companies have increased the commonality of designs across generations and products. That has reduced the number of design problems within and across product generations as well as the changes, and therefore the problems, in manufacturing. Commonality can be further enhanced by modular designs, which allow improvement of one section of a product without much change to others.
For example, hard-disk-drive companies used to have separate teams on successive drive generations—leading to designs where even the screws changed with each product. But gradually they adopted the “platform” concept. Now the capacity of a drive can be doubled by changing only the heads, media, and firmware, and substituting the latest and fastest signal processing chips on the circuit card. The new design is manufactured almost exactly as the previous one was, and the problems are concentrated in the new areas. Seagate, for instance, can transfer some products into manufacturing by moving only a few development engineers to the factory temporarily; five years ago, 20 or more were commonly needed.
Outsource some parts of design.
Companies in the auto industry have moved toward “black box” design: they specify only the characteristics of a subsystem, including its size, weight, power requirements, and performance. The subcontractor building the subsystem determines the best way to achieve the objectives, including which technologies to use. While the total number of problems may not go down, many are removed from the central design team.
Solve classes of problems, not individual problems.
It’s sometimes possible to group seemingly diverse problems together, determine a set of underlying causes, and then learn about those causes Once they are understood, solving the individual problems is often straightforward.
An example of problem classes comes from the semiconductor industry. When integrated circuits were first manufactured, most circuits had to be thrown away because of defects. Companies developed codes for describing the failures based on which tests the circuits failed. When losses due to a particular code were high, a team would try to figure out why. Gradually it became clear that many individual problems were caused by particles falling on wafer surfaces and ruining the circuits. “Particle-caused defects” was thus a problem class. It shifted engineers’ attention from various specific failure codes to one well-defined problem: learning where the particles came from and how to get rid of them.
Eventually companies redesigned manufacturing facilities, turning them into “clean rooms” where air filters remove particles. As circuits got smaller, ever smaller particles became problematic. Another breakthrough came when engineers realized that people brought particles into the clean rooms. Again, this was a problem class: “contamination from people.” The companies solved many contamination problems at once by requiring workers to dress in special garments and forbidding the use of makeup and other skin coatings.
Determining classes of problems requires a deliberate, extensive, and sustained commitment to formal problem solving. A company must correlate information from different parts of the organization over long periods of time, develop scientific models that yield higher levels of process understanding, and run controlled experimentation in the factory. These are exactly the kinds of long-term activities that fire fighting pushes out.
Determining classes of problems requires a deliberate, extensive, and sustained commitment to formal problem solving—exactly what fire fighting pushes out.
Use learning lines.
Learning lines are production lines run to maximize real problem solving. Unlike pilot lines, which use special equipment and operators, learning lines use standard materials to make real products for customers. Thus they’re exposed to all the vicissitudes of the rest of the factory, such as bad material batches, unreliable machines, and careless operators. They’re used to gather data, run diagnostic experiments, debug processes, and do intensive problem solving, especially during manufacturing ramp-up. Often the performance of learning lines is the best in the factory, because innovations are put in place there first and problems are rapidly detected and solved. Part of the art of using a learning line is ensuring that it faithfully reflects conditions throughout the factory—and that improvements are quickly transferred to the rest of the plant. This is accomplished by not isolating engineers on the learning line. Every engineer should be able to use the learning line as a laboratory for investigation.
Develop more problem solvers.
One of the successes of the TQM movement is that nonengineers have been trained to solve simple problems. Even though they are not as fast or as knowledgeable as engineers, technicians and others can free up resources for difficult problems by handling many of the more mundane ones.
Cultural changes require shifts in the mind-set of the whole organization and in the behavior of senior managers. Extra work in organizations—even those that don’t usually fight fires—will occasionally create pressure to begin fire fighting. At these times, the organization’s problem-solving culture is critical. If managers are too far removed from the problems to see the consequences, and if the reward system favors firefighters, then the vicious cycle of fire fighting will begin. Avoiding this depends on the culture of middle and senior managers. We suggest the following guidelines.
A computer operating system (OS) can exhibit a behavior that is analogous to fire fighting. An OS has many demands placed on it simultaneously. For example, desktop PCs monitor a network connection, update the clock, interpret keystrokes, update the display, perform calculations, drive a printer, accept data from the hard-disk drive, collect garbage, and so forth. PC operating systems now also let end users run several programs at once: playing a music CD, downloading e-mail, and typing on a word processor, for example. Yet almost all computers have only one central processor, which switches among the various activities so that they appear to be going on simultaneously. Of course, sometimes the computer has more work than it can handle immediately—the traffic intensity is greater than 100%. The user experiences this as a slowdown, such as a stutter in the music or a pause in the screen update.
For a computer to work effectively, the OS must follow rules for switching among tasks on the basis of priorities. Handling communications inputs, for instance, is more urgent than most other jobs. But each “switch” itself consumes CPU time, much like the reduction in problem-solving effectiveness that occurs when engineers divide their attention between problems. Systems designers learned early that without well-defined rules governing task switching, an OS can become consumed with it—a phenomenon known as thrashing.
One insight from the OS analogy is that no fixed set of priority rules is effective under all circumstances. If, for example, an OS must process many short jobs and a few very long ones, priorities should be set to ensure that long jobs are allotted more time than short ones. But if all are long jobs, assigning equal time slices to each will result in none getting completed for a very long time. In that case, priorities should be set to ensure that some jobs are completed before time is allocated to the others. Managing fire fighting, like setting priorities in OSs, will not happen if you follow simple, rigid rules.
Don’t tolerate patching.
The importance of this point has already been discussed, but enforcing it requires support at all levels of management. At Intel, for example, managers from the CEO on down have extensive line problem-solving experience and can distinguish a patch from a real solution. If subordinates find that hasty solutions come back and bite them, organizationally speaking, they will avoid patching.
Don’t push to meet deadlines at all costs.
Such goals always favor fire fighting. Instead, be flexible about deadlines. Measure development projects by the number of outstanding problems. Most companies measure “open issues” and problems discovered after product release, and many good factories have accurate lists and measures of unsolved problems. If this list stays the same or grows for more than a month after a product introduction, the organization is in fire-fighting mode.
In most U.S. organizations, the hero is the one who puts out the biggest fires. But where were these heroes when the problems started?
Don’t reward fire fighting.
In most U.S. organizations, the hero is the one who puts out the biggest fires. But where were these heroes when the problems started? Why didn’t they intervene sooner, before the problems grew so big? Companies should reward managers who don’t have a lot of fires to put out and who practice long-term prevention and systematic problem solving.
Building a Problem-Solving Organization
In today’s highly dynamic business environments, the key tasks for people in charge are innovating, improving, and dealing with the unexpected. The “unexpected” takes the form of problems whose solutions can open the door to innovation and improvement. Seen in this light, managers have a lot in common with engineers—and they’re just as prone to fire fighting.
So how does a fire-fighting organization transform itself into a problem-solving organization? It must recognize that the self-perpetuating fire-fighting syndrome is not an inherently irrational response to high-pressure management situations. Its genesis, rather, is a set of rules and behaviors that seem reasonable but really cause fire fighting in the long run. An organization must not only abandon these seemingly logical practices but also adopt techniques that, at first blush, appear irrational.
Curing the fire-fighting syndrome is not easy. Established organizational culture and shortsighted logic often work against it. Management that believes people work harder under pressure exacerbates the condition. But pulling your company out of fire-fighting mode is worth the effort because fire fighting drains your best workers; no matter how hard they work, they can’t put all the fires out. The obvious, albeit extreme, risk of fire fighting is that the organization will have to withdraw a product line or shut down a plant that has been rendered ineffectual. The less obvious but just as important risk is that the organization’s best problem solvers will become fed up and leave. Building a problem-solving organization is difficult, but the benefits are clear and the choice unambiguous.
- Robert Hayes is one of the exceptions, although he didn’t use our term for it. In 1981, he hypothesized that one reason American factories were more chaotic than Japanese factories was a difference in culture. He wrote: “American managers actually enjoycrises; they often get their greatest personal satisfaction, the most recognition, and their biggest rewards from solving crises. Crises are part of what makes work fun. To Japanese managers, however, a crisis is evidence of failure.” (“Why Japanese Factories Work,” HBR July–August 1981).
- In “Beating Murphy’s Law,” which I coauthored with Dorothy Leonard-Barton and W. Bruce Chew (Sloan Management Review,Spring 1991), we discuss a case where a factory’s entire production came to a halt, partly as a result of cascading fire fighting.
A version of this article appeared in the July–August 2000 issue of Harvard Business Review.
Roger Bohn is an associate professor at the University of California at San Diego. He developed the ideas in this article with Ramchandran Jaikumar, who was the Daewoo Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School until his death in 1998. This would have been his fourth HBR article.
Mahalo and much success,
Bohn, R. (2000, July – August ). Stop Fighting Fires. Retrieved from HBR.org: https://hbr.org/2000/07/stop-fighting-fires
First, let’s start off by acknowledging that communication is critical to…EVERYTHING! Now I’m going to show you a quick video example of something you might not think of as communication.
Now there’s probably a chance that you’re saying, I understand what the person who marked up the box was trying to indicate. But the UPS person actually opened the box to make sure, and the box is actually on the floor in the correct position. So if you’re first instinct was to ROF LOL (roll on the floor laughing out loud)…you’re with me. But in all fairness, the person who marked the box was really trying hard to communicate to the logistics people which way was acceptable to load and unload the package. Sometimes, even when you’re trying your hardest to communicate to those around you, it just doesn’t work the way you want it to.
As a business owner, manager, or employee, “quickly diagnosing and fixing communication issues can empower you to consistently deliver or receive on-time, on-point results” (E.G. Saunders). All of us can improve our communication, so here’s several types of communication issues you need to recognize.
- Too little communication
If you notice that the communication is too fast, too quick, or rushed, or if there is too much peripheral conjecture and not enough facts or pertinent information, or too little or no communication, these could all be indicators of frustration or anxiety. Too little communication can be frustrating no matter which direction it is going.
- Too much communication
In this case, you may notice that the communication is too frequent, too lengthy, or too repetitive. This type of communication can lead to annoyance, wasted time, irritation, stress, and little or no progress in accomplishing tasks or solutions. If you find yourself answering the same questions repeatedly or continuously, or sorting through mountains of irrelevant details and minor concerns, you are also battling too much and inappropriate communication.
- Miscommunication that creates frustration or misunderstanding
Sometimes you think you are communicating well with others, but you get the feeling that you aren’t being understood, or vice versa. You may also find yourself re-explaining, or worse having to redo your work, or even worse yet, doing the same work as another person due to lack of a clear understanding during the communication.
All of these issues can occur in all the various forms of communication including verbal and written, in-person, and across media (email, text, video conference, etc). The most important action if you determine you are having any of the communication issues described is to take immediate action and confront the issue. Remember the basics of communication: who, what, when, where, why, and how and specifically define each as well as the definition of ‘done’. Clearly specify not only the details of the project or subject, but also the expectations of frequency, method, and types of communication going forward. In addition, it’s always best to add another form of communication to your arsenal. Everyone understands and communications best through different methods, so it’s important that you are able to switch gears if you realize a different form would work better. For example, if you find that one of your employees never seems to understand what you’re talking about when you are face to face, try laying it out in writing or on a chart before your meeting.
Mahalo and much success,
Lorette, K. (2015). The Challenges of Business Communication. Retrieved from Small Business Chron: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/challenges-business-communication-112.html
MacLeod, K. (n.d.). HIdden Agenda [Recorded by http://incompetech.com/]. K. MacLeod. Retrieved 12 19, 2015, from http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1200102
Saunders, E. G. (2013, August 15). 3 Common Communication Challenges (and How to Handle Them). Retrieved from American Express Open Forum: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/3-common-communication-challenges-and-how-to-handle-them/
We’ve all experienced price increases as a customer. The examples are extremely numerous. How about the ever-changing and completely random and unannounced gas prices? And what about the sneaky way food companies have decreased the package sizing on many food items and kept the price the same – like ice cream, pizza, cheese, and cereal. So the first step, as a business owner, is to ask yourself “do I want to treat my customers the way these large corporations treat me as a consumer?” I think your answer will be the same as mine…No.
So how do you effectively increase your prices without treating your customers like nameless, faceless consumers? The first step is to strategize how you’re going to create the most value for your customers along with the price increase. And then you want to plan the most appropriate timing for your price increase. There are quite a few ways to implement a price change each with its own benefits and challenges.
- One Large Price Increase: sometimes circumstances warrant one large price increase. An example is if you’ve been in business for a while and have many long-time customers, and you have not changed your prices for a very long time. This is works especially well if the industry as a whole has overall higher pricing. In this case, you have built high value for your customers over time, and most likely your costs have increased over time as well.
- Small Price Increase with the Same Value: in this case, you may have experienced an increase in your costs, and you already have proven high value to your customers. You can introduce a small price increase that is justified by the cost increase and be specific letting your customers know that the high value will continue. This type of increase can be used to bring your prices in line with industry-wide increases instead of one large price increase if you feel this will be more readily accepted by your customers. You can also plan several small price increases over a long period of time to catch up your prices to the industry standards such as over a period of years, but you need to ensure that your value to your customer remains constant or increases as well.
- Increase Price & Increase Value: if you have increased the value of products and services that you have offered over time without increasing your prices, you can offer this explanation as justification for increased prices. If you’re customers have been with you through this type of growth and value creation, they will most likely wonder why you hadn’t increased your prices sooner.
- Layered Prices & Increase Value: using this technique you would keep the price and value the same for your original products and services, and create an additional layer of premier or specialized products and services that add increased value to your customers. Theses premier products and services would be priced higher than the original, but will over-deliver in customer value. You can also incorporate a time-limited special offer to your long-time customers with a discount price to allow them the option to move to the new products and services that offer the higher value.
- Price Structure Change & Increase Value: in this option, you have an original pricing structure and you are moving to a different pricing structure. Using this option can greatly increase your profit margin over time, however, you have to emphasize the increase in value and benefits to the customer so that you provide an irresistible drive for the new pricing structure. A good example of this is to change from an hourly consulting fee to a project fee. The benefits to the customer would be that they are getting all the same services and quality with one set price that is actually lower than the hourly fees. This change is beneficial to you since you can provide the same services, but your costs go down as you improve your internal operational efficiencies.
- Specialized Products & Services Bundled with Existing Products & Services: to implement this structure, you offer the same products at the existing rates, however you add offers at a higher price that bundle the existing products with additional products that are specialized and geared towards specific customers. For example, you own an air conditioning company, and you have regular customers that pay for semi-annual air conditioning maintenance at a standard price. You most likely also find issues during the maintenance that need service such as replacing UV bulbs. You can offer those customers a special annual price for semi-annual maintenance that would include the maintenance twice a year plus replacing the UV bulbs once a year. This price would be less than the cost of the normal service call and replacement of the bulbs, but still provide a reasonable profit margin for you. And it would save the time and effort of writing proposals for the UV bulb replacement, it would put the bulb replacement on a regular schedule, and would allow for just-in-time inventory ordering of the UV bulbs which would reduce your inventory costs. Plus the customer’s perceived value for the regular additional specialized maintenance would provide a higher level of customer experience and care.
Timing is key to all of the various types of price increases. It’s best to study your monthly sales and revenues and find the time of highest demand. If you introduce your changes shortly before the times of highest demand, customers are more likely to accept the increase. But if you introduce your changes at times of lowest demand, customers may decide they need to get bids from other companies or change companies all together.
So how do you present all this to your customers to keep your relationships in the best condition? First, you want to thank your customers for their continue patronage and support for your business throughout the years. If you can individualize the announcements to each customer, that is always an extra classy touch that will add to your customer’s trust and belief in your company. Additionally, you want to be completely honest in your explanation of the pricing, value, and structure change. If the changes are based on specific cost increases, state exactly what those increases are. If the changes are based on the increased value your company has offered over time, and you are moving towards the industry standard pricing, state that. You always want to announce the changes at least one month or more prior to the planned price change. It’s a good idea to offer a deal or special discounted price to your best long-time customers. You can even announce the changes to these customers in advance of the rest of your customers and the public, and allow a special timeframe for these customers to obtain discounted pricing on the changes.
The most important thing to remember is to approach your customers the way you want to be approached for a price increase. Do you want to buy from a company that incorporates a sneaky product size or quality decrease? Or do you want to be treated with respect and informed of the details and allowed to make a choice? Which do you think will build more loyal customers?
Mahalo and much success,
How to Raise and Lower Your Prices. (2015). Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/66010
Michalowicz, M. (2014, August 21). 5 Tricks to Raising Your Prices Without Losing Clients. Retrieved from American Express Open Forum: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/5-tricks-to-raising-your-prices-without-losing-clients/
Young Entrepreneur Council. (2013, October 14). 10 Ways to Raise Your Prices Without Losing Customers. Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/young-enterpreneur-council/10-ways-to-raise-your-prices-without-losing-customers.html
If this is your first business, or your fifth, you know that many days it’s difficult to stop working because there’s so much to do. But in the back of your mind, you also know that if you don’t stop working, and get some down-time and good sleep, your brain turns to mush and your energy levels go to rock bottom. And you also know that sometimes, even though you stop working, your brain is still running through all the problems and issues that are keeping you from switching off and possibly from sleeping and enjoying time with your friends and family.
We’ve gathered some tips for you that should help. But “switching off” whether you’re just starting out or a serial entrepreneur with million dollar businesses is a learned habit that needs consistency and practice just like anything else. So use these tips and make a routine that works, and stick to it until it’s a habit.
- Make a List of Issues and Priorities
This is one of the most helpful tips I’ve ever used. At the end of your day, take 5-15 minutes and either write or type a list of all the issues that need to be taken care of over the next day, week, month, and year (you can choose your timeframe, but at least do a list for the next day). Then prioritize the list. Some people use numbers, some use letters, but prioritize the list. Just writing down all the issues and getting them out of your head will greatly help you be able to shift from work to personal time. And it will help you be more organized the next day.
- Plan Tomorrow
I’ve always been much more successful when I’ve planned my day the night before. Take the priority list you created and spend 5 minutes planning which 3-5 items absolutely need to be accomplished tomorrow. You can even use the Franklin Covey method, and make a secondary priority list…just in case you end up being super-efficient and needing more tasks to accomplish.
- Write Down Your Daily Achievements
I didn’t realize how powerful this was for my focus and stress relief until I tried it. If you take a few minutes before you go to bed and write down at least 3 things you achieved that day, you’ll be able to end the day on positive note. And it really helps your thoughts as you fall asleep. Obviously results vary, but I found that my sleep was less restless and my dreams were more positive (instead of stressed out nightmares with crazy images and a tired brain). I would just jot 3 things down in an app in my phone, but you could use paper or your laptop, or just a quick meditation.
- Start and Stop at Regular Times
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “Yeah, right, I own my own business…I’m not one of my employees…there’s no way I can start and stop at regular times”. But it is possible. Take it from someone who’s almost always worked and ran a business at the same time. This doesn’t mean you need to have banker’s hours (no jab to bankers). But if you set specific start and stop times for your business, you’ll find that it not only becomes a habit, but you will become more effective during the hours you allow for business. There’s something about human nature that makes us less efficient if we don’t press ourselves to complete our tasks in a specific timeframe. So make your priority list, and schedule your start and stop times. You’ll see a change for the better in no time.
- Develop a Regular End of Day Routine
There are many, many relaxation routines you can come up with. Some people watch an hour of TV, some people wash dishes, some spend time with family or friends, others meditate. And even multi-million dollar entrepreneurs have their routines. My routine consists of running the dogs, then feeding them, then feeding me, then working until about 8pm. Then I’ll watch an hour of brainless TV (if I can stay awake that long), then take a really hot shower. Boom! Out like a light. And don’t forget your start of day routine…that’s important too. In fact, routines in general, make you more effective. These routines help our brains learn and understand when it’s time to focus and when it’s time to relax.
- Schedule Time for Yourself, Family, and Friends
Develop communication with your family and friends that will allow you to plan around fun time and work time. Even if you plan only a few hours on certain days, it’s better to have something that you can work into your schedule, then to let your business take over your entire life. Down-time increases your energy and productivity, and it can improve your creativity, which can give you more ideas how to improve your business and manage your time.
As business owners, we often feel the demands of the business affects our personal lives. Use these tips to help you take back your time, while also pushing yourself to get more done in each day. The articles I’ve referenced provide even more ways to help you manage your time.
Mahalo and much success,
Brown, J. (2015, August 12). You can Achieve Work-Life Balance as an Entrepreneur (Even With a Newborn). Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2015/08/12/you-can-achieve-work-life-balance-as-an-entrepreneur-even-with-a-newborn/
Focus: Achieving Your Highest Priorities. (2015). Retrieved from FranklinCovey: http://www.franklincovey.com/tc/mediaengine/public/files/fl_focus_v6.swf
Foster, J. O. (2011, September 23). How to Switch off at the End of the Day. Retrieved from Love Your Small Business: Profit with Purpose: http://loveyoursmallbusiness.com/work-life-balance/switch-day/
Shamini Jain, S. L. (2015, January 10). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation Versus Relaxation Training: Effects on Distress, Positive States of Mind, Rumination, and Distraction. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6514209_A_Randomized_Controlled_Trial_of_Mindfulness_Meditation_Versus_Relaxation_Training_Effects_on_Distress_Positive_States_of_Mind_Rumination_and_Distraction
Simmons, M. (2015, August 26). How Miilionaire Entrepreneurs Shutoff Work in the Evening. Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/michael-simmons/12-essential-night-time-rituals-of-millionaire-entrepreneurs-part-2.html
Simmons, M. (2015, August 26). How Millionaire Entrepreneurs Hack Their Sleep. Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/michael-simmons/12-essential-night-time-rituals-of-millionaire-entrepreneurs-part-4.html
If you’re wondering why you need a budget for your business and how to create one, you’ve come to the right place. A budget is s roadmap that guides the future of your business revenues, expenses, and profits. Without a budget, it would be like driving a car knowing where you want to go but not knowing how to get there and not having any gauges to tell you how fast you were going.
A business budget is essential for planning how to reach your goals, understanding your potential, and measuring your success. A budget can not only help you keep your expenses on track, but also help monitor your expected versus actual revenues.
A balanced budget is when revenues equal expenses, which equals zero profits but also zero losses. When revenues exceed expenses this is known as a surplus or profits. When expenses exceed revenues this is known as a deficit or losses. As business owners, we always want to aim for a surplus or profits, but sometimes, especially if you’re just starting out, you will have losses and you’ll have to manage them effectively to move to profitability.
To create a budget, you can start by using your income and expense reports from your current and previous years. You will also need to do some research into your market and the overall economy to do some estimates which is called forecasting. You should look at what competitors are offering and compare pricing and value, as well as potential market demand and conditions to determine future sales and sales volumes. Make sure you take into account any pending contracts or proposals as well as any plans you may have for changes or increases in your business. You will need to estimate or forecast both revenues and expenses preferably for one year.
Next you will want to use an online template or spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. It’s super easy to find ready-made templates online and just edit them to meet your needs. You can also create your budget on paper, but with all the free technology available, it’s so much faster to just use it. When you create your spreadsheet, make sure you leave at least one blank column next to the column where you put your estimates, so you can go back and review your budget against your actuals and record them to show your progress towards your goals.
When you fill in your spreadsheet and do your forecasting, you should estimate your profit margin first.
Target Profit Margin = Forecast Revenues – Forecast Expenses
You may have developed individual profit margins when you developed your products and services, however this target profit margin will be used to help you forecast your revenues and expenses for the year’s budget. You can then use your budget to refine the expected individual profit margins on your products and services, and adjust as needed. For example, if you determine that you need to have a target profit margin of 40%, and you have done your research and have forecast that your expected total revenues will be $50,000 for January, then you can compare this to your expected total expenses for January and see if that is realistic.
To determine your expected expenses, you need to consider your fixed costs, variable costs, and semi-variable costs.
Fixed costs = these are costs that do not vary as your sales and sales volume increase or decrease such as rent, insurance, and property taxes.
Variable costs = these are costs that vary directly with you sales and sales volume such as raw material and inventory.
Semi-variable costs = these are costs that may vary with your sales or sales volume such as employee related costs, fuel, utilities, internet, and phone.
Once you have all your expected revenues and expenses (costs) listed, then you will total all the expenses and subtract them from the totaled revenues…just like for your income and expense report.
Forecast Profit (or Loss) = Forecast Revenues – Forecast Expenses
Your Forecast Profit should be equal to your Target Profit Margin. If your Forecast Profit is less than your Target Profit Margin, you will either need to re-evaluate your forecast revenues or expenses, or both. You want to make sure you have a fairly realistic forecast, especially for your expenses. Your budget will be your dynamic tool for gauging your control over your expenses as well as meeting your expected revenue. It’s best to review your budget against your actuals monthly and make course corrections that create a positive impact towards meeting your goals.
Mahalo and much success,
Beesley, C. (2013, June 3). How to Build and Use a Business Budget That’s Useful All Year Long. Retrieved from SBA.com: https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-build-and-use-business-budget-thats-useful-all-year-long
Benoit, J. (2009, May 14). How to Create a Simple Budget. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/201670
How to Create a Business Budget. (2015). Retrieved from WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Business-Budget
How to Start a Busniess Budget. (2015). Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/encyclopedia/businessbudget.html
There is saying by Yogi Berra, famous baseball legend, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”. This is so true in life and in business. And no business owner wants to end up in the “Cemetery of Failed Businesses” (Alan Hall, Forbes). Personally, I’ve started businesses without goals and planning and with goals and planning. Which do you think was more successful? But it’s not too late if you never thought about your goals for your business. Or if you never developed a plan to reach your goals. So let’s start now. Here some suggestions that you might find useful.
- Talk to Your Customers
You most likely have a relationship with your customers already, and if you don’t now’s a great time to start one. Your customers will likely be willing to tell you what they like, don’t like, and what they want to see in the future. This is also a good time to discuss innovations, technology, products, services, pricing, delivery, warrantees, and customer experience with your customers. Communication is a great tool to obtain information to help shape your goals for your business.
- Define Your Goals Using Specific Details
Once you’ve brainstormed what is important to you, what you value, and what your priorities are personally and for your business, make notes on which things motivate you the most. Then develop these ideas and thoughts into goals. One of the most effective methods to develop goals is to use the “SMART” system.
SMART system is defined as:
Specific: use clear, concise, and exact terminology to describe each goal. The more specific the better. Define who, what, when, where, why, and how for each goal.
Measurable: define exact, tangible criteria that can be measured for each goal. You will need to be able to measure your progress effectively, so the better you define the conditions that describe success, the easier it know that you have succeeded each step of the way.
Attainable: you will want to breakdown the goal into smaller steps to that are easier to accomplish and measure for completion. It’s a good idea to make sure you word each step in the process of goal attainment in a positive manner to encourage motivation.
Realistic: your goals and steps need to be realistic. In other words, make sure the goal and each step is something that you can actually accomplish. For example, if you set a goal of increasing your sales by 50% in 3 years, you can realistically take steps to reach this goal. However, if you set a goal of selling your company for $10 million and retiring in 6 months, even if you plan carefully, this is an unrealistic goal (unless you can invent an amazing technology that just happens to fulfill an immediate need in society and creates disruptive change).
Timely: you want to assign a time line to your goal that is not only a reasonable and attainable timeframe, but also one that pushes you a bit to create a sense of urgency so you don’t get complacent and unmotivated.
It’s also good to split your goals into strategic and financial goals. Sometimes these may overlap, but start out by separating them. Strategic goals are related to your markets, customers, competitors, products, services, employees, resources, and processes. Financial goals are related to your revenues, margins, expenses, profits, and industry financial ratios.
- Include Your Employees, Partners, and Managers
I highly recommend that you involve your employees, partners, and managers in goal development. You can start them off with your vision for the company and some ideas for direction, and then let them be involved in determining the company’s goals and the steps to reach those goals. Including your people will also develop a sense of ownership and accountability which will help you and your employees, partners, and managers communicate expectations and assignments to reach the goals.
- Develop Both Long- and Short-term Goals
It’s best to determine your long-term (5-10 years) goals first. Then, with these long-term goals as a framework, develop your medium- and short-term goals (3-5 years and 1-3 years, respectively). Use your short-term goals to develop your plan of attack for prioritizing and accomplishing each of your goals.
- Develop a Plan “B”
It’s always best to have a contingency plan. This means that you have a backup plan in case things happen that are out of your control, such as a downturn in the economy, or a natural disaster, or an unexpected illness. Sometimes you can plan for certain “unexpected” occurrences. For example, in Hawaii, it’s always good to plan for the “unexpected” tidal wave or hurricane by making sure you have insurance, provisions, and a backup generator among other things. This is true for your business as well. You want to plan for an “unexpected” event such as a new technology that makes your product obsolete, and brings an unexpected drop in sales.
- Be the EDITOR© of Your Plan
As we describe in our video and website, use our EDITOR system to evaluate, develop, implement, test, observe, and repeat to assist you in your goal creation and completion. It’s a straightforward method to evaluate the state of your business, and where you want it to be, develop yours goals and your plans to achieve those goals, and follow through in completing your goals by implementing your plan, testing it, observing and measuring your results, and repeating and reassessing.
Mahalo and much success,
Bos, P. V. (2010, June 29). How to Set Business Goals. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/06/setting-business-goals.html
Creating SMART Goals. (2015). Retrieved from TopAchievement: http://topachievement.com/smart.html
Hall, A. (2012, December 8). 6 Steps to Insanely Successful Business Goals for 2013. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanhall/2012/12/08/6-steps-to-insanely-successful-business-goals-for-2013/
How to Set Realistic Goals. (2015). Retrieved from WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Set-Realistic-Goals
The Mind Tools Editorial Team. (2015). Golden Rules of Goal Setting. Retrieved from MindTools: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_90.htm