Small Business Management is a difficult task that very few are equipped to master. Building on systemic change is not difficult. And yet, the effective small business consultant can often help accelerate change in a client’s business by applying a very simple technique. The technique that escapes most business people is usually right in front of them, and they almost always miss it.
Case Study 1: Business not achieving goals
Recently I visited a moderately successful small business that is experiencing problems in making progress against the key goals outlined by the organization. As I carefully listened to the Management group it was clear to me that they both soundly identified the objectives, and they also suggested some workable solutions. However, they were befuddled with why they could make little progress on these all-important areas. These areas were critical to help sustain momentum and to justify further investments. As a Small Business Consultant, I spent a number of days observing, interviewing key personnel, and studying the reporting tools and measurement methods. The answers to what was holding up the progress became obvious after just a few “Coaching” analysis sessions. I will get back to this later.
Case Study 2: Inconsistency in implementation
Recently my wife and I were visiting a well-known breakfast restaurant chain to enjoy some relationship time. My wife always begins her meals with a glass of water and never drinks in a restaurant without a straw. Because of this, before even beginning to study the menu, I know to automatically suggest that the waitress provide her a straw and extra napkins. In this case, when I asked for the straw, my wife interrupted me and informed me that the restaurant had wrapped the silverware and straw inside the napkin on the table. This was something I had not observed before and based on life experience was a very nice thing for my wife. I observed the straw inside my bundle also, and quickly asked her if she thought the idea came from a new waitress inside the business or was it part of the restaurant chain’s new policy? We both surmised it was from a bright new employee, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an attempt at systemic change within the organization. When our waitress returned, I asked and she cheerfully said….”Oh no, it was not from our team……it was something they had started about three weeks ago”. I told her that we thought it was a pretty good idea. She responded, “Yes but half the time the girls don’t do it and what good is it if you can’t count on it?”
This is a great example of poor systemic change. This is just another great idea without great implementation. Until a great idea becomes imbedded within the business practices of the organization it is always going to produce sporadic results and insignificant positive impact on the business. Perhaps you have heard of the term “best practices” but have you considered that the role of a great small business consultant may be to teach implementation?
The Root Cause: Lack of Reinforcement
Now back to our small business story above. The problem that this business has is just like many other businesses. They know the problem, they know how important it is, but they simply can’t implement it. This situation was made clear by interviewing the staff and business personnel. Again and again, in interviews, I recorded exactly what Management said and did when they visited each of these people. I compared what Management said and did with many of the staff against the results from that interaction. What became very obvious is that the business reflected the tangible actions of Management, and it was part of the systemic success of the business. But what was painfully obvious was that Management never reinforced the goals (with actions) that were applied against the all-important business goals. In other words, Management was getting great results in areas that did not matter as much as the core business objectives. Where the systemic success of the business occurred, they were very good, but against the business goals, there were no applied actions or systemic success. In short, the employees could tell me every single thing that each management person would discuss or observe, but none of these highlighted interactions mirrored the business goals.
So what is systemic change within an organization and how as a small business coach do I provide meaningful solutions? The answer lies within the existing successes of the business itself. Look for the things they do well that is a result of everyone implementing a practice routinely, such that it is part of the unconscious process of the business. For example, the business I referred to earlier had spotless and clean restrooms, had beautiful front walkways windows and doors, and the employee uniforms were crisp clean and well fitted. When I explained that these successes inside the business were a result of anticipated Management reinforcement, the small business could easily relate and better understand the changes needed and the game plan for the small business consultant to initiate change. Of course, this is only the beginning of a program to install training, reports, and measurement into the business methods of the organization. But it all starts with helping the Leadership build upon the successes they have, and visualize the future.
You Get What You Focus On
True systemic change involves integrating the goals into the daily business practices of the business. Build on the systemic victories in place to mirror the future changes. Help the business align themselves with the core needs, and coach them to imitate the existing business victories. This is a classic “teach a man to fish” example, but don’t oversimplify the process. If they simply add on to the existing communications they may cause confusion and may actually take a step backward in performance. Management must be taught to reinforce the core business goals and to only lightly release and maintain the current business standards. When a business has developed systemic qualities there is no end to the number of excellent things they can implement, but they must learn how to embed the core goals into the business as a primary objective. Teach systemic change and your value as a coach will soar.
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