"Leaning" the Business Owner
By Travis Snider, Small Business Accelerator Lead Instructor & Business Coach
As a business coach, I regularly meet with small business owners. Seldom do I find them not pressed for time. I’m usually there to remind them of commitments they made to work “on high priority business” projects. While they know I’m coming, I’m usually greeted with, “I haven’t had time to finish that one this month”.
In today’s world, life is complicated. Things happen. The “To Do” List is never complete. Workweeks stretch out to 60 hours or more. Fatigue wears heavy and burnout lurks around the corner. How does an entrepreneur make it all work? How does she find time for the really important tasks that drive the double digit growth she desperately seeks?
A recent presenter in our Small Business Accelerator Program brought up the subject of lean operations. It got me to thinking. “Could we use lean principles to define and develop the role of a business owner”?
Simply put, Lean is the idea of maximizing customer value while minimizing waste. Lean originated in manufacturing, but in recent years has been applied to many business processes. It has become a way of thinking and engaging for entire organizations.
So how can a business owner use Lean to gain time for the really important tasks? Let’s look at some principles of “Lean”:
- Focus on the customer
- Figure out what work to do
- Remove inefficiencies and waste
- Track data and require accountability
- Recruit and develop people to operate the processes
- Go about it in a systematic way.
Focus on the customer
What are you doing that doesn’t focus on the customer? If you are doing work that doesn’t have the customer in mind, it probably should be eliminated? Track your time for a couple of weeks to see what you really do. Then decide if what you’re doing is truly customer focused. If not, make a change. Perhaps you’ll have more time to talk to customers about their needs and how best to satisfy them.
Figure out what work to do
Do you know what work you should do? First of all you must be doing the right things. Those are the things we define as our “most valuable and profitable” (MVPs) priorities. What are you the best at? What are you passionate about? What are the tasks only you can do because of experience, expertise and temperament? Are you doing your MVPs 60% of the time? If not, you’re not doing enough of the right things.
Remove inefficiencies and waste
What are you doing that’s inefficient? Is it because you don’t do it often enough or that you don’t have specific procedures to follow? Are you even the right person to be doing this work? One way to check is to remember that as an owner, you are worth at least $300 an hour. If you are doing a lot of work normally done by a $15 an hour employee, perhaps you are doing the wrong things. Saving 600 hours a year in tasks that could be delegated should provide time for things that only you can do to drive the business.
Track data and require accountability
You can’t manage if you don’t measure. Profit drivers are leading indicators that are predictive of the future and can be managed. Find the 3 to 5 profit drivers critical to your company and stay on top of them. There may be other key performance indicators that help also - One of our Accelerators has 125 of them. But that’s unusual. 5 to 10 may be enough.
Accountability is key. All employees, including the boss, must be accountable for their roles in the company. Know what they are and learn how to measure them. That way you won’t get confused about whether they did their jobs or not.
Recruit and develop people to operate the processes
Make sure you have the right people on your team and that they know what to do. Frequently, owners have not develop systems and procedures for work flow nor adequately trained their people to use them. Developing your team will initially take time. But without this step, you will continually be pulled in to help out, usually when it’s inconvenient. You must have people who can work competently without you, most of the time.
Go about it in a systematic way.
Discipline and rhythm are important to properly executing in your business. Develop meeting schedules and routines that allow tracking of important due dates and deadlines. All employees must know what’s going on, what’s expected and by when.
If an owner is to take his or her time back, some or all of these principles may be useful. Think about the possibility of getting 600 hours of your time back a year. That could be 25% of the total time you spend at work. If that time could be applied to your “Most Valuable and Profitable” priorities at the rate of $300 an hour, you might achieve a significant change in growth and bottom line. It’s certainly worth considering.