With a new year stretching out before us it is natural to start thinking about business goals and targets. Setting challenging yet realistic targets for your business is always healthy. Perhaps your goal is to achieve a certain sales target, or to grow the size of your operation with new equipment.
Having set your business goals, the trick to achieving them is to switch focus from the goal to the process. In my experience, this is often something small business owners have trouble doing.
A challenge unique to small businesses
One of the toughest aspects of being a small business owner is the need to operate at two levels of focus and work state. There is the high-level focus required to set longer term goals, as well as the lower-level focus that brings high quality to the dozens of minor daily actions required in the business operations. The ideal work state for high-level strategic focus is one of reflection and observation. By contrast, delivering outcomes to clients is best done with steady tempo and action.
It is only when a business completes the minor actions well, that the high-level targets will be achieved. In larger businesses, these different levels of focus are split between different people. The leader of a large corporation will set the strategic direction for the enterprise but will have many operational staff who ensure the minor business actions are completed. Likewise, the front-line staff need not concern themselves with the high-level direction of the enterprise, leaving them energy and focus to carry out the daily tasks. For the small business, this dual focus all sits with the owner.
Let’s imagine you are the owner-operator of a trade business. You have set the challenging, but realistic target for the year ahead of increasing sales by 20%. Having done this, the next task is to identify the seemingly insignificant processes your business undertakes every day. For example, answering the phone is a process that might occur several times each day.
When this process is done well; in a professional, polite and courteous way, it is likely to lead to good outcomes, regardless of who is on the other end of the phone. Conversely, every time this seemingly minor process is done poorly; by answering the phone in a casual, abrupt or dismissive way, it makes achieving the high-level targets that much harder. The same goes for all other processes: preparing quotes, completing work for clients, interacting with other contractors, sending invoices, undertaking training.
Bringing focus to processes
When helping business clients, we first identify about a dozen important processes specific to their business, then I ask the client to describe how each process can be done in a high-quality way and in a low-quality way, imagining the likely outcomes of these different approaches. We have some fun doing this, especially when thinking of the chaos likely to occur with certain approaches!
The next step is to use systems and tools to ensure these processes are actually done in the high-quality way. This may include checklists, guidance documents or schedules. It may include adopting new technology or designing feedback loops. It may even include amending some of the owner’s personal habits which impact his or her ability to undertake the processes in a high-quality way.
Having set your business goals for the year ahead, bringing the level of focus down to the level of business processes is the next important step. It is often overlooked by owners keen to rush headlong toward their targets, but investing a few hours to refine your processes is bound to pay off and make hitting those targets much more likely.