By David McNutt
Every year I make the oft-annoying appointment to see my personal doctor for a checkup during which he asks all about my life. What am I eating and drinking, how am I sleeping, am I exercising, what stress am I under, how do I feel, do I have any pain? Occasionally he asks how my tennis or golf game is going, neither of which ever get good reports.
I make this effort because, in spite of my own awareness of my health, there are things that he can observe and discover that I simply can’t. One year my bad cholesterol was up a little and we spent a year bringing it back down. A few years ago my blood pressure was on the high side and 18 months later it was back to normal. He finds things that need attention.
There are times that we need a professional assessment of how we are doing, compared to a health standard or a previous benchmark, so that we can know how to improve.
Owners and owner representatives often call for a design and engineering firm to conduct a peer review for their large projects. This can be a little unnerving for the firm under review, but it protects and assures the owner that the design is complete and solid. Accounting firms often engage in voluntary peer reviews by other firms to confirm that the methods, processes, and rules they follow are up to current professional standards.
But why don’t we do this for our normal business practices? Let me ask, has your business ever had an assessment? Unless you are currently trying to sell your business, probably never. Even so, an assessment of value is usually superficial because it doesn’t uncover where or how the business can improve; it is only an estimate of how much might be worth to a potential buyer.
During this process we discover many specifics in each of these broad areas that relate to every other area of the company. No one area is unique unto itself; in a business they are all interconnected, or at least they should be, which is why this approach is valuable. This holistic approach provides granular insight into recommended changes that can break down silos, reduce cost/waste, increase profitability, improve the timing of the operations, and better align the business with its strategic and ownership goals.
Out of these discoveries come recommendations – but we tell our clients that everything they can do by themselves with little or no guidance, to do themselves. At other times an item may not be a priority, the client may need assistance, they may not have time to do it themselves, or they may not actually know how to achieve an improvement.
In fact, many are not, but every business can benefit from any honest assessment. So, here are some questions with which you can start your own self-assessment and focus on business improvements.
These questions are not easy ones and they require focus, discipline and honest evaluation; but they are doable. Bring your owners together. Bring your managers together. Carve out time to spend on one question, one topic, or one area of the business. Find a new practice in order to improve. That’s the easy part. The hardest part is exercising the discipline to stay at it until the new best practice becomes a best habit in the business.
David McNutt is a partner in Navigate Management Consulting, a firm focused on improving business process and profits in the system integration industry.
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