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Kenneth W. Keller: Six steps to better your business

Inside Business

Posted: April 14, 2009 11:52 p.m.
Updated: April 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
It's easy to be beaten down by the constant trumpeting of how bad the economy is, and it's just as easy to feel overwhelmed by opportunities. There seems to be no middle ground.

Regardless of which side of the spectrum things might fall on for you, there are six areas an owner might want to re-examine, refocus and renew efforts and energy.

The first relates to facility cleanliness and neatness. Now is a terrific time to do some spring cleaning of desks, filing cabinets, bookcases, offices, hallways, warehouses and storage rooms. Put another way - kill the clutter.

Taking the time to remove old files, materials, books, unusable marketing materials, pieces of paper that have been saved for some unknown reason and all the rest will bring a sense of order and joy to the facility and those that work in it.

The second area of focus relates to the first. It involves the identification and leveraging of untapped assets. Every organization has both kinds of assets and these can be put to use to reduce costs and clutter or to increase revenue.

One of the most common untapped assets is the ideas that come from employees when they are asked for input on a specific problem. If all employees were asked to contribute a single idea to reduce costs in the organization, it is beyond a reasonable doubt that many good suggestions would surface, potentially saving thousands of dollars.

Another form of untapped assets relates to physical things. What is in your facility that can be sold or donated? What exists that has value to another entity? Make the effort to rid the company of these things that will never be used.

The third area of focus is thinking. Too many owners are too wrapped up in the day-to-day operations of their businesses to be burdened by thinking about how to make the business better, more profitable and stronger.

One management expert suggests that every owner work for six hours each day and use the last two hours of each day to think, setting all work aside and sit quietly with a pad of paper and a writing instrument, focusing on a simple task: how to make the business better.

The fourth focus area is opportunity. Opportunities enhance the business and make it stronger, but if the burden of follow-through and execution remains solely with the owner, almost every opportunity will soon disappear.

In order to be successful on a consistent basis, the owner has to have someone to delegate concepts and ideas to so that they come to fruition. Owners rarely have someone to whom they can delegate these important tasks because their best people aren't put on the greatest opportunities. Instead, they are put on the biggest problems.

Opportunities are exciting and challenging, but dealing with the same problems over and over again quickly becomes demoralizing and draining, which leads to burnout. This leads to the fifth area of focus: recharging the owner's batteries.

It's common to discuss burnout in the business world. The concept relates to the energy source of the individual. Most of the time, burnout is used in a derogatory way, meaning that the person in question isn't strong enough, physically or mentally, to handle the burden they are assigned to carry.

Owners are assumed to have more energy than others, which translates into being able to work long, difficult hours, carrying a heavy physical and mental load, dealing with a multitude of marketing, sales, production, financial and human-resource issues and living a normal life - which means making time for family, friendships, recreation and recovering from the effort expended at work.

At some point, the burden will exhaust the energy faster than it is being replaced - and that will lead to burnout. By becoming more aware of this, the owner will become a better leader.

The final area of focus involves the word why. All too often the word and the question it entails is forgotten when discussing external and internal customers. Wonder why prospects don't buy, buyers defect and employees and managers don't work with more dedication and focus? Ask each stakeholder the question five times in succession until the true answer is spoken.

Kenneth Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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