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Jana Adkins: Auto racing provides many lessons needed to run a business

Posted: June 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The best sales efforts in the world can be undone by weak operation support in a business.

The best example I can think of when it comes to painting the picture of operational team work and efficiency is the Formula One auto racing series.

In his Signal column, “Brain Food for Business Owners,” columnist Ken Keller often writes about the perils of a business leader missing key opportunities when planning and managing sales and sales staff to increase topline revenue.

Having managed sales and marketing, I agree.

I come more recently from a background in operations management. And I have to say that operations are equally as vital to a successful organization.

Protect revenue
Many times, the two divisions, sales and operations, function so distantly from each other that sales are lost due to poor follow-through in the operations arena.

It is the primary responsibility of any operation to “protect revenue.” Simply put, this means achieving a very low error ratio and a high customer-satisfaction rate.

Every other function an operations unit performs is secondary — without revenue, there is no company.

If an operations division is not in-step with the overall company, there are some steps business leaders can take to realign the organization.

Workflows: Review and chart each of the workflows in an organization to ensure they are the most efficient, logical way to get the work done.

Processes: Get a clear understanding of what the steps  in each task and assess how much time it should take the average employee to complete each task successfully.

Fast is not always better; it can sometimes lead to costly errors. Shoot for a healthy average time that allows for natural disruptions in the workday and flow of each task.

Peak periods: Determine when sales or order volumes ebb and flow during the day, each day of the week.

Units: Find out how many units, produced, orders or sales, an operations’ team will be processing each day of the week as volumes often vary by day of week.

Staffing: Once the data is collected, work schedules can be built to meet optimum demands.

These metrics can all be used to help manage the operation.

Healthy environment
The best processes can be in place and still an organization can stumble, if three other conditions are not set in place.

Communication: You can never overcommunicate. Let everyone know what the company’s goals are and how the company is performing.

Bringing knowledge to frontline employees makes them part of the team and keeps people engaged in helping to meet those goals.

Empowerment: This not just a buzz word. The most efficient, responsive employees have the opportunity to say what is and what is not working well. Trusting employees as frontline specialists often results in benefits for the company and customers alike.

Performance: Like sales, managing performance is crucial. Set clear, measurable performance goals for each person.

Follow-up in performance reviews to let each employee know whether they are meeting expectations. And use these reviews as opportunities to strengthen employees.

Praise those who do well. Coach those who need help. And remove those employees who are hurting the organization’s efforts to succeed.

Valuable lesson
Performance coaching does not have to be a negative experience, but rather an opportunity to be clear about expectations and help an employee become a stronger member of your team.

I’ve never forgotten a valuable lesson I learned as a new manager. I anxiously met with a sales employee who was consistently not meeting any goals. I mistakenly expected a negative reaction from the salesperson.

I clearly laid out all the facts, and was very specific about what “improvement would look like.”

The employee patiently heard me out, and then replied: “I was wondering when someone would say something to me.”

Auto racing
Formula One race cars are sleek, beautifully designed, built with carbon fiber and titanium — the technology behind these cars makes one’s head spin.

Drivers race at life-risking, breathtaking speeds and endure gravitational forces greater than when astronauts launch into space.

But which driver wins or loses all comes down to one point: strategy in the pit. How often tires are changed and how quickly the pit crew can change four tires.

The best pit crews are changing all four tires in less than four seconds. I can’t even exit my car that quickly, let alone change one tire.

The best driving effort in the world can be undone by the performance of a pit crew.

And equally, the best sales efforts in the world can be undone by weak operations support in a business.


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