How well are we adjusting to the new business conditions?
By Ron Slee
We have seen several economic disruptions over history. We have seen rather significant changes caused by technology. More recently, as if we needed a reminder, we have seen the most serious economic challenge of our generations. We continue to be plagued with our ability to find talented people to work in our businesses.
Yet the more things change, the more they remain the same. How well are we adjusting to the new business conditions?
One of the many things that has caused me trouble over my career is the different styles of work between different geographic areas. From Asia to Europe, from South America to the Middle East, and then North America—things are different according to the political and economic norms in the areas.
In North America, we are taught through the use of obedience. As little children, we are told to look both ways before crossing the street. As we get a little older, we are told to respect our elders. In school we are taught with models, such as flash cards in my day. Then we go to technical schools, junior schools, or universities where things are totally open.
Finally we leave school, and if we’re lucky we find a job we hope one day will turn into a career. Then, as one of the bosses, we ask the new employees to do the job, we teach them how to do the job, and we ask them to do it over and over again until they become proficient.
In Asia, they have a similar structure up until the job gets started. They then employ “kaizen” (a Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement”). Yes, the employers want the employees to get to be good at their jobs, but they also rely on the employees to make the job better.
Kaizen means improving the job every day in some way. No matter how small the improvement, make the job better every day.
I find that a very important aspect of work.
My first 13 years within the distribution industries, I worked for two businesses, one in Eastern Canada and the other in Western Canada. Both were large equipment dealers. They spanned the sale of new and used prime products, the machine itself, as well as providing the parts and service to keep the machine working and supporting their customers. Yet they both had different styles and cultures.
There was, however, a common bond. They both provided worthwhile work to their employees. Each and every person employed in those two companies felt the work they were doing was significant. It was worthwhile.
Each and every one of you do too. You are dealing in the single most important element on the planet. You are dealing with water in one way or another.
Do you suppose the person answering your telephone helping customers feels their work is important? They absolutely should. Their self-image will be good, their attitude will be upbeat. They will be the individuals who are happy to be at work and doing their jobs. And it will show.
How do we transfer that culture to each and every new employee? That’s the challenge. We are nothing without talented, well-trained, hard-working, upbeat employees with the can-do attitude.
Let’s bring back “continuous quality improvement” and “total quality improvement” as business tools.
They are the ones who cause your customers to keep coming back to you. They make customer retention happen. They allow you to make money doing something you love too.
So let’s take a page from Asian culture and bring back kaizen. Let’s bring back “continuous quality improvement” and “total quality improvement” as business tools. Let’s ask employees who are doing the job what needs to be done to make the job better.
One of the tools I use in my consulting business and in classroom training sessions is what I call “Five Things.” Each person in a department provides five things pertaining to three questions:
- What are five things to make the job better and more productive?
- What are five things that are a pain in the butt to do?
- What are five things that will make my day go faster and my job more fun?
It’s interesting how the lists start taking on similar subjects. The next step is to look at these lists with the people who provided the input and have them discuss them. You will see an item that makes the job better is also currently a pain in the butt to do. But if it could be made better, it would make the job more fun to do. Try it. You will be amazed how something so simple can be so revealing.
The group can then make the changes necessary to make the job better and more productive. At the same time, it will get rid of something that is a pain in the butt. Improving things will make the day go faster and the job more fun. Now who would say no to any of that?
That is the missing element to change, isn’t it? People resist change. Everyone is comfortable in how things are done today. So why change? Why change indeed when they provided you with three lists of five items to make things better. Notice you didn’t contribute a list. It is not about you. It’s about them, the employees, making their lives and jobs better.
So in this new year, in these difficult and changing economic conditions, here is a tool for you to use that will allow you to adjust to the new business realities. It will also excite your employees. They will feel they are in control of their own work. In fact they will be in charge of their own work.
Wouldn’t you want to jump out of bed to get to a job like that?
The time is now.
Ron Slee is the founder of R.J. Slee & Associates in Rancho Mirage, California, a consulting firm that specializes in dealership operations. He also operates Quest, Learning Centers, which provides training services specializing in product support, and Insight (M&R) Institute, which operates “Dealer Twenty” Groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.