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If Businesses Could Make Just One Improvement in 2008

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® (SAC) has once again polled its global membership of independent consultants to find the most important business improvement that can be planned for the New Year.

"It's not rocket science," observes SAC CEO Alan Weiss, Ph.D., "but just a matter of setting a clear priority for improvement. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority." Here are the key suggestions:

Lisa Hamaker, President of Kaliday Marketing in Bolton, Massachusetts has found that the single most important thing businesses can change to immediately improve performance is to gain a solid understanding of why their customers buy from them-and all it takes is 15 minutes a day. Knowing your customers and their buying patterns provides useful support for decisions that help your company go in the direction you desire more quickly. These customer oriented decisions based on direct information have a positive effect on many aspects of your business-product definition, marketing, sales, customer service, delivery, and manufacturing. Spending 15 minutes each day talking directly with one customer is all it takes.

"High expectations," says Terrie Temkin, Ph.D., founding principal of the international consulting group CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc., based in Miami. "People live up-or down-to our expectations. Even subtle nonverbal cues can tell people that we don't expect anything more than adequate performance. And, believe me, if they can collect the same salary or get the same recognition for adequate performance rather than having to provide exceptional performance they'll be happy to skate."

From Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, MA: Human Resource Solutions has found that mediocrity is the new standard for many organizations. Make 2008 the year you stop accepting less than stellar performance. Assess your team and create a plan to replace people who have been sliding by for years. You'll be amazed at the immediate impact this will have on your organization.

Gayle Lantz, President of WorkMatters, Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama has found that if a business can change its focus to concentrate on possibilities instead of problems, it can improve performance. More opportunities emerge when people in the organization are looking for them. Leaders should ask employees to identify the greatest new opportunities they see for themselves, the team or the business.

Ed Poll, president of LawBiz Management in Venice, CA, has found that changing the firm's attitude from one focusing on the convenience of the owners to focusing on the wants of the clients/customers is the single most important change that alters performance immediately. This attitudinal change results in "partnering" with the client/customer, a behavior change that is noticed right away by the client.

Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D., president of BarWrite® and BarWrite Press in New York City, has found that when she sends existing and prospective clients a report about new events and public appearances, new business always follows.

Harmony Tenney, President of Intl. Business Empowerment Consultants, Inc. of Staunton, VA shares that ACTION is her number one tool for performance improvement. "So many companies will talk about what could or should occur. Planning and talking do not substitute for action. Many meetings end with good feelings, but when the next one comes around, the company is worse off if nothing happened in the interim. Take action and maintain accountability."

Simma Lieberman, president of Simma Lieberman Associates has found that one way to improve employee performance is for managers to greet their employees by name, talk to them, ask them for their suggestion on how to improve performance, and then start implementing the suggestions that are viable. "After working with organizational assessments which involved surveys, focus groups and interviews, in various industries and organizations, the one issue that I heard over and over is that when employees did not feel acknowledged, or that their skill and experiences were not valued, they were less invested in helping the organization be more successful. I also heard people say that they could have prevented costly mistakes in production or services if someone had asked their opinion."

Phil Symchych, president of CFO.CA Consulting in Regina, Saskatchewan, believes that businesses need to focus on how they provide value to their customers and then set prices based on that value. Otherwise, "businesses leave too much money on the table because they're pricing on internal cost and not on external value, and their financial performance suffers" Symchych stated. "One client in professional services tripled her project revenue when she identified that speed was critical to her customer's success, and she provided options around timing."

SAC member John Carroll, president of Unlimited Performance in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina and a recognized business growth expert, has found that employees and associates who think as owners can make an immediate and positive difference in organizational results. "Business owners who give their people a tangible stake in the outcome, financially or otherwise are, in effect, welcoming them into the ownership role," Carroll says. "Profit sharing plans, particularly those developed with input from the workforce, have shown remarkable success in increasing productivity and profits and reducing waste."

Kathleen Rich-New, President of Clarity Works Consulting, Cape Canaveral, FL said, "Visible accountability is critical to narrowing focus and increasing results. Employee accountability gets lost because managers get good at persuading employees instead of holding them accountable in a measurable and visible way. Creating an environment of accountability begins with a non-negotiable business processes that requires compliance by all leaders and teams to create focus, urgency and accountability; otherwise it will not work."

"If a business really wants to improve performance, the most important thing they can do is stop worrying about whether a new idea will work, and simply try it," explains Wes Trochlil, president, Effective Database Management, Hamilton VA. "In most businesses, more time is wasted explaining why an idea can't work than actually testing the idea for viability. Try it, see what happens, make changes, and then decide whether it's worth continuing."

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach and president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management firm in San Francisco, CA. He specializes in emotionally intelligent leadership development with executives and lawyers. He offers a couple of insights. "If you want to be a great company, you need to hire exceptional employees who are learning agile. The employment interview is the most important thing that you do as a company leader. The 60 minutes you spend in an interview will determine whether you get a high-potential employee or a loser. If you have a performance-based selection process assessing both technical and personal-interpersonal competencies you get an A player who will bring value to your company. Handle it wrong and you end up with a problem employee."

"Executives do themselves a disservice looking for a magic formula that has immediate impact on all types of organizations," counters David A. Fields, managing director of Ascendant Consulting. "Every company is a made up of different, interconnected systems, so focusing on one piece is counterproductive. It's like picking one gear in a watch and making it spin faster-sure, that gear does much better, but the watch no longer tells time. The same thing happens in companies all the time." Fields offers the example of one CEO who was lining his sales force up for new training program-a common quick fix. "We found that changing an internal order form, adjusting the incentive plan and slightly modifying the production line combined to skyrocket sales virtually overnight. It was far more effective than sales training would have been and less expensive too." According to Fields, none of those changes would have worked individually and none would necessarily apply to any other company.

"The first step any business should take to immediately improve performance is to start listening to its customers," said Jenny Schade, president of JRS Consulting in Wilmette, IL. "Every company should know the answer to the question, 'What's most important to my customers?' When your products, services and marketing are based on your customers' perceptions and needs, you'll start attracting instead of pursuing customers."

Alan Fortier, President of Fortier & Associates, Inc. based in Fort Lee, NJ, has consistently found that businesses fall far short of their profit potential through effective pricing. Alan observes that there is no area with as much leverage on profits, nor is as under managed as pricing, despite the opportunity for immediate results with far less investment than volume and productivity profit levers.

Liz Bywater, PhD, President of Bywater Consulting Group, states that businesses must stop trying to fix employees' shortcomings and focus instead on their peoples' strengths. "Companies waste a great deal of time and money on training and 'development' aimed at improving weak or mediocre employee performance. These organizations would be far better served by dedicating their developmental time and dollars to their top performers, helping them to go from good to great, from great to outstanding. Individual growth and organizational improvement go hand in hand," notes Bywater.

"These were suggestions from among 300 elite consultants," reports Weiss. "If most businesses adopted any one or two and made it a priority to implement them, 2008 can be their best year ever."

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