Enlisting employees in changing your small business

Employees are often unwilling to embrace new ideas. This presents a challenge to the owner who wishes to improve his small business. If employees will not make changes in their behavior, improvements are very difficult.

The key to overcoming fear of change is to create an incentive for employees. While money is not the only incentive, it is usually a powerful motivator. If the desired changes will result in increased profits, a bonus system to share those additional profits with employees can help them overcome their fears.

Enlisting employees in the entire process is perhaps the most effective measure that an owner can take. When an owner acts like a benevolent dictator and imposes change on the employees, they often resist. However, if the employees are involved in the process of identifying and planning the needed changes, they are much more likely to “buy in”.

Involving employees can begin by simply asking them what improvements they would like to see. This will do several things: you will be seen as more approachable and caring, employees will feel more appreciated, and you will create a more team like atmosphere.

Owners typically embrace change much more readily than employees. Consequently, the owner must address the concerns and fears of his employees. He must help them see the benefits of new ideas. If he can make them willing participants the changes will be far more effective.

At the same time, he must set realistic expectations regarding the speed and extent of change. In this regard, slow but steady change is ultimately more effective than rapid change that is quickly abandoned.

Employees are a part of your team. If you want them to perform at their best, help them help you. If you work together, not only on the floor or in the factory, but in the “board room” as well they will be much more willing to help you build the business you want to own.

Systems development is a team event

Many small business owners get overwhelmed at the thought of writing hundreds, if not thousands, of procedures. I must admit that I would find such a task overwhelming, and I enjoy writing.

So I will offer a little advice: Don’t do it. That may sound strange coming from an advocate of systems, but as the title implies, you should enlist your team in the effort.

The most effective way to do this is to ask them what part of their job is the most frustrating. Then work with them to eliminate that frustration. Not only will you make their job easier and more enjoyable, you will demonstrate the effectiveness of developing systems for the business.

Too often small business owners try to impose their ideas upon everyone else. While the owner certainly has this right, it is seldom the most effective approach. A baseball coach will not get the most out of his players if he constantly ignores their ideas and input. The same is true of a business owner.

If you feel overwhelmed by the challenges of owning a business, remember that you have a team behind you. Use them.

Book review: The Goal

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt, was first published in 1984 and has become one of the most popular business books ever published.

Written in novel form, The Goal traces the story of a struggling factory and how its employees turned it into a profitable operation. By identifying “bottlenecks” managers were better able to manage resources and improve overall production.

The Theory of Constraints introduced in the novel states that the maximum output is limited to the maximum output of the “bottleneck”. Put into other terms, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As the story unfolds we learn that managers often focus on the wrong things. While statistics and measurements can be useful tools, they are valuable only to the extent they help us achieve our primary goal. And in the context of business, all companies share the same primary goal– to make a profit.

Measurements of efficiency, for example, can be misleading. If we focus on maximizing the efficiency of each step of a process, we might actually decrease the efficiency of the overall process. That is, we must look at the big picture before we look at the details. And when we examine the details, we must always remain focused on the big picture.

In the context of a factory (the setting for the novel), this might mean keeping a particular machine idle at times. If the machine produces more than the next step of the process can handle, the excess accumulates as inventory. Both the inventory and the manpower used to produce and move increase expenses. In this situation management should focus on increasing “throughput”, that is, the amount of product available for sale.

The significant message in The Goal is the process of discovering and correcting “bottlenecks”. But this process is not a one-time event. It is a continuous process, or as the subtitle states: “a process of ongoing improvement.”