For most businesses, the start of the fourth quarter is here. That means it is a good time for owners to reflect on the past, and plan for the future.
All businesses – large and small – are at their essential core a collection of processes and systems. The primary ones being: Sales, people, accounting and finance, and operations. And, although we may not think of them as systems, strategy and leadership.
The five questions owners should ask now all go to improving a businesses’ processes. Approaching this diligently can produce healthy, stronger enterprises: Businesses that can withstand whatever curve balls the economy, competition, or changes in technology and trends throw their way.
So, here we go.
- Does your accounting do more than simply tell you where you are?
Most businesses don’t get bang from the buck out of their accounting systems. Owners too often view accounting as a necessary evil. Something to get the invoices out, bills paid, taxes done, and inventory counted. And of course, to know how much money was made or lost last month.
Valuable, well-functioning firms make effective use of the accounting process. Owners extract critical information to guide making management and growth decisions. They skillfully use forecasts and budgets to execute on growth plans. And they use leading-indicator metrics to stay ahead of the curve.
Is Q4 the time for you to take steps to make your accounting process work for you, and not you for it?
2. Is your sales process effective in all its relevant channels?
Often, businesses with well-functioning accounting, people, and operational processes have less-well functioning sales processes.
You should examine the following:
- Whether processes for receiving referrals from current and past customers are optimized, with all employees participating.
- The process which produces sales goals and quotas, to assure they are realistic, achievable, and even desirable.
- Methods for compensating sales people to be sure they are aligned with the results you are seeking.
- The metrics used to manage sales activity, with an eye on the alignment of behaviors and activities, and desired results.
- Whether all sales and business development channels, including referrals, social media, cold and warm calls, trade shows and conferences are effectively being utilized.
3. Do your employees go the extra mile?
One of the most important drivers of growth and value in a company is its culture. Experts at buying businesses say culture is one of the first things they look at in a potential acquisition. Is your company culture one of going the extra mile, or taking short cuts?
Cultural changes are not easy, but also not impossible. It takes leadership, and a strong talent management process. Remember, people processes are far more than simply HR.
4. Can you distinguish symptoms from problems?
The odds are, you have a pretty good idea of the pain points in your company. But often, symptoms are mistaken for problems. It is important to dig deep – perhaps relying on the Toyota method of asking the “five whys” – to get to the core root cause of a problem.
The true cause of much corporate pain is often buried deep in a systemic or process problem. Finding and fixing those problems will make companies fundamentally healthier businesses. And ones that can not only grow, but also weather storms and change.
5. How do you utilize leaders in your organization?
Many of the most impactful leaders in organizations are not the ones at the top, but rather those in the middle. They are the ones who set examples of behavior, attitude, and technique for others to follow. For better, and for worse.
The first step in effective utilization of leaders throughout the company is recognition of how important these leaders are. The next step is being sure to nurture, support, and recognize those who lead for the good. And to counsel, and sometimes remove, those who lead for the bad.
Related is the question of how you as an owner function as a leader. Are you the conductor of an orchestra, getting the best out of all the players, so that together you make beautiful music? Or, are you in essence a one-man band?If you stop playing, does the music die?
If after asking yourself the questions above, you expect to be disappointed by this year’s results, you have strong motivation to make things better next year. And if you are happy with the way things are turning out, you have equally as strong motivation to keep things moving in the right direction.
When you honestly and objectively answer these questions, you should be pleased by some answers, and disappointed in others. This is the time to run to — not from — problems. Address the weak spots before they become weaker.
Have a great fourth quarter. And an even better next year.
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