The Art of Simplification
Hunched over in the snow, it felt like I broke my hip. My head hurt, too. But as I looked around at the Wyoming mountain side, the beauty of the scene offered a nice reminder—well, at least an additional reminder to “crashing on a snowboard hurts far more today than it did 10 years ago.”
You see, I was thinking of my surroundings, the trip I was on, the great friends I was with, how grateful I was.
I wasn’t thinking about my business.
This was an experience I might not have had 10 years ago ... for a lot of reasons. Think about it: How many of you feel you can’t leave your business for a day, a weekend, a week? Do you feel like the whole place will fall apart? Can your team manage without you there? I bet a lot of you say no. I used to, too. I still get that anxious feeling when I leave, except I know now that it’ll be just fine.
So, how do we all get to that point?
For those of you keeping track at home, we’ve gone over a couple key topics so far in this column: strategy (January) and fighting “overwhelm” (February). And this time around, I want to talk about a topic that fits right into these—it’s the culmination of the two.
It’s as simple as that (see what I did there?).
I truly believe that there are only a handful of things we need to do as business owners to be successful. A handful, maybe three or four, depending on your model. That’s it. There’s nothing else. Everything outside of those three or four things are just peripherals. Simplicity is about understanding that we have all these peripherals, and we need to cut them out and focus on what’s important; our focus needs to stay on the aspects of our business that drive us forward.
OK, so let’s do a quick exercise. Take a look at your calendar right now. How much is on there? I’m guessing it’s a lot. A meeting with this person about that thing; another meeting with that guy; this call with that vendor. It goes on and on, right? How many of those calendar items are truly necessary? How many of them drive your business forward? (Here’s a hint: If your calendar is chock-full of meetings and calls, you have a lot of waste on there.)
The bottom line is that as we grow, as we try to expand, we add more and more things that don’t matter—or at least, don’t make the difference we think they do; they just eat up time and resources.
One of the greatest mistakes you can make as you grow is to lose sight of what made you successful in the first place. We want to better service our customers, so we add digital products or new communication methods … when we should instead focus on better training our new advisors and making sure they offer that same quality of service you became known for. Think of great service businesses: Chick-fil-A earned its reputation by teaching teenage employees to say, “My pleasure” in response to a customer’s request. How simple is that? But how impressed are you when a 15-year-old kid says that to you?
An effective procedure in a business is one that can be done every single time a customer comes into the shop. You need to have a focus on 100 percent execution. We need to focus on the basics. The basics are the drivers of your business. (Notice yet that I’m repeating this concept?) The No. 1 basic in your business if fixing the car right the first time. If we do that every single time, the customer will come back. All those other things you try to do, one comeback, and all of those are out the window. It doesn’t matter if you sent a follow-up text or a handwritten note or wowed someone with a digital inspection, if that customer leaves and that check engine light comes back on, that’s all he or she remembers.
So, everyone, ask yourself: What is it that we’re doing right now that we shouldn’t be doing? What can we remove or take away that will allow us to focus on what’s important?
And don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying to avoid new things and to never add to what you do. It comes down to execution. You need to have your processes down to that 100 percent level of execution before you should add on. Clearly, it’s impossible to actually hit at 100 percent on anything, because there’s always a human element involved. But everything in your business should be designed at the lowest denominator; your lowest employee should be able to carry out all of your processes. Nothing in your business should ever drop below a 90 percent execution rate. And if you can get to a 95 percent range, you’re getting it down.
So, how effective are your processes? How’s your execution? Take a hard look. My guess is that you’ll find you’re not where you want to be. Have this be a moment of clarity for you. Keep it simple.