My friend’s daughter has a loose baby tooth. The other tooth has been trying to get through for a while and is pushing at it from underneath. Now, it would be easy to get rid of it if she would just give the baby tooth a little bit of a wiggle each day, but she won’t do it. She is reluctant to put up with the feeling she doesn’t enjoy, and the slight pain of the baby tooth coming away.
The problem is if she doesn’t get it sorted soon she will be in for a trip to the dentist which, in the end, will be more pain (for her) and expense (for the parents). She knows this, but prefers the short term gratification of not having to deal with it over the long term consequences if she does nothing.
It got me thinking how often we face the same situation in our businesses. We settle for short term problem solving techniques to solve long term problems, or worse take no action at all. Sometimes we’ll do anything just to avoid the pain.
The result of this inactivity can be crippling. Most businesses that fail don’t suffer because of an immediate short term catastrophe, but because of a long term situation that, in isolation, isn’t relevant.
Over an accumulated period of time however, it builds up to become a major threatening issue. A dripping tap in a blocked bathtub isn’t a problem for a few days. Leave it for six months and you’ll have a house that is flooded.
I recently had dealings with a store owner who was in the process of selling his business. For years he had intended to put in an inventory control system, but he just hadn’t gotten around to doing it. It hadn’t been an issue when he had been operating the store himself (or so he believed).
When it came time to sell however, the problem suddenly appeared. He had specified a value for his inventory in the asking price but was unable to substantiate it. He insisted most of his product was saleable but couldn’t prove it.
The result? A number of interested parties who walked away because he was unable to verify the numbers he claimed. He eventually sold, but for less goodwill than he had originally asked, and probably would have received, had he had the facts to prove it. Sadly he had let the tap drip for too long.
A few simple steps each day can go a long way to preventing this type of situation from arising:
1. Make a decision that you will control some part of your day. Don’t expect 100% perfection, but allocate at least one hour out of each day to do the important but non urgent tasks. Make this time yours and don’t allow exceptions for anybody. You have the rest of the day where you can be at the mercy of people and circumstances
2. Use the time wisely. Ask yourself what activities will have the greatest long term benefit for your store. Break your time down as follows:
- Review. Spend 15 minutes looking at yesterday’s sales figures. Were they what you had budgeted? Was the average sale and mark up what you hoped to achieve? Did you sell the quantity of what you intended? Was the product mix sold what you expected?
- Plan. (15 minutes) There is no point on looking at yesterday’s results if you do nothing about it. What action do you need to take to rectify the things that aren’t happening? What steps can you put in place for this to change? Remember, one day of not achieving goals doesn’t matter, but if a pattern is forming then you need to change something. Not selling a diamond ring one day doesn’t matter. If it’s the 10th day in a row however, something has to change.
- Communicate. (15 minutes) If you don’t tell the staff then it leaves an awful lot of work on your shoulders. The captain of the ship can’t turn it around without getting the engine room involved. Have a quick staff meeting to let them know what you are expecting from them or use the fifteen minutes for a one on one with the individuals concerned. Remember this is daily. In a 5 day week you will have spent 75 minutes talking with staff collectively or individually. That’s quality communication.
- Follow through (15 minutes) Do the tasks you need to do to make it happen. Take Action!
3. Delegate wherever possible. Empower the staff to take on more. This frees your time but also gives them a greater sense of purpose.
Whatever you do, don’t leave that tooth too long. Sometimes you just have to grab it and pull!