It has been a while since I posted because I have been busy making videos and creating workbooks for the Revenue or Relationships website to support my book.
And speaking of the book...I'm revising some of it to make a second edition. If anything, I'm rearranging it to make it shorter and a little easier to read. My work on the workbooks sparked this project. I started creating a workbook for the 3rd section and it was too long - even for me! So I decided to take a step back and revisit the chapter. I think I'll be doing this for all chapters moving forward.
I'm moving the current start of the operations chapter to be somewhere else (location TBD) and start with this.
Hope you enjoy!
We often believe that a business’s operations are directly related to revenue savings or earnings. And it shows. There are countless business books with case studies and ideas for how to “win at business” by optimizing operations. It seems that there is a solution to almost every problem. We implement these best practices as if they are the magic wand to increase profits and improve customer engagement. We’ll measure every aspect of a production line to reduce time, reduce costs, and increase efficiency (whatever that means for an organization). But should we be looking at only those impacts as indicators of success? Or should we instead consider how improving relationships between people during these optimization processes can help us reach our goals?
There’s an art to creating a great action plan (or business plan) that involves much more than implementing best practices for an operational area. You may notice that some founders will form a successful startup and leverage a similar business plan for their next venture yet experience failure. Or an organization will implement the same processes as another company and see different results. The target market and audience could be the same for the businesses. The product could be solving a similar problem in the same industry. But the differences between these organizations usually lie within the team members, the business partners, the investors, and other stakeholders involved in the business.
It becomes clear that success revolves around the people involved in a business. When the team has a passion for its vision, mission, and brand values, they experience success. Otherwise, not so much.
This would explain why a process that was successful at one company’s location may be implemented at another location without corresponding gains and improvements. The team changed. It’s the people who are implementing the plan and their relationships that contributed to the company’s success. They are the magic ingredient.
Describing how to make a great action plan is like trying to describe to someone how to walk. You can outline the mechanics of walking—you put one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, bend your knee, and propel yourself forward. And that’s what these books about best practices describe: the mechanics of doing business. But there could be mannerisms or gestures you make when you walk that are unique to you. Walking itself is a personal identifier. How you walk makes you, you. The same is true for how a company does an activity.
You could argue that walking is a fairly solitary activity, and companies have more than one employee, so this is an inadequate analogy. So a better example may be an assembly line to put papers into folders for an event. There are many ways to achieve this goal. A line of people could pass pieces of paper to each other, each adding a new sheet, and the last person places this collection of papers into a folder. Alternatively, each person could put a sheet of paper into a folder and pass a folder down the row. Or you could have multiple people doing this assembly line by themselves or multiple lines of people in a row passing papers. There is no right or wrong answer. However, I would propose that the most successful approach for that assembly line is the one where the people participating are happiest and they all agree that they are using the best approach. If a team can come to consensus to determine which approach is most effective, harmonious, and efficient for them, then you have a winning process and team.
Let’s say you want to add people to your folder assembly line from another team. They could be considered partners in your company’s community. These people would need to be brought into your production community and either use their own lines or their staff is integrated into your lines. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Again, the approach that works best is the one where everyone is involved in the process, comes to agreement about the best way to work, and there is harmony in the community.
This approach can also include customers in the expanded company community, but in a slightly different way.
As we know, a company’s customer experience is the combination of its action plans and brand within a community of employees, customers, and partners. It’s in this community space that a relationship is developed between the customer and the company (employees plus partners). The brand provides the company’s why, its essence and reason for existing, and the action plan defines the what, the solution (product or service) and the experience activities. The experience activities could include the product or service itself, marketing activities from awareness to lead generation, and interactions with sales and support. However, customer experience activities don’t only include what the customer experiences directly. They can include operational areas like:
- How products are manufactured,
- How management decisions are made,
- How processes are designed, and
- How customer experiences are identified.
These activities are the result of actions blending with the brand and company values in the company community. And as we saw in the branding section about bringing meaning to a brand for customers through CSR programs, how an activity happens is just as important as the activity itself. The interactions among people, teams, resources, materials, and activities speak to your company’s values and its solutions to problems.
To be competitive in business today, you need to meet customer needs in a more inclusive way. Although inclusive approaches have a perception of being costly, it’s becoming a fact that including customers, employees, and partners in your business is highly effective to do and just good business sense. All parties get what they want and need. This inclusion results in happy customers with happier employees and business partners. To achieve this, we all need to think about business differently. Switching around an assembly line, revisiting your ad spend, or tweaking your lead gen process isn’t enough to reswizzle your business to be focused on your customers. Although these activities produce results, they aren’t ultimately including employees and customers in your processes. To do this, you need to take more drastic measures that involve changing how your company operates.
There are four major methodology approaches that will shift your company to focus on your customers, as well as employee and partners:
- Design Thinking
These methodologies are revolutionizing businesses and creating exceptional customer experiences because they focus on the relationships people have with each other, how they work together, and the results they want to achieve in the world rather than simply achieving a bottom-line business goal.
In all four methodology approaches, all members in the company’s community (customers, partners, employees) are involved in the organization’s decision-making and process-improvement recommendations. Everyone is engaged to improve the processes and to achieve the vision and goals. No one in the company’s community is left out.
Sadly, companies sometimes misinterpret what it means for their customers and partners to care about their products and how they make them. They may assume that this is their business only, but in a way, it’s not. Customers have a right to care about how a product is made. They are team members in the new world. How you respond to them about their concerns, as well as understanding the product, process, and results, is part of the customer experience. Transparency is a key element of all four methodologies and a vital component in companies of the new world. Some questions you should ask yourself about your customers to ensure you are ready to include them in your business community are:
- If your customers knew how you made your product, all of the details, do you think they would still buy it?
- Do you think your customers would approve of how you treat employees? How about partners?
- Would your partners agree that you treat your customers well?
A challenge with such relationship-driven methodologies is that most companies measure effectiveness through work completed and bottom-line revenues (or savings). But in this new world, these are only a few indicators of success. If work isn’t getting done, these metrics don’t always help identify what is causing the problem. We need to measure more “soft” criteria to improve productivity, like employee happiness, engagement, accountability, and transparency. We need to somehow measure the quality of culture and relationships to determine if an environment has the emotional health to succeed and correlate that to the desired productivity and revenue.
To have a great customer experience, you need a great employee and partner experience. In all of the examples included in this chapter, the operations that support memorable customer experiences require employees and customers to feel valued for their contributions and ensure that everyone is included and making a difference.