Moving from Chaos to Productivity - Minuteman Press, Boksburg (Barry Pottinger)

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A business coaching case study for delivering formidable results.

So this is what it feels like to live the dream! You see we all own our own businesses, we are making heaps of cash and we can take off time whenever we want as the business runs itself, right?

Well …. so if it's not like that then what are we doing wrong?

Just over a year ago this local print shop was operating in chaos mode …!

  • They were following the franchise recipe, kind of.
  • They had a steady demand for printing jobs and were busy but they were in the words of the owner "continuously fighting fires, making lots of mistakes and it felt like the business was out of control most of the time".
  • And speaking of time, the owner didn't have any to speak of really. Constantly solving problems and having to deal with constant questions and advice seeking from his staff.
  • The owner had set a goal to grow the business by 30% and decided to do something about this otherwise he was headed for a burn-out and there was no way in hell the business would achieve that sort of growth in the way it was operating.

Following a past visit by the owner to a model print shop in Cape Town, he couldn't fathom how a million dollar store could feel and look so calm and collected …. "clearly then we were doing something wrong".

In this case study I will share what action steps the owner took to firstly remedy the current situation and secondly ensure that a platform was built for future business growth. Depending on where you are in the life cycle of your business some of these things may be applicable to you.

The work ON the business is still a work in progress and is by no means complete. Remember that "owning a business is like any airport – it's all ways under construction". You see most of the changes we made were not drastic, but they had a massive business impact.

When the owner started working with ActionCoach he stated that his goal was … "to free up my time to enable me to spend more time working ON the business, and to end the chaos".

So what did we do to improve the business results and productivity?

1. Get help

In the words of the business owner "Like anything in life, the first step I took was to admit there was a problem and to get help. I decided to invest in the services of an ActionCOACH business coach."

For the business owner getting an outsiders point of view was important, someone who isn't involved in the day-to-day running of the business, to bounce stuff off and to get an outsiders perspective on issues. In this case according to the owner "a coach works as I need someone to hold me accountable for the weekly actions I need to take, and also knowing I am paying for it, forced me to act".

We believe that bringing about change is about taking small steps, every week, 52 times per annum.

2. Take yourself out of the business

Not everyone will agree with this but our business owner was in his words "the run-to-guy in the business and the easiest thing for everybody was to ask Barry, because that's how I ran the business!"

So we physically moved the owner from the center of all the action of the store into his own office away from everyone else – with a door that can close! So now the owner couldn't continue to deal with the counter, phones and other interruptions that were eating into his time. There were other people already in the structure to do this work and now we had to hold them accountable, and it wasn't going to happen whilst "I continued to be the fallback guy.

In the owners words "This is probably the #1 important action I took that made the most difference". It's a case of staying above the line we believe in ActionCOACH and as you mature as manager you get employees you can trust, let them be responsible, take accountability and ownership for getting the work out and driving customer satisfaction.

3. Organisation structure, delegation & empowerment

The second time saver was to organize a reporting structure and to delegate responsibility to key staff. This effectively stopped every staff member from running to the business owner on every issue no matter how small – a big time waster.

So now instead of 13 people interrupting the owner every minute of the day, he only has 4 and then only if they really can't address the issue themselves. This empowered those in the structure to make decisions which turned out to be quite a morale booster, now we were using their heads and their hearts and got them enrolled and inspired in the bigger business goals as well as emotionally engaged in the business.

To get the work done we "promoted" those in the structure who were prepared to take responsibility and being accountable.

4. Hire the right people in the right positions

As the business grew, we hired 3 key people (one from within) in positions that we identified would make a crucial difference. This also had a massive impact on our productivity and the business owner's time.

Also key was to enable the counter person to do the simple quotes. The second hire, from within, was to appoint a Digital Press Operator – this appointment was the single biggest thing that moved us forward from chaos and wastage. Before we had everybody doing the printing and guess what, it was chaos.

Taking the more expensive graphic designers off the printer operator role resulted in two benefits, firstly we unblocked the designer time constraint bottleneck and secondly we have fewer mistakes were being made because we were always under pressure and print jobs weren't being prioritized. Streamlining the digital print process solved all these problems. The designers now have more time to design and deal with clients.

The 3rd hire we did was a sales person to increase sales now that we were more efficient and productive. Remember we are chasing a 30% growth!

Training your staff and recruiting for key skills can make all the difference.

5. Buy the right equipment

This is a tough one especially if you don't have the cash flow. The owner stated that "for me there are a few non-negotiables or no-brainers. I think this is the only time in life, ever, when the saying "Build it and they will come" is true" In this case it was buying a second colour machine which has substantially decreased our turnaround times.

Other purchases were focused on improving throughput and productivity so we could produce at another level. So really anything that takes lots of time manually we tried to find mechanize or automated with cost effective solutions that didn't require hiring additional staff.

6. Fix the process flow and systematize

Another big overhaul addressed in the coaching which paid dividends was to re-lay out the flow of the shop to improve productivity. Previously, as we grew and added new equipment and people we just put them in any available spot. Soon that became a problem and nothing flowed smoothly through the shop.

Two things that have helped us remove chaos are filing job records properly and using the work in progress system religiously to control everything in the shop and yes we now have a "touch base" meeting everyday so the whole team (everybody) is on the same page and helps build a cadence of accountability within the team.

7. Manage the money

"Managing the money" you must have an accounts receivable system and collection process no matter what size you are. You need someone to do the collections for you – it's very difficult to be both the customer facing person and the bad boy asking for your money at the end of the month. This has been a long hard slog and took 2 years to get their book under control. 2 years ago our debtors was sitting at R1.8m and today it's less than half that with a significant increase in sales.

So in summary – this started out by the business owner trying to remove the chaos in the business and to pave the way to achieving a growth target of 30% per annum. This happened by freeing up my time to focus on the business and to improve our back-end systems so we could handle the extra capacity.

In the words of the owner "I am now more and more working ON the business, it's systems and managing the staff of 13 people – it's about leadership and holding people accountable".

It's still a working in progress for the business owner and we still have a long way to go. But we have a clear focus that we review every 90 days and yes we will make it.

You can only leverage your time as business owner through your team and your systems. It's worth having the best!

Bert Weenink

Business and Executive Coach 

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Thursday, 20 September 2018