The strategic choices organizations make often do not cascade to the hearts and brains of frontline employees. But what if all team members could
- exercise informed judgement
- exhibit more of an ownership mentality
- operate with the flexibility to adapt and respond to customer wants and needs without delay
- fully understand how their work contributes to overall organization success?
To create a nimble, flexible organization that knows how to win, teach your employees the business of the business.
It used to be that having skilled employees who excelled at their jobs was enough to win. Not anymore. Winning in business now requires faster and better decision making and accountability across an entire organization as much as possible. For example, employees need to know about customers (largest, smallest, how to note opportunities, what is most important to them…), sales cycles (how long are they, where can I have the greatest impact, why do I need to respond to requests in X timeframe…), competitors (who are they and what are they doing, what do they offer that we don’t, why do their customers stick with them, should we follow or lead in our processes, products, services…) and market differentiation. They need to know how to think about where the company’s next big threat will come from. They need to understand margins and operating efficiencies. They want to understand your purpose or mission and how their role supports achieving it. In short, they need to know about the core drivers of the business – what makes it a success, and why.
Often, organizations can tell you the top three to five core financial measures or deliverables. But these drivers don’t typically link directly to what is happening moment to moment during the workday.
These days, everyone is running so fast to keep up that nobody takes the time to pause and ponder or share this information, and many employees have simply never been taught or exposed to it.
The world screams at everyone to just run. People feel busier than they ever have. Instead of taking the time to get it right, we are often running, doing it fast, and having to do it over. Many of us are caught in a cycle of “busyness” rather than teaching people about the business. We find it ever more challenging to slow down enough to teach others how to think so we can save time the next time.
The Knowledge Must Flow
Some questions about the business, such as “Who are our customers?”, are not hard to answer. Others require drilling down to the next level of detail. For example:
- Consider profit. Who are our most profitable customers and why? What does it cost to acquire and keep these clients? What does it cost to deliver our product or service to them? What else can we deliver to them? What are their most pressing business issues?
- Product lines. Which product lines currently make the most money? Which ones are losing money or breaking even? Which ones will be making the most money in a year or two? What can we do to make our products or services more efficient, more effective, and more differentiated from others? How can we reduce process time, waste, or the cost of goods?
- Cost structure. What are the biggest costs in our business and what drives them? What can we do to lower them?
- Operating efficiency. What technologies, machines or processes are most important in our business? How does it impact us when they’re not running? What opportunities do we have to minimize costs?
- Team interdependencies. Who depends on my work/deliverables? Why do they always seem to need everything last minute? What is my role in the chain of getting our products/services to our customers? What happens if I cannot deliver? Who needs to know and in what timeframe, if a deadline is going to be adjusted, and why?
Today’s companies have to be nimble and flexible to win. This requires pushing decisions as close to the customer interaction point as possible. Team members can’t make good decisions when knowledge sits only at the top or only with a few. The entire organization has to understand the business of the business. Leaders and managers have to include educating others about it in their long list of core responsibilities. Otherwise, you will continue to feel like problems are always coming to you or decisions are not getting made, making the organization cumbersome and slow to respond.
One of the best ways to teach employees about the business is during weekly or monthly “all-hands” meetings. At each staff meeting, carve out some time to talk about your business, and especially your customers. What are we good at? Who are our core customers? What do we do for them? Why do they buy from us? Educate people about basic financials such as margins and costs. When leaders and managers don’t share this information, employees can’t make the best decisions.
Don’t limit your business of the business communications to monthly meetings. Talk about them constantly, so employees are constantly talking about them as well. Share information about customers. Post information or share via em. Make sure people are always thinking about how you serve customers, how that relates to their individual jobs, and how they can contribute even more.
Teaching people the business of the business is a lot like hiring. It requires a lot of up-front effort, and when done right it saves time and money in the long run.
Call to action: Identify one business of the business topic and commit to teaching employees about it at your next all-hands meeting.