Since the days of Henry Ford, mass production has been the Holy Grail of business, rather than build-to-order. Too many businesses haven’t noticed that we have come full circle, where mass customization is required now to win. Customers have come to expect immediate and tailor-made responses to their needs, and the businesses that fail to deliver quickly fall behind.
Changing the culture and mindset in an existing business is difficult and slow, so this becomes another “opportunity” for smart entrepreneurs and startups to excel. John M. Bernard does a great job outlining seven key steps to success today in his new book, “Business at the Speed of Now.” They apply to any business, but every startup should begin with these:
- Prepare your team to always say “Yes”. This starts with always assigning people on the front line with the responsibility to solve problems, not just report them. Obviously, they must have the communication and system tools needed, and all the behind-the-scenes workers who never see a customer understand their role in delivering now.
- Leverage the game changers to gain the speed you need. These game changes include using social media, to provide real-time two-way communication; cloud computing, which enables efficient, lower-risk automation of business processes; and the millennial mindset, which does not tolerate anything that moves at a snail’s pace.
- Make excellence through breakthroughs a habit. Breakthroughs are not just incremental improvements, but step-function changes in performance and capability brought about by deliberate planning and exquisite execution of skilled people. Top management has to set the expectation and provide the authority to make decisions now.
- Close the execution gap through real-time transparency. Business transparency is making sure your whole team always sees and understands the real business challenges. Lies and misuse of accountability generate fear, and nothing paralyzes a team more than fear. Transparency highlights new behavior, new thinking, and new levels of maturity.
- Equip everyone with core skills to solve problems now. Replace preventing people from doing the wrong thing to helping them figure out for themselves how to do the right thing. That means hiring help, rather than helpers, and providing the resources they need to stay current. It also means assigning responsibility and measuring accountability.
- Enable the team by building trust and banishing fear. People want to do the right thing, but they quickly learn from negative consequences, real or imagined. Trust requires a clear vision from the top, line of sight to their role, resources to do the job, and full transparency to make people feel safe and confident.
- Stop bossing and start teaching. You can get a lot more accomplished working with people rather than trying to get them to work for you. Today, every business needs everyone to learn something new every day, and everyone to teach, with humility. Teachers make mistakes, and when they do, they must admit it.
In summary, all of these steps are really about rethinking the definition of “employee engagement.” Today it’s not about people feeling all warm and fuzzy; it is about people possessing the knowledge, skills, and authority to act swiftly and skillfully without waiting for permission.
According to the Gallup Organization and numerous other respected analysts, 49 percent of current American employees admit to not being engaged, meaning they just show up, follow orders, and keep their mouths and their brains shut. Another 18 percent actively sabotage the company’s performance. These perspectives evolved through the age of mass production.
Entrepreneurs and startups today have a clear opportunity, and a clear survival requirement in the new economy of mass customization, to avoid the customer satisfaction and productivity penalties implicit in poor engagement. The good news is that the steps to change, as outlined above, are not rocket science. Just don’t wait for your competitors to get there first.