Are you a Production or Customer Service led Business?

Depending where you sit within an organisation will dictate your instant response to this question, for those at the cutting edge of technology and focused on print and packaging production ‘the end product’ is the goal – so production takes the lead. However those working in sales, operations and after sales are led by a number of factors. Every part of a business is key – but success comes from the whole working together rather than the ‘sum of the parts’.

When I am working with a business I have the fortune, indeed need, to understand the processes across a business, the focus and objectives of each ‘part’ and how those ‘parts’ come together. Often I find a great deal of passion and desire to deliver at each part of the process – equally I will uncover a lack of understanding or focus on delivering the service – customer service across the business.

Print and packaging technology, production process and the right Management Information Systems, may deliver a perfect product – but when the product is dispatched, the value of these areas can fade. Customer service continues the relationship – after sales, reviewing and working in partnership.

Customer Service must lead a business – it is the area that builds the relationships, trust and reputation – this will build the foundations for repeat business.

We have all been a customer, it may have been the innovation; design; functionality; price or availability that led us to choose a brand or supplier – but ultimately it will be the service – the ease of ordering, the delivery and the customer service – good or bad, that we remember.

So, no matter where you sit in an organisation the right answer to the question is ‘Customer Service led’.

The customer is King – as ultimately they rule your order book…

Implementing MIS change

Planning the implementation of a new Management Information System (MIS) within an operational business sounds, on the face of it, like a one-way ticket to sleepless nights. While the end result – the smooth-running flow of quality information, accessible at the touch of a button – is crucial to improving business, getting to this point can seem fraught with anxiety.

Don’t let these fears hold back business.

By planning properly for MIS change, you’ll foresee hurdles before they happen, avoid IT glitches, and have a team that’s enthused by the prospect of working with a new system.
The first step is to prepare your team by involving them in a needs analysis of what the new MIS system should provide. Appoint a project champion to communicate with each arm of the business, create an inventory of existing MIS, and collate feedback from those using it.

The information gathered should include long-term goals and expectations to guide the design of a bespoke MIS package, or inform the selection of an ‘off the shelf’ product. As well as company-specific goals, keep in mind the more general needs of business: increased information accuracy, increased speed of operations, increased productivity, and your budget for the project.

Once the MIS is chosen, there should be time set aside to draw up procedural manuals so that employees at all levels can add, process and retrieve data. These should be created as formal documents that can be picked up and used by new people joining the company. But they should also be flexible; easily updated by the project champion to reflect changes realised after implementation. Providing manuals via the company intranet is one way to ensure they are universal to the team, and flexible.

The installation of MIS should be carried out during company ‘downtime’ to minimise the number of productive hours lost. Consider installation over a weekend – and, if possible, during the least busy business period of the year (usually August). In the first week or weeks, allocate time for the project champion to sit down with individuals or small teams to go through the way the system works. You might also inform key clients that you are investing in your business to make it more efficient for them in the long term – and warn them that this may mean some short-term delays.

Finally, make sure that the MIS you implement has a robust back up and maintenance plan for the future, and carry out regular audits of how it is used in each operation. This will give employees the opportunity to highlight areas they may be struggling with, iron out ‘teething troubles’, and suggest updates to further your company’s technological foundations.

Don’t MISunderstand the power of MIS

One of the main stumbling blocks to better business is underperforming management information systems (MIS).

It’s not that companies necessarily lack investment in IT. To survive and grow, most have purchased a system and upgraded it at strategic intervals so that it continues to handle a fluid and developing workflow.

But does your company really understand the power of first-rate MIS? Does your system deliver the right information to the right people, in the right form, at the right time, every time?

Fully integrated, top-notch MIS is an absolute boon to business, and small and medium firms must wake up to the time, cost and materials savings that an end-to-end workflow solution provides.

To take an example from the print business, JDF (Job Definition Format) enables more job definition elements to be prescribed than any other format – from materials, dimensions and ink settings through to deadlines. It eliminates time-consuming re-entry of information as it passes along the production chain, and reduces the potential for errors to be introduced. Meanwhile, real-time progress and feedback is tracked by the MIS system through JMF (Job Messaging Format). This puts automation into the hands of small and medium-sized packaging companies – and automation is the gold standard in this line of business.

In any business, there is no question that spot-on accuracy and quality in processes saves money. Long term, it can save a fortune. It never fails to astound me how frequently companies are left footing the bill for mistakes and missed opportunities, often caused as information passes along the chain. And this is the issue. It doesn’t matter whether it is the client’s dodgy brief or the supplier’s handling of it that is at the root of the problem. When a problem occurs, it is you, the supplier, who invariably loses out. The choice is to hold up your hands and write off time and materials for an incorrect job, or fight your corner and risk an unhappy client.

The answer lies in having the right information available from the outset to the end of a job. And the only way to achieve this is through the power of high-performing MIS.
Next month’s blog: Implementing MIS

Is your management team performing?

It’s important to recruit the right people to your business and we all spend a great deal of time, effort and resources on building a strong team.

But if you’ve ticked all the boxes during the recruitment process, and yet still feel your team is underperforming, then it may be time to review the roles they perform and the positions they are in.

Analysing and rebuilding what people are doing is a big part of my work. Assessing the effectiveness of individuals – and teams – means being able to stand back and set out the objectives of each role, and the various elements of work required to achieve these.

To give an example, a small packaging firm with ambitions to grow recruited a farsighted sales director who kept up with trends in the national retail sector, and set to work picking up new business from larger clients.

The production team was expanded to take care of the increased output demand. In doing this, the production director – respected for being a ‘hands on’ person – spent more time managing, organising and maintaining, to keep on top of the work flow.

Proven process methods continued to be used, with more employees and overtime making up for the increased demand on production. Profits as a percentage of turnover fell, and for all the sales manager’s fine work, the finance manager returned somewhat disappointing figures.

So where were they going wrong?

With an increase in work, it’s tempting to take an ‘all hands to the deck’ approach. But while people are being busy and productive on the day-to-day needs of the business, are they still being innovative and finding ways to improve processes and efficiencies?

Top performing managers work hard on the tasks in hand, while also guiding the future direction of the business. Organisation, management and maintenance needs to go hand-in-hand with innovation, development and strategy. If your managers can’t do both for your business, you need to ask yourself: ‘are they in the right role?’

For more information on management team assessment or a free initial consultation, contact Phil Cox at Positive Business Development.

Make company finances crystal clear

Financial transparency in business isn’t only important in the eyes of the law.
Employees, too, should share in the fortunes of a company, with the opportunity to understand the flow of cash that shapes the industry they serve.

Some business leaders fear that too much information could lead to resentment and demands for higher pay, particularly in ‘the good times’.

But, if the financial position of a company is delivered fairly, diplomatically and with clarity, the opposite effect is true.

Openness about outlay on materials and machinery makes employees aware of their value, reduce waste and take better care of the tools of their trade.
Transparency over company income makes employees aware of the value clients and customers bring to the business. This awareness should enhance customer service and retention.

Finally, transparency over profits, budgets and financial forecasts helps to make employees feel part of a team working together, with each individual playing a role in delivering success.

So how should you deliver these messages? Transparency doesn’t mean information overload. Most employees won’t want to wade through figures and financial packs, although in the interests of openness, these should be made available. Headline figures and year-on-year trends – delivered honestly and without any ‘spin’ – is the most appropriate approach.

If the business needs to plough year-end profits into next year’s capital investment, explain the reasons why. If it makes good business sense, employees won’t be left wondering why your profits didn’t reach their wage packet. But also reward shared success financially. If employees see that their efforts pay off, they will further buy in to your business success. 

Coaching is an investment opportunity

We live in a changing world in which customer demands constantly advance.

Keeping up with these changes means investing in IT and machinery – and so new equipment, software upgrades and regular servicing should be the norm.

But how much, and how often, do you invest in your staff?

Even the most experienced employees get ‘rusty’ in certain skills areas, and without some form of coaching may become set in their ways and under perform.

Coaching and mentoring can be as simple as sitting down regularly with a member of staff to identify new skills that would help them, and assigning time in their work schedule to learn from a colleague or specialist trainer.

With individual attention, and time set aside to achieve the goals you have agreed, most people will welcome the opportunity to develop within the workplace. This sort of investment doesn’t cost the earth but can pay big dividends to a business.

Most of those who work for you will value the opportunity to advance their career as well as the attention to their personal development that your mentoring offers.

Setting mutually agreed goals – and offering relevant training and rewards to achieve them – is vital to taking a business forward. It helps staff to stay motivated and gives a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

It empowers people to take ownership of their activities, and take extra pride in the work they do.

In turn, all these factors add value and efficiency to the services you offer customers. And what can be better for business growth than happy customers?

Who owns your Management Information System?

Whether it’s our house, car or even our appearance, we tend to take care of the things we own.

This feeling of accountability – of looking after the things that matter to us – is also important in the workplace. Employees want to succeed at work and take pride in the tasks that they are responsible for, whether delivering excellent service to clients, or making a good cup of tea for colleagues.

Devolving ownership of MIS systems to your workforce, therefore, has multiple benefits. It will mean a better, shared understanding of what the system is capable of and how it can be used to the full. It also means that staff take personal responsibility for maintaining and nurturing the system, to make sure it works effectively.

So, when you introduce a new MIS system to your business, involve your people in the process. Find out what your sales production, operations and finance managers need. What were the shortcomings of the old system? What would make their day more efficient? What would help their team to improve performance?

The system that they help you to choose will be one that they feel comfortable embracing. And, in the long run, their ownership will lead to a more positive working environment.

The challenge of change

Staff will react to proposed or actual organisational changes in a variety of different ways.

And for everyone who embraces new technology or processes, there is likely to be another who finds it challenging, upsetting and may dig in their heels and be blind to the wider benefits to business.

It is up to employers to guide staff through any changes that affect them, communicating what is happening to each individual, outlining the value, and demonstrating an understanding that there are challenges to face.

It is about ensuring every member of staff is a part of the change, and is willing to change with it.

But what about those who still refuse to accept what you are trying to achieve? Employers need to make clear, strategic decisions to drive their business forward and cannot afford to indulge negative self-interests.

Those that cannot adapt to new ways of working may be better off no longer being a part of the business. It is up to you to guide your staff through the challenge of change – and to take tough decisions about who is on your team.

The greatest investments don’t cost a thing

Having spent lots of time out and about meeting business leaders since the start of 2012, SMEs seem to be enjoying buoyancy and optimism compared with the bigger players and public sector.

It’s a shame that so many of these ‘good news stories’ are overlooked by the media. The picture I get, travelling around speaking to UK manufacturers, is often so very different from what appears in the papers and online.

Often this is as much about having the right attitude to business. The bosses that do best are those that look to the future and plan for growth.

A constructive spirit and a confident approach are the greatest investment you can make – and they don’t cost a thing!

Business fortune favours the brave

Forward-thinking businesses are looking past ‘recovery’ and shifting into growth mode… so take time to look at the bigger picture before cutting costs across your business.

Some enterprises are doing well right now, and it’s not all down to belt-tightening. So what are they doing right?

One of the key things successful SMEs are doing right now is identifying areas of their businesses that are underperforming – and tackling them head-on.

It’s no good shrugging your shoulders and pinning low conversion rates and poor sales on the big wide world. In doing so, inefficiencies in the workplace are handed a golden opportunity to languish.

Instead, take a long, hard look at the figures versus your people and your systems. Identify areas that trigger niggling doubts and resolve to take action.

You might well decide to take the bold step of investing in new systems or bringing in new blood.

Before committing to large-scale spending decisions, it pays real dividends to gain impartial advice.  Too many businesses end up throwing good money after bad because they swallow the sales pitch on new IT systems, only to discover it’s not the right tool for the job.

Meanwhile, it’s relatively easy to get ‘more bums on seats’, but will doubling the workforce of one department really translate into double the performance?  If you’re prepared to invest in business growth, you deserve to do well.  To make sure you do, invest in the right advice.