Former plc CEO, author and award-winning Business Mentor Martin Norbury, founder of Advocate Business Services, shares his top tips on how to increase productivity and scale a business based on his learnings from working with SME’s from over 50 different industry sectors.
Norbury advises business owners of all sizes:
1). Focus on the important.
Too many business owners are getting distracted on ‘urgent’ activities that demand immediate attention; the phone ringing is urgent, but it may not be important. ‘Important’ activities get you from A to B based on your goals and vision; if you don’t do this then you will never reach your desired result; but the problem is that these are proactive. Business owners need to simplify, eliminate or delegate those tasks that are urgent but not important.
2). Record and deal with interruptions.
Right now, interruptions are stopping your business from growing. If you’re constantly being interrupted and derailed from running your business, then you need to keep a log – a basic record of the interruptions you experience during a day. You can then see whether they are necessary, or alternatively plan for them in your daily schedule. The three reasons for interruptions are:
- “I don’t know how to”– lack of knowledge is easy to remedy, for example, by producing a manual.
- “I’m not allowed to”– simply give, or up the level of, authority.
- “I need stroking” – team members want interaction and pop in for chats. This cripples a business and you need to find ways to give your team praise and attention, for example, via structured 1:1 feedback, social events, team huddles etc.
I advise owners and their teams to get an A4 piece of paper and fold it 3 times to give 8 boxes each side. Next, write the names of team members, including you and your family, in each box. Instead of constantly interrupting people, jot down what you need to speak to X about, in the relevant box, and then you can forget about it (unless it’s urgent). Then use this in your daily or weekly meetings and eventually meetings will come to an end as people eventually start ticking off or getting answers to these “interruptions” off their own back. This really helps you plan, for example if you always get a last order at the end of the day, then leave half an hour at the end of each day for last minute orders.
3). Be realistic; land one plane at a time.
A key challenge in any business as it scales is to not get bogged down in the detail. The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch outlines that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
As a business, you have access to dramatic improvements in profitability by focusing on the most effective areas and eliminating, ignoring, automating, delegating or retraining the rest, as appropriate. But there is a tendency for most, regardless of size, to solve the immediate problems facing the individual, department or business.
90% of the time the actual issue or challenge will only be solved forever if something else is fixed. Invariably the cause of the problem is something else that is bigger than the symptom, hence the 80/20. As a leadership team, it is key to identify the 20% of things that are causing the 80% of issues. By solving this you solve lots of issues.
Most business try to land too much. The key is to land one plane at a time. Heathrow is the world’s busiest airline with over 73 million passengers and nearly half a million flights; but it only has two runways!
4). Learn lessons.
The next thing you need to start doing is to imagine your business always learning from its mistakes. By noting lessons down in a log, and allocating who is accountable for solving each one, you can focus on striking them off and remove any barriers to growth.
A business will tell you everything that’s going on, but only if you ask the right questions. And you need to create the right culture to feed this all in. Some examples: How do your staff really feel? What are your numbers telling you? How happy are your customers? Why did you lose that contract?
5). Continuous feedback.
An effective tool that provides continuous feedback is based on three main questions: What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to start doing? What should we continue doing? We all need, and deserve, to give and receive feedback; it helps us perform better and ultimately succeed. Each member of your team should be expected to share a few things that each of their colleagues and clients should stop, start, and continue doing. Once aggregated you can identify trends.
Keith Crockford, owner of Rock & Rapid Adventures, who has been working with Norbury, comments:
“Over the last two years, Martin’s tools and tips have helped increase productivity in my business by more than 50%. We’ve moved from ‘firefighting’ into a position where I have been able to grow my business thanks to a focused goal, new services, and of course, increases in efficiencies.”