March 26, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:55 am
TALKING POINTS

Get your small business into tip top shape

Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Small businesses are running lean these days, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are in good shape. No doubt this year will be challenging. Crossing the finish line will require being in tip top shape.

Here are some tips to get your small business in fighting condition:

Strengthen your strategy. A strong business strategy, combined with alignment and discipline, can yield impressive results for small business owners. Small businesses have the advantage of being nimble. They can respond quicker to market conditions than larger businesses. This can be a blessing and a curse. If your organization is waffling every time the wind shifts, then it's time to rethink strategy. Ask yourself:

• Does our business plan make sense given today's market?

• What products and services can we add to make our profitable customers even more profitable for our business?

• When is the last time we communicated our strategy to those responsible for implementation?

Trim the fat. You may wonder how to trim the fat when you are running lean. Let's not kid ourselves. Small business owners have a difficult time separating business relationships from personal relationships. You may have an employee who has been with you since you started, and whose performance deteriorated over the years. You keep thinking things will get better. Alas, they never do. Or, you may have hired someone to do a particular job that no longer exists. The employee is performing great in their new role, but do you need the added expense of paying a PhD for a job requiring a high school diploma?

Be honest with yourself and ask: If I were to hire someone to fill this role today, would this be the person? If the answer is no, then you know how to cut back on excess fat in the organization.

Building human capital. A business is only as good as its people. How would you rate your people? When it comes to building human capital, there are two choices. Dump what you've got, or work towards improving existing human capital. Dumping isn't a bad strategy given the abundant pool of talent waiting in the wings. Building what you've got and strengthening employee loyalty may be a better route, especially considering potential loss of institutional knowledge.

In years past, the strategy has been to cut out funding for employee development. It's no wonder that we have teams of people drowning under poor leadership. It's time to strengthen both the management team and those interacting with clients and customers. With your people, select one or two development opportunities and begin building bench strength. Support this learning with coaching and it won't be long before your people are teaching you a thing or two.

Alignment. World-class athletes know the importance of keeping their bodies in alignment so they can compete with the best. The same holds true for small businesses. A well-tuned strategy, along with the hiring of the right people in the right positions, can only take you so far.

People, programs and processes must be aligned in order for businesses to optimize the resources on hand. Only then will you be able to achieve high levels of business success. The best people in the world will not be able to move the organization forward with faulty programs and processes, especially if they are not empowered to make changes. Alignment is best achieved through strong communication and the removal of barriers that are preventing people from doing what you've hired them to do. Invest the time necessary for alignment and reap the results associated with world-class organizations.

Increase trust. Small business owners are often trapped by their own success. They subscribe to the belief that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. In the end, these micromanagers crash and burn.

It's impossible to grow the business while doing all the work. Small business owners must surround themselves with people they trust, so they are freed up to work on the business rather than in the business. The key to building trust is credibility. Do you do what you say you will do? Do your employees follow through on their commitments? Do you have the capacity to apologize when you make a mistake? It takes time and effort to build trust, but the rewards are bountiful. What will you do today to increase trust in your organization?

Do something every day to get your small business into tip top shape and you'll be well positioned for growth in the coming years.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. She has consulted with CEO's, and executives in organizations including Best Buy, New York Life, Boston Beer, Memsic and Winston Flowers. She lives in Northampton, Mass. Reach her at Roberta@yourhrexperts.com.

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