Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Specialist - Part 1

I have an assortment of replies when I'm asked what exactly it is that I do. Some are simple, some are elaborate, but the best, I've found, are Enigmatic. People watch a lot of television and movies, and even the dullest person you know probably has a pretty good imagination when it comes to a "Consultant", an "Advisor" or, a favorite of mine, a "Specialist".

For the near-term I've chosen to tell people my specialty is Outsourcing. Thus, I use various methods to remove redundant, inefficient, inessential components out of a system and work to find appropriate ways to have them handled effectively by experts and services Outside of the Productive Workflow.

Many small business owners believe they do an adequate job of handling the finances of their operation. They balance checkbooks, invoice clients, and resolve billing issues; they work on budgets, make forecasts and attempt to position themselves in an advantageous market position. However, very few of these owners are in any way qualified to perform these tasks either effectively or economically. Odds are they're an expert in something other than accounting and finance - And by removing themselves from the profit-generating workforce, either as teammate or a teacher, they've traded a world class talent for a mediocre support staff. They simply haven't calculated the value of their time as an expert.

I could just as well say the same for management, human resources, sales and information technology. Owners get used to the idea of wearing many hats. It gives them a sense of control in a lifestyle that is rife with stress and uncertainty. Unfortunately, it is the many hats worn that ultimately become the source of all the stress and uncertainty. The vicious cycle of business ownership quickly takes hold and success becomes intrinsically linked to the hours and energy the owner puts in. All resources in the system depend on the guidance, direction and pace of the Owner.

This business can not grow any more than an owner can find more hours or energy in his or her day. By Running the business, which sounds like an advantageous position, an owner can become Slave to the business, definitely a disadvantageous position.

The answer, then, is for the Owner to Work for the Business. If the owner is an engineer, then he should be an engineer; an accountant, an accountant; a salesman, a salesman. I work to help make this happen.

How? Before I work any technical angles I make sure the owner understands a few things. First, they must accept the reality that I've discussed above. Running the Business is Enslavement to the Business. Next I ask them to discover what is, realistically, the most profitable use of their time. This means, at which job or task are they contributing the most to revenue. The answer may differ depending on time boundaries, but to make a very important point - the answer isn't nearly as important as asking the Question. Questions make us think about the reasons for our actions, they help keep us honest with ourselves and those around us. Borrowing the classic term from the legendary David Allen, some owners realize that Widget Sales is their area of greatest contribution, Some realize that training new Widget-crankers is theirs, others realize that simply being head Widget-cranker is where they are best applied. No one, however, ever decides that they are best suited to being CEO, President or Chairman.

At this position, the working owner now generates an example $2 million in widget sales, widget-crankers, or simply widgets for his company annually. The equivalent of $1000 per hour in an 8-hour day, 5 day week, 50 week year, (though, hopefully they'll take more vacation than that). The Owner must now ask himself or herself, whenever drawn away from widget sales, widget-crankers or widgets - "am I generating $1000 an hour doing this?". Odds are they aren't. The Business needs them elsewhere.

Who, then, carries out support?

The Answer lies in 3 words I use to make every decision in my work. In order please:

1. Eliminate - Is this work/job/task necessary; can it be omitted?

2. Automate - Is it possible this work/job/task can be done by a computer or machine?

3. Delegate - Is it possible this work/job/task can be done by someone else, preferably trained, managed and paid outside this organization?

Only after answering all 3 of these questions "No" do I consider keeping the work internal.

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