Taking stock of your company

March 1, 2003 By    

As I shared with you in last month’s column, my recommendation as Step 1 toward building a success plan for your business is for you to conduct an objective evaluation. This first step will be both hard and rewarding.

The hard part is to examine parts of the business that are stepped over and around every day. How do you do that? Start with a “resume” of your business.

More specifically, in this easy and fun initial exercise, I want you to create a history of your company in chronological order, from its inception to the present.

As the owner/general manager, you can create this resume on your own. However, it would be immensely more effective to involve your key managers or leadership team. Even better, plan a session with all of your employees to go through this process, if the employee size is manageable.

Have the group help you identify the key events of the company. Assign someone to log these events for all to see. Write them down in a simple format. Examples could look like:

Feb ’72 – Company was incorporated

Sept ’72 – Barb became the first employee

Aug ’75 ­ Satellite bulk plant was built

Sept ’79 ­ Jim becomes plant manager

May ’85 ­ First computer installed

The point is to create a historical resume that highlights the company’s major events from the beginning up to the present. This process alone will do a number of surprising things.

You will begin to look at the business in a perspective different from the day-to-day ground level view, as will all of those you involve in the process.

Involving as many employees as possible in this simple step will do wonders for improving employee morale. We all want to feel like our ideas and input have value, and we enjoy stepping away from our daily activities to gain a broader view of the business.

This process is also an opportunity to recognize employees, many of whom may not get much recognition.

Perform a SWOT Analysis

Next, list the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

Since you already have the above group together, why not use them in this second exercise, as well? The hard part of performing a SWOT analysis is to be objective, but as a manager it may be harder yet listening to someone who sees a flaw in the business that you don’t see. It is very important at this point that you create an environment that will allow people to speak freely and openly. You’ll be amazed at how many of your employees see things in the business that are not obvious to management.

This exercise will yield more than just lists of the SWOT points. It will create a great deal of discussion and debate about what is happening with your business. You may open a can or two of worms, but that’s good, especially if you want to be objective about the self-evaluation aspect of this process.

Some examples of strengths are:

  • The experience of our drivers helps us spot problems and service customer
    needs better than the competition
  • The company has an “esprit de corps,” working together to tackle customer
    service issues

Examples of weaknesses could be:

  • Turnover in the office staff lowers customer service and increases costs
  • Our fleet keeps breaking down

Examples of opportunities could be:

  • A driver identifies that he would like to take on more responsibility
  • The latest zoning approval in the adjacent county could mean some new growth

Examples of threats could be:

  • The fact that the youngest driver is 62 and, with many retirements upcoming,
    the company could soon have an inexperienced team
  • The announced closing of a local factory ­ a large area employer —
    which means a number of layoffs that may ultimately put pressure on accounts
    receivable (due to laid-off employees who are propane customers)

If successful, this SWOT analysis will yield a great deal of debate. You may expect disagreement if one team member identifies an item as a threat that another sees as an opportunity.

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