Eye on the Future

It's too early to say for certain, but many of the rental business owners and operators I've been talking to are starting to become more optimistic. They are telling me that their local economies are just starting to rebound. Even though they sense the worst might be over, they say their businesses are still feeling the pain. All have made cuts to adjust their expenses.

Whether your local economy is rebounding or simply bouncing, it's difficult for some to think much about the future when for so many months in a near crisis mode. Even though it has been necessary to focus on expense reduction and related issues in the near term, it's important to stay aware of the potential longer-term consequences of actions you have been forced to make. Some of the consequences will no doubt be positive for the future as well, but some of the unintended consequences could hurt your business down the road if you don't implement ways to minimize any negative effects on your business.

So, take an objective look at each of the expense reductions you have made. Do certain cuts made in your advertising, for example, make sense for the future? I know that some rental business owners have dramatically cut back on their telephone directory expense. I'm not advocating going back to the same practices of the pre-economic meltdown days. But some of the crisis mode expense reduction strategies can stunt the future growth of your business if they're not effective.

One of the areas of greatest concern is the personnel expense cuts. Some rental businesses have made dramatic cuts in the number of employees. With fewer employees comes the possibility that something will fall through the cracks - which is a major concern. What quality control systems do you have in place to keep your rental equipment offerings and customer care at or above the level before the cuts? It's important to put programs in place to increase the effectiveness of your remaining employees.

It's likely that the methods used in the past to train your employees are not effective enough in today's economy. Just watching a tape isn't going to do it. Hoping employees will teach each other is not the solution either. Employees are the primary key to your success, so you should attempt a wide variety of strategies to help make the best use of their time.

Consider using on-site formal training and have everyone trained at the same time so everybody is working from the same playbook. Don't just focus training solely on equipment familiarization. When I am conducting rental employee training for clients, I also train them in process, procedures, teamwork, safety, and particularly stress the importance of doing their tasks efficiently. It's amazing how much time is inadvertently wasted every day. Structured training should be one of a rental business's top initiatives. A series of company-wide training sessions are definitely worth the investment.

Also, consider developing and implementing a true performance appraisal system. This is a vital ingredient for maximizing employee productivity. Most training strategies will not produce the huge dividends you desire without an effective performance appraisal system in place. Important components of an effective training program are the measuring of employee progress and the communicating progress to each employee. Employees need to know how they are doing very specifically. Managers should be trained in how to properly conduct these performance reviews.

It's also wise to have your operation analyzed to identify what changes can and should be made to improve efficiency and prepare your company for the future.

So, remember that everyone has made cuts, but it's important to be proactive. Be sure to invest in the strategies that make sense going forward.