Here's an embarrassing story: I'm 26 and I'm driving in my two-year-old Honda Civic to the airport to fly to Ohio for Thanksgiving weekend at my girlfriend’s parents’ house. I have flowers for my girlfriend’s mom and a bottle of scotch for her dad. We’re going to tell them that we’re engaged.
I'm cruising down the road with plenty of time to catch my plane, when my engine starts sputtering and dies. I coast to the side of the road and I can't get my car started. I'm panicked. I flag down a car (this was before cell phones) and this good Samaritan takes me to a nearby gas station. A $100 tow truck, $20 cab to the airport, mad dash through the terminal later, I make it onto the plane with 5 minutes to spare! Whew!
The good news: I made it to my girlfriends for Thanksgiving. We got married the following summer and are still married today.
The bad news: I blew the engine in my car. It ran out of oil and the internal engine parts melted together. I literally killed my car beyond repair, because in the 2 years and 25,000 miles that I drove it, I never had a tune up or oil change. It was my first car. I didn’t know that I was supposed take it in for maintenance! Embarrassing right? And expensive. I had to buy a new car!
The moral of the story: I learned an important lesson that day: Don’t skip my tune ups! And ever since, I've religiously followed the tune up schedule in the back of the owner’s manual.
Okay, I know what you're thinking, “Nice story, Bill, but what does that have to do with my business?”
Regular tune ups are important for your business too!
That’s right! Just like a car, your business needs regular tune ups to run at peak effectiveness. When I refer to a tune up for your business, I mean evaluating and adjusting different parts of your business on a regular schedule just like a mechanic does for your car as it’s laid out in your owner’s manual.
Unfortunately, most businesses don’t come with an owner’s manual or a tune up schedule for you to follow. Consequently, most owners that I know don’t do regular, thorough tune ups on their businesses. And trust me, without regular tune ups, all sorts of bad things can happen.
Below is a tune-up schedule that I think you should follow for your many of the important things that need regular attention in your business:
Beginning of the season
· Basic training: Just like most sports, your employees and your business can benefit from a preseason tune up. Before the season gets into full swing many of my clients do basic training to reemphasize your procedures and policies to ensure that their team is reacquainted with and following the best practices. This preseason training ensures that your team is hitting on all cylinders before work gets busy.
· Org structure review and alignment: Your org structure (org chart, job descriptions, linkages between roles) is a living, breathing thing. Each year it’s important to look over your org structure to ensure that it is still supporting your business.
Look at your org chart, to see if the jobs and reporting relationships still make sense for your goals this year. Are there any jobs that need to be added to support your growing business? Removed? Are the people in those roles doing the work that’s described in their job descriptions? Are they doing work that is not on their job descriptions that really belongs to someone else. Are they performing well in their roles?
Are the linkages between jobs working well? For example, is sales giving a complete and detailed handoff of sold work to the crews so that they know clearly what to do? Are the reporting relationships working effectively? For example, between you and your team or between your production manager and the crews?
Tightening up your org structure will help eliminate many of the problems, dropped balls and customer complaints that you might experience during the year
· Succession planning: As you grow, you're going to need more people to take on leadership positions. Determine who has the potential to move up in your company and what do you need to do next to develop them? Succession planning is like preventative maintenance for your business. It doesn’t fix a problem today, but it will prevent the problem of not having the right people in leadership positions in the future.
· Procedures evaluation: Have you implemented any new procedures or launched any new initiatives lately? If you have, they need regular follow up or the won't stick. To ensure that they are fully adopted, check any new procedures or initiatives monthly. Make sure that are still being used. Evaluate if they are working and if not, adjust them until they take hold.
· Monthly plan review: Take stock of where you are compared to where you expected to be at the end of each month on all of your key goals. Celebrate your progress, make adjustments and hold your team accountable for reaching their goals when they are below expectations
· Vehicle and equipment maintenance: Develop a monthly maintenance schedule for each vehicle and important piece of equipment to ensure that they are running properly and last as long as possible.
· Quarterly check-in: Once a quarter – in April, July and October – evaluate progress to date relative to your plan and adjust your plan and your priorities to maximize chances of meeting goals. To complete your quarterly check in, (1) take stock of where you are compared to where you expected you'd be at the end of the quarter, (2) Determine what’s working and not working in all areas of your business, (3) set your priorities for the next quarter, (4) implement and adjust. The quarterly check in ensures that you stay on the path to your goals and are continuously improving your business.
· Employee reviews and development plans: Complete performance reviews for all employees and create development plans to improve each employees’ most important areas need improvement. Doing reviews in April, gives you or your managers enough time to evaluate each employees’ performance this year, and the development plans will help make your team better while there is still plenty of time left in the year. Review employee development plans monthly to ensure that they are following through.
· Year-end tax planning: Meet with your accountant to review your year-to-date results and plan any year end tax saving strategies that will help you manage your taxes.
November - December
· Year-end review and planning: “Failure to plan is planning to fail!” At the end of the year (or January at the latest) it’s important that you take time to take stock of the year, appreciate your successes, set goals for the next year and identify areas needing improvement in every aspect of your business (marketing, sales, production, etc.) and develop your plan to ensure success for the year to come. Doing your plan in November or December, gives you time to work on your business while things are slow over the winter.
· Evaluate all costs: Evaluate all material, equipment and fixed costs to look for cost saving opportunities and cut where possible.
Here's what I'd like you to do… Grab your calendar and schedule all your tune ups for the year. Follow the schedule and you'll keep your business hitting on all cylinders, this year and for years to come!