People, product and process

#Marcus Lemonis, made popular from CNBC’s show The Profit, is known for stating that people, product and process are the core elements of a successful business. Operating my startup business is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately.

I’m getting ahead of myself, I know, when you consider that I have not even made a dime yet. But when I’m in a holding pattern, my brain is still running at a brisk pace, generally thinking about next steps or how I want to be operating a year or two down the road. I have heard this is common with entrepreneurs. I captured a few of my thoughts several days ago. I want to be certain that I do not forget these as I move forward in my new business.

When providing products and services to people, it is important to understand that the manner in which support is provided is just as important as resolving the issue. A smile and understanding go a long way when fixing a broken computer for a frustrated person with awaiting customers or vendors. In these situations, a quick resolution is appreciated. At other times, there’s a lot of value in spending a few minutes to get to know the customer (staff, administration, executive or teacher).

The ability to get along with people is as important as the ability to deliver the right solution on time.

When I was a help desk technician many years ago, I noticed that I usually had two types of “users” (customers). Some were super friendly, and the others were cold. Those who were cold and silent generally would just say something like, “My computer is broken. Fix it.” Some might even try to intimidate me or just glare at me. If you are in IT, you know the types. What I discovered, is that if I could break the ice and get them to relax, it often made my job easier and certainly more relaxing. It is so easy to glance at a family picture on their desk and ask how old their kids are, or where they went on their vacation if that’s what the picture is. Or perhaps talk about their sports team if they have a sports calendar on the wall. Something to make that connection with them goes a long way toward establishing some rapport. Once this connection is made it helps them to relax and then it helps me to relax. Sometimes I can then ask more prodding questions about what they were doing when the computer locked up and by this time, they are less defensive and more willing to share information. Ultimately, it leads to a more satisfied customer in the end.

Making connections with people does not come naturally for introverts and it does not mean that even extroverts are experts at this either. Sometimes extroverts come on too strong. Establishing rapport with people is a skill that takes practice. But it is absolutely necessary for success in every business. Unfortunately, it is almost never taught in school or in the workplace. But I tell my kids on a regular basis; and I remind my wife of this when she worries about the kids’ grades; that people skills will take a person much more further in life than grades or technical skills. Those who do a better job of communicating with managers and executives are always recruited into management over people who have stronger technical skills.

In addition to providing the appropriate product (technology or service), process is also extremely important. Following a process provides a predictable road map to be followed; allows measurements to be taken; identifies early detection of issues; and ensures consistent results through repeatable methods. Toyota has an impressive process in place called Toyota Production System (TPS) and the company credits this to their renowned reputation for reliability. And the company has opened it’s doors for other companies, institutions and even competitors to come into their plants and study the TPS system. It is so detailed and methodical, even some other vehicle manufacturers have failed to duplicate the system. But for Toyota, they continue to follow and hone the TPS system toward, but never really reaching, perfection of process.

Personnel issues inevitably arise, causing problems which often require a unique approach to each one. Sometimes they can be addressed with coaching, training or encouragement. Other times, it is a good idea to re-evaluate duties and align certain responsibilities according to skill sets, interests or personalities. I tend to lead through example and positive affirmation. However, I will tackle personnel issues head on with deliberate clarity when necessary. Discretion and confidentiality is always exercised.

Sometimes technical issues occur which require my full attention and dedication. This is where I also lead by example. There have been times when I have worked over 30 hours straight until issue resolution. It isn’t always easy. And problems will occur. Overcoming these problems is just a part of life. A character-building experience as I like to call it. But I’d rather plow through it and take care of the issue head on then let it linger, ignore it, or pass it on to someone else. I’d rather clean up the mess so that I know it was done right and learn from it, then avoid it; give up; or let it get me down.

Greater challenges are sometimes faced when delivering the news of change. Change in personnel, change in a process or change in technology are just a few examples. Few people enjoy change because this removes them from their comfort zone. I have found that the best way to introduce change is to over communicate. Introduce the idea of change well in advance. Plenty of notice gives people time to digest the idea. Provide a few updates as the date approaches, with tips or selling points. Then communicate the change during the change period. This is when some people worry the most, so updates are very appreciated. Finally, provide a recap of what happened and the final results. Be sure to provide resources so that people can make the best use of the new solution. This process works best if this communication is delivered in several mediums, such as print, video, email and face-to-face conversations. The communication should answer the inevitable who, what where, when, how and why questions.

Do you see people, product and process as important core elements of a business? Keep in mind that you may provide a service, rather than a product. But the fundamentals remain the same. How do you address issues that affect the core elements of your business?

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Regular family guy working to change his stars for his kids.

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