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Don't Let Your Business Drown in Bureaucracy

Even small companies may suffer from inefficient processes and counter-productive operations. Assemble a team to turn things around.

One of the great analogies told about small business is a comparison to big business. When a big business wants to change course its like turning an aircraft carrier, whereas changing course in a small business is like turning a PT boat.

Early in my carrier I observed an opportunity. It was an under-performing business unit. The potential of the business unit was clear but there were problems both in execution as well as systemic issues put in place that were a hindrance to performance. I took the opportunity to speak with my boss, then together with his boss and asked if I could form a "Special Operations" team to work on the problem. To my surprise I was given permission.

I met with the manager of that business unit and offered my assistance. I already had the permission from the president, but I wanted buy-in. He welcomed the opportunity. We assembled a cross functional team from the business unit as well as our corporate office. I presented the obvious problems and what our ultimate goal was. We were in fact a skunk-work operation. We had no budget so whatever we did had to be self-funded by the unit. We met weekly and each person had aspects of the business to analyze and then we reserved time to brainstorm on solutions as we developed our plan. It was like triage at first. Stop the bleeding, stabilize the unit, then begin recovery.

We met for one hour each week. At the end of the meeting the manager would take the action items and put them into play. No one was given additional time or resources or money to solve the problem. Everyone was selfless and more importantly genuinely engaged. The people from our office learned things about operations that were completely new to them. In many cases they also realized some of the programs and processes that they had pushed on operations were totally counter-productive. This was the impetus for changes throughout the company.

Within months our "Special Operations" had turned the under-performing unit. Now it was actually putting money on the bottom line. Within six months we used the war chest created by our experiment to grow the business. Within a year the activities had not only transformed this unit into a profitable one but had translated to significant changes throughout the company that had a positive influence on market share and bottom line performance.

Every day there are people in every company who, in their private moments say to themselves, "this is stupid." Tapping into this knowledge and power can be truly enlightening, developmental and perhaps enriching!

Do you or people in your company have what it takes to tackle the big issues head on?

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Last updated: Apr 10, 2012

GLEN BLICKENSTAFF | Columnist | CEO of The Iron Door company

Glen Blickenstaff is the CEO of The Iron Door company, which makes high-end doors and windows. Glen has a track record of turning around and managing retail, building and financial companies.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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