Last Easter, the Easter Bunny surprised my one-year-old with one of those little wind-up chick toys that waddles across the floor. He loved it, until he threw it into the toilet mid-flush.
So, I spent most of the day learning the ins and outs of the plumbing trade. What started with some dainty plunger efforts evolved into me literally disassembling the toilet, jumping up and down while bear-hugging the bowl in a last-ditch effort after the coat hangers, snake, and shop-vac had failed me.
Miraculously, I dislodged the toy and everything was back to flowing as it should.
This was the first time that either of my children has thrown something into the toilet, causing it to clog. And that got me thinking about how the smallest, unexpected thing can really break the smoothest system.
In your business, do things normally run perfectly? Or, does the occasional bottleneck drain your team's productivity? When something unexpected gets in your way and you get backed up, do you let the problem linger, or deal with it immediately like I did?
Here's how to keep your business from clogging up.
Every 90 days, I sit down individually with every member of my team for a check-in. We use a scale from one to five to evaluate how they're feeling about any given topic and cover everything from workplace happiness and safety, to wellness and compensation.
This is where the opportunity to release the valve before pressure builds up comes into play. By allowing your employees to have a standardized, formal process to air any concerns, you'll stay ahead of any major malfunctions in the future.
Ask Productivity-Prying Questions
Ask someone what bottlenecks they have in their daily process, and you'll probably see a blank stare looking back at you. Over the years, I've interviewed hundreds and hundreds of employees 1-on-1, and I found that no one wants to acknowledge a bottleneck.
It could be a fear of looking incompetent or it could be a fear of seeming replaceable. But everyone has bottlenecks, so you just need better questions to identify them.
I often ask, "If you had a top secret employee that only worked for you, and no one else knew they existed, what kind of things would you have them do?" Ask your employees this, and you'll get great answers about time-consuming reports that are manually assembled, or monotonous work that could be automated or handed down to a newer employee on the team.
Predict When You'll Hit Capacity
As a business owner, you want to know about something before it overflows-- like the toilet in my case. For us at Trainual, the size of our customer success team scales variably with our total number of customers. So, every 600 or so customers means that we need to bring on another CS rep.
If you're not thinking ahead about your hiring before it's a problem, you could quickly hit a capacity issue and see stress levels rise, and quality slip. So, find your number, and start interviewing long before you're desperate.
Clean The Drains
A backlog of tasks, emails, projects, or anything else you might have going on can't sustain for too long and at some point, that backlog will catch up to you. Take time to block off time on your calendar to dive deep into some of the things that need your attention.
For me, every Wednesday you can find me working remotely to create and catch up on anything I've been putting off. Setting that time allows me to make sure my staff can move forward with projects and gives me the chance to create new ideas along the way.
Don't Deviate From What You Normally Offer
I don't need to tell you that flushing a toy down the toilet isn't standard practice. It's a shock to the system, and neither the toilet nor the toy knows what's happening. That feeling can be mutual in your business if you start offering things outside your norm, which almost every entrepreneur that I know tends to do.
It's exciting when someone wants to give you money for something new, but in the process, you'll confuse your customers and diminish your brand reputation. Stick with what you know and what your customers expect from you.
Prevent Future Bottlenecks
The good news is that as your business grows, you'll build better infrastructure and hopefully see fewer and fewer bottlenecks, or at least be equipped with the knowledge to know how to address them before it becomes too problematic.
As a fancy Fortune 100 company, you'll probably have industrial toilets that can flush a box of toys. But while you're growing, pay special attention not to clog up your system.