I spend a lot of time on the speaking circuit, presenting lessons I've learned building Priceline.com, developing the marketplace for uBid.com, and mentoring entrepreneurs around the world through my current consultancy, ColorJar. But one lesson I learned from another speaker stayed with me forever.
I was on the agenda at a business conference to talk about innovation. Also on the line-up, to cover operations, was the founder of 1-800-Flowers.com.
He said it's critical in small and growing companies to ensure that every activity taking place at your company is focused on achieving a specific, targeted goal. Jim's company had a simple objective: to sell more flowers. And Jim did something at his company that I challenge all of you to try, too.
Simple Way to Grow Your Company
Walk down the hall, pick any random employee, and ask him exactly what he is doing right now. Then ask him how that helps "sell more flowers." If that person can't answer that question right away, tell him to put down what he is doing, and go do something that helps sell more flowers. Today, 1-800-Flowers.com is one of the world's largest florists.
The first step in achieving this level of operational efficiency is to define your specific goals and document them clearly. Make sure you have goals that are quantifiable, and therefore, measurable. Everyone on your team needs to know where he stands.
Ever seen one of those United Way thermometer charts in an office before? It tracks progress against a fundraising goal by using a red line that rises like the temperature as progress is made. Anyone walking by can instantly see where the company stands, and what still needs to be done.
Define Quarterly Goals
Once you set your goals for the year, break them down into 90-day chunks. A year is too long to wait to feel like you've achieved something. A month is too short. Quarterly objectives work best.
Then, post your goals everywhere. Hang them on posters on the wall. Create some kind of thermometer even. Make sure the goals are communicated to everyone. Call a company-wide meeting and get everyone's buy-in. Employees are more motivated and more fulfilled when they can see that they are gradually approaching your goals. A football team playing in the championship game always knows what the score is. Your team should too.
Now take each specific objective and make a list of the tasks required to achieve that goal. It's very important that you define the relationships between the tasks people are doing and the goal or objective that those tasks support. I call it "linkage." Linking the daily workload of your employees to those numbers posted on the wall helps make employees feel productive and valued.
Take the Flowers Test
Once you've defined your goals, communicated them to your employees (everywhere), and linked specific operational tasks to the longterm goals they support, you're ready to take the flowers test.
Jim can walk down the halls of his company and ask people how the work they are doing at that moment helps sell more flowers. After all, that's why his company exists. Try it at your own company. And keep doing it until every time you ask an employee what she is doing and how it helps sell more flowers, she can answer you quickly and clearly. That's when the company will be ready to scale efficiently.
While you're at it, maybe send some fresh spring flowers to the employee whose work contributes the most.