Advice For A Better Second Half

Last week marked the end of the first half of the calendar year. It seems like January was just last week.

Someday scientists will actually discover that as we grow older, time actually passes faster because that is how it seems.

The first couple of weeks of July are appropriate to review; review, refresh and renew in any organization.

Plenty of time remains to achieve goals established at the end of 2013, but strategies and tactics may need adjustment.

I have always liked to use a simple system to avoid confusion and to maintain focus. The simple name is “What’s Working and What’s Not Working” but there are a three more steps in the process to make it a more useful and valuable leadership tool.

The first step is to create a list of those things that the organization is currently doing, and has been doing, well.

This is the “What’s Working” list. Starting the assessment by looking at the positives provides a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of success and helps everyone involved to review and reflect back on all the hard work expended in the first six months of the year.

While this assessment is a leadership responsibility, individual managers can have their teams go through this process too. It can be invaluable as a validation tool, a morale booster and a team building exercise.

The second step is to list those items that are not working. Usually a few things jump onto the list without much thought; strategies that are not generating desired results, clients losses, and internal processes that aren’t as efficient or effective as they need to be.

Taking the time to openly assesses and think beyond the surface for things that go on this list is critical. Often, a major item on this list when freely discussed will reveal additional, as important items requiring remedial action.

For example, weak cash flow might be something that is immediately put on the ‘what’s not working’ list. However, it may only the symptom not the actual problem.

Additional thinking leads to the third step in the exercise, which is “Why Isn’t It Working.” This step looks at each item on the not working list to peel it back to the root causes.

The initial response to weak cash flow might be “the economy is slowing down” or “we have customers that can’t afford us otherwise they would pay our invoices.”

Looking at the issue deeper will reveal any number of causes.

Invoices may be late going out. The invoices could be incorrect, and the customers aren’t paying until the right one is received. Are your invoices being mailed when the customer prefers to receive them via email? Are your terms of payment enforced?

A new employee, not well trained, may have been assigned to collections and they do not feel comfortable making the necessary calls. Maybe the accounting supervisor has assigned the team to another priority.

All of these and many other underlying reasons could be the source of slow cash flow. Until the root causes are revealed nothing will change. Assumptions don’t cut it; facts are required.

The fourth step in the process is to make a list of “What’s Next.” This is the corrective action plan created from the entire process.

Those things that are working will likely want to be continued, or perhaps adjusted.

What isn’t working will need to be prioritized and each allied “why isn’t it working” needs to be detailed out to insure that all relevant component parts are included.

Specific action steps need to be captured, individual responsibility assigned along with due dates and reporting guidelines issued.

The final step belongs to the owner of the business. He or she needs to use the Corrective Action Plan created as a plan for improvement. This is the true test of leadership, holding people accountable to improve the condition of the business.