Is It Time to Get Your Motor Running?

15 08 2011

I read once that the modern internal combustion engine used to power most of our cars is incredibly inefficient.  Surprise huh?  The report stated that less than 20% of the energy produced actually went to power the car.  Even less makes it to the wheels to actually propel the car forward.  A vast majority of the energy is lost in the form of heat and friction created by the burning of the gasoline.  The rest of the energy is lost by the transference of that power through the different moving parts that make the car go.

Today we are experimenting with new ways to make our transportation more efficient.  From hybrids to electric vehicles we are doing more to get the most mileage out of our vehicles.  This desire spurred primarily by volatile gas prices.  We are in the early stages of development and while we have made progress, we have a long way to go to achieve our goals.

Running a business doesn’t seem to be much different when you look at it.  There is data to show that businesses are often inefficient.  Some of that is also created from heat and friction.  Whether it is through communication issues, lack of focus, or productivity challenges a company may find that a lot of energy seems to go up in smoke.  I have read articles and seen presentations that state most employees are only productive for about three hours of an eight hour day.  While we may have to wait for the better car engine, we have a great deal of control over creating the better business engine.

The key driver of business is people.  Their efforts are the engine that makes your company go.  Sales and profitability suffer when this resource isn’t maintained or continually improved upon.  In an article put out by the consulting firm Deloitte, a 1992 study found that “over a ten year period companies that intentionally managed their corporate culture outperformed similar companies that did not.  Additionally, companies listed on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For further demonstrate that those with well managed cultures significantly outperform the S&P 500.”  So what can you do to get your motor running?  For starters, follow these five steps:

  • Improve your horsepower – Culture starts at the top.  Leaders have the power to influence everyone below them to either do great things or plan their time plotting their escape.  Invest in your leaders to make them better.  Coach and mentor them so they can do the same with their staff.  Excellence in leadership will lead to excellence in business.
  • Change the fuel – The fuel is what provides the potential energy that makes the engine go.  Listen to the information that you are sharing with your people.  Is it all gloom and doom?  Are your people overly negative?  Instead of possibility thinking, do they spend more time worrying about the competition and how they are going to survive?  Much of this is created by the fuel that is put into the system.  While important to be realistic, it is just as important to be positive.  For every problem their is a solution.  Only focusing on the problems creates more fear.  Fear is what robs the engine of all its power.
  • Give it a tune up – Provide the spark that ignites the fuel.  If you find your business wallowing in fear and pessimism you need to introduce something that will create a spark.  In the height of the cold war and our race to dominate space, President Kennedy offered his vision of sending a man to the moon in less than a decade.  His vision became the spark that launched the US into a new era of space exploration.  What do you need to do to create your spark?
  • Redesign the engine – Energy is lost when there are a lot of working parts.  These parts are the processes used in your business to get things done.  Systems and procedures should always be reviewed for efficiency.  How many of your people are doing things “because that’s the way we have always done them?”  During the last downturn, many companies reduced staff yet did nothing to redo the workflow.  The result was the same amount of work done by fewer people.  Many saw their efforts as making their business more efficient.  Many employees saw an increased workload with no benefit to them.  Right sizing to meet business demand can be a necessity.  It can also hurt morale.  Invest some time to review your procedures and streamline whenever possible.
  • Place the power in the wheels – There are leaders and their are managers.  Most companies have too much of one and not enough of the other.  Managers manage operational issues in an effort to control outcomes.  Many times these managers assume a great deal of control over the systems and the people beneath them.  This equates to inefficient leadership and staff.  Leaders also handle operational issues and they empower their staff to make things perform better.  Leaders focus on the bigger picture and work hard to avoid getting stuck in the day to day fires that inevitably happen.  Instead they strengthen and develop their people to handle these issues.  They place the power of success into the hands of those who have the greatest ability to influence it.  Doing this creates an engaged, well-developed staff that is capable of addressing challenges as they arise.

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