Do you have a green thumb when it comes to your business? When thinking about the natural and man-made changes that impact businesses almost constantly, we often think about gardens.
Imagine your business in its ideal state. If it were a garden, it would be truly beautiful, with different colors of plants drawing the eye along pristine paths. Every shrub would be immaculately trimmed, the grass would look like the 18th green at Augusta National and the edging would be perfect.
Like a garden, your business needs constant attention to grow and prosper. But in the rush to sign the next contract, handle that production or shipping issue, and keep up with bookkeeping, you may have let your attention lapse. So imagine your business as a garden after months (if not years) of inattention. The shrubs are in serious need of pruning. Your annuals have died. The paths have become overgrown because no one has been doing the edging. And that pristine grass? Depending on the amount of rainfall it has received, you may need a hay baler or you may need to replant.
“Landscaping” Expertise for Business Processes
Do you personally take care of the landscaping at your place of business or do you hire someone who specializes in this area? You don’t keep a ride-behind mower and an industrial leaf blower at your office, do you? That just wouldn’t make any sense. And unless you’re a fortune 500 company with billions in revenues every year, it probably doesn’t make sense to have a full time team of business process specialists on your payroll.
But occasionally your business experiences a drought. And you have no choice but to call in the professionals. That’s what happened to a Provaré client in the telecom industry. The client had a big national customer and was paid on a cost-plus basis for large, complex construction projects. Our client had regional offices, each with its own systems, methods and processes. In some cases, different project managers in the same region each had their own methods for tracking costs.
The drought wasn’t a lack of projects. They were working like crazy – and they were successfully completing the projects – on time and on budget. But our client couldn’t get paid because they failed to keep records sufficient to document their costs. By the time they called us, they had tens of millions of dollars of uncollected (and possibly uncollectible) receivables. Ouch.
Boilerplate Solutions Are Rarely Helpful
Before they called us, our client had tried working with another consulting company… unsuccessfully. You see, that company fell into the same trap that far too many consultants do: they approach every engagement with the same presumed solution. Most of our client’s processes worked just fine, but the consultant failed to truly listen to the real problem and instead recommended their usual rip-and-replace strategy.
What our client needed wasn’t a boilerplate solution. They needed someone who respected the current landscape plan and assumed that they knew their business. We listened for the real need and made recommendations to move them from their current state to an ideal future state – one digestible and relatively painless step at a time.
Once the changes we recommended were implemented, the payment drought ended and the garden flourished.
All Gardens (and Businesses) Need Maintenance
Your current landscape may look exactly like your design plans. If so, you have every right to be proud of it. But without periodic tending it will soon revert to an unkempt state. Companies too need a plan for business practice maintenance. Whether it is semi-annually, annually, or even less often, it’s a good idea to review your business practices and your adherence to them on an ongoing basis.
It’s not a task for the faint-hearted, nor is it a task for someone who is also fighting the day-to-day fires. You should consider hiring professionals who understand business processes, who respect your company’s unique culture and who are committed to bringing out the best in each company, rather than pushing a one-size-fits-all solution.
After all, it’s your garden. You had the vision and you executed it, planting the flowers, the trees and the greenery that you had envisioned. A good business process consultant is like a good landscaper who respects what you have built and helps you fulfill your vision, not theirs.