Doing effective business triage.
I am currently working on a business plan with my client, Tony. I have permission from him to share this story. As we were working on the business plan, we started to reminisce about how we became friends. I remember it well. I had just opened a new recording studio. One week later, Tony moved in next door to open a new small engine repair shop. My Grammy award winning partner was less than thrilled about the idea of someone revving up lawn mowers while he was recording hit songs. Fortunately, Tony closes his business at 5:00pm, which coincidentally happens to be about the same time most of my musician friends are rolling out of bed. End of that conflict.
Tony is a great guy; he never forgets your name. The moment you meet him you feel like you’re his best friend. When you come to his shop, he drops whatever he’s doing to quickly greet you at your vehicle. Tony loves his new business. His friendly nature quickly increased the workload. More work kept coming in. Like most optimistic business people, Tony felt he could handle anything. Bring it on. He continued to work harder and harder doing all the repairs while running the business.
As the months passed, Tony became buried in work. He started to fall behind on a lot of the different business tasks he was responsible for. He had to wear too many hats. In less than a year, his business wasn’t fun anymore. Physically and mentally exhausted, he was ready to throw in the towel. Tony felt defeated and started to make simple mistakes. His phenomenal memory and friendly nature made it easy for people to forgive him, but he couldn’t rely on that for too long. This is not what he thought owning a business was supposed to be like.
Being a great guy doesn’t qualify you to run a business. If Tony didn’t learn how to run his business soon, he would be in serious trouble. He recognized he needed help. One day he approached me in a panic and asked for help to figure out what to do.
I jumped right in. I talked to him about business planning and the positive effects it would have on his business. He would have to start seriously thinking about things like sales, marketing, budgets, and schedules. He would need systems and procedures put in place to operate his business more effectively. I promised him that if he did these things, his life would get better and his business would soon be profitable. Tony stopped me there and moaned, “that all sounds great, but could you show me how I can pay my rent next month?” It was then I realized Tony didn’t need a business plan, he needed a survival plan!
Tony wasn’t worried about the future; he was worried about the present. If he couldn’t improve his present situation, there wouldn’t be any future. His problem wasn’t caused by dwindling sales in an ongoing recession, but by not having a plan in place to handle the business he already had. For the survival plan to work, we would have to do a massive amount of triage.
Merriam-Webster defines triage as (paraphrased): the sorting and allocation of treatment to patients of battle or disaster according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.
Tony’s business was going to need triage and I was going to be chief medical officer. We had to look at all the problems in the business operation. Triage requires quick decisions, and time is critical. To reduce the risks of causalities, we had to rank all the problems in order of their importance and worth. All available resources would have to be allocated correctly. This was a battle for the health of his business.
Business owners like Tony can easily work themselves into a box. The more ineffective the busy work he did, the smaller the box got. He started to feel trapped as the walls closed in on every side. The weight of the box itself was taking him down and his view became so dark that he could see no way out. He became blinded to doing simple tasks that would have relieved a lot of the pressure.
I have a friend who works in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. I asked him to tell me the secret to helping his clients. He told me that he has to get inside his patient’s mind and see the world the way they see it. Once he understands the world from their perspective, he could lead them out into present day reality.
For me to help Tony, I needed to see his perspective on the business. If I correctly understood his world view, I could safely lead him in the right direction; this would save a lot of critical time. I believe a lot of times we prescribe a cure for someone before we understand their view of the problem. We will tell people what they need to do to run a marathon, but if they don’t know how to take their next step, running even a block would seem impossible.
For you to do effective triage:
1-Recognize you are in over your head and cannot solve the problems by yourself.
2-Ask for help from someone who can solve problems.
3-Take time to accurately assess each problem.
4-Prioritize all the tasks to be done.
5-Use all of your available resources to speed up the process.
6-Have faith that your problems can be fixed.
7-Start to fix the problems one at a time.
8-Put systems and procedures in place to make sure you don’t have these same problems in the future.
Times up. In the next article, I will explain the steps we took to gain some sanity in Tony’s life. Tune in next time to….As The Business World Turns. Episode 2, Tony sees the light!