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Many people believe a new year signals a fresh start, so they vow to leave the past behind them and resolve to do better in the future. Yet, there’s a flaw in this ritual. Problems don’t just disappear because we’re taking down one calendar and pinning up a new one. The many crises we have faced the year prior won’t suddenly end.
As business leaders, we still must contend with the challenges resulting from the pandemic, supply chain constraints and labor shortages. Inflation and product shortages are still very real issues facing our society and impacting our economies as are infectious diseases, workforce gaps and growing customer demands.
So, instead of relying on a rigid set of goals to define or gauge our success, I believe we should:
- Set new intentions every day of the year based on the challenges, insights and opportunities we see at that moment.
- Refine our goals to reflect the here and now — the difference we can make, or what we can do differently, to improve outcomes for our businesses, customers and the world.
- Abandon this mindset that we are forced to “do more with less.”
Pivot your perspective
For years, conversations about business process improvements, technology investments and even staff scheduling have been centered on this notion that we must find a way to do more with less. How do we augment our workforces with technology because we are not getting enough job applicants to fill every open position? How do we help the current staff fill more orders in less time? How do we serve more customers with less inventory? Even in our personal lives, we have recently felt the need to ration what was on our shelves to make it last longer or go further. It’s very recession-like.
Yet, when we focus exclusively on being frugal — on doing more with less — we limit our growth capabilities as people and businesses.
Dig deeper and look for outside-the-box ways to achieve better outcomes. Focus your energy only on actions that add value and stop doing things that don’t. For example, I bet you didn’t know there are 55 different ways to use baking soda. I know I didn’t. And think of all the ways you can use your smartphone to manage your personal life. You can shop for everything you need, pay bills, create art, “try on” clothes, see the doctor and even buy a house. And that just scratches the surface of what’s possible.
That’s why I strongly recommend you assess what’s in your business toolkit right now, especially from a technology perspective. You’ll never know how many different tools you have available to you to maximize your current labor and inventory — or how many problems can be solved with just a single tool — until you look at things through both a micro and macro lens.
Prepare for the unpredictable by solving known problems now
As a small business, you’ve come so far, survived so much and shown your strength in the face of extreme adversity. But as Andy Grove once said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”
Don’t assume that what has worked before will work again. If you managed to make it through the storm of 2020 and 2021 without digitally transforming your business, I can see why you might feel confident in your ability to weather what comes next. However, it’s going to be hard to successfully set those daily intentions if you’re not connected to the information and people that should be informing them.
That’s why you must find a way to technologically empower your workers, partners and customers in the days ahead, even if you’ve resisted the digital revolution thus far.
Technology can help you close the workforce gap and meet the needs of more customers without adding more labor. But the truth is that technology helps you meet the personal needs of workers and customers in a very different way, too. It shows them they are valued — and that is worth more than gold.
Workers feel special when they get mobile computers with augmented reality apps or mobile printers that keep them from having to hike across the building to complete a task. And customers are ecstatic when you are willing to meet them where they are and can give them what they need. All we want as humans in this day in age is direct access to goods, services or information that will make tasks, decisions and life easier.
I remember a colleague once telling me about a neighbor who said his first day on the job was his best “first day” yet. He was a teenager with no experience, yet he had an incredible first impression because he was given simple technology tools that enabled him to make an instant impact. He knew exactly when and how to restock shelves to keep customers happy and revenue coming in, and his employer took notice. He couldn’t wait to see what he could do next once he got even more comfortable with his role and had the opportunity to contribute even more.
In other words, technology enables you to solve for the labor shortage by proving to workers that you are an employer that cares. Your employees will be more inclined to stay and even recruit their friends to join the team.
It also helps you solve customer churn. When people can see you’re doing your best to stock the items they need or provide services in a way that is convenient to them, they will become more loyal and even drive new referrals, all of which help stabilize sales and drive growth.
Of course, the same technology that is empowering workers to get through tasks faster is also collecting data that helps you make better operational decisions. You can gauge the performance of inventory and staffing models and adjust as needed to balance resources against demand.
Unleash your people power
Just remember, demands are changing by the hour, and your team will need to gain new capabilities to keep up. Technology can help tremendously here, but only if you understand the tools your team needed last week may not be the ones they need next week. You may need to unlock new features or functionality within those tools to “level up” their productivity, efficiency and know-how as the volume of orders or complexity of tasks start to increase.
That’s why you should open a feedback loop. Ask your front-line and IT teams what’s working and what’s not as part of your daily assessment and goal-setting exercise. Find out the things they feel would help them be more successful. Then see if those capabilities are hidden in plain sight. There are so many apps and features on my smartphone that I have never used before, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot benefit from them. The same is true of enterprise technologies, which are designed to scale. You can incrementally unlock the features and expand applications for both hardware and software platforms as you reach new business milestones or simply need to do more.
Just be sure that you train your team and your customers on how to maximize the tools you’re giving them. Equipping them with technology won’t do you any good if they aren’t using it to its fullest extent.
Embrace technology as a catalyst for change versus seeing it as a “big change”
As a startup or small business, you may be challenged to balance your budget right now. Times have been hard for many. But now is not the time to delay your digital transformation.
Technology allows you to move beyond this feeling that you must do more with less because it connects you with the people and information you need to be more creative and prescriptive in your problem-solving and more intentional in your goal setting. Technology empowers you to make lemonade for one customer and lemon bars for another, even when you only have one lemon. And most importantly, it enables you to make good on your intentions with your employees, customers and yourself, even if the world — and your business goals — change every day.