Riddell: The top three business priorities
August 23, 2016
Unfortunately, we are all quite too familiar with the inevitability of death and taxes. But if you own or manage a business, you are also quite familiar with a third inevitable fact, one that has to be confronted every day. We are, of course, referring to the fact that there is never enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Whether it is dealing with personnel issues, regulatory obstacles, cash flow, or simply participating in local events, every owner and manager goes to sleep each night knowing that there is unfinished work to be done in the morning. Without some sort of framework, this reality can sometimes be simply overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be.
A few years ago it was quite common to read about the managerial skill requirement of juggling–not balls or chainsaws, but business challenges. It was portrayed that the successful manager was one who could handle an increasing volume of challenges, all the while being able to control and direct an intended outcome. Using the juggling analogy, success was determined by who could keep the most balls in the air! I submit to you that this is not the measure of success. Rather, given the ever increasing volume of complexity in today's business world, success is knowing what balls can hit the floor and not break. Said differently, success today is knowing what is a top priority and what is not.
We have all had occasions to run into well-meaning folks who view and treat every issue as one of a top priority. As we know, when everything is a top priority then, in reality, nothing is a top priority. So how do you rationally separate or categorize priorities to better manage the business while also better preserving individual sanity?
Probably one of the best suggestions I ever received in this regard was the admonition to recognize that many priorities are not fixed. That is, they shift in regard to importance based on the cycle and environment of the business. At the same time, it is critical to recognize that certain priorities are constant. By focusing first on the constant priorities, this enables every manager to minimize the always present "rabbit hole" depletion of energy and focus.
So what are these constant priorities? For a small business it is always cash flow, cash flow, and cash flow. If you lose the ability to generate the necessary cash flow you are simply out of business. While there are a number of books written and an untold number of consultants eager to describe methods of conserving and prioritizing cash payments, it all starts with knowing how much cash you have on hand. So knowing this has to be a number one priority.
The second constant has to do with adherence to legal requirements and regulations. Just as a lack of cash can quickly shut down a business, so too will failure to comply with local, state, and federal regulations. The challenge is staying "up" on any legal and regulatory changes, so time must be allocated to insure this. Clearly business trade associations are an invaluable tool in this regard, but you have to take the time to use the tool.
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Finally, the third constant priority is providing customer satisfaction. As the only source of cash to enable the business to continue, insuring satisfied customers has to always be top of mind for every business owner and manager. Now how you guarantee this satisfaction is a function of managerial discretion, but knowing what the satisfaction level actually is becomes a managerial requirement.
Success in any business is all about recognizing your controllables and then acting upon them. Making sure that the controllables are, indeed, those most important for continued success is all about setting priorities. Setting the right priorities and then addressing them are required skills for every successful manager.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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