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“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

OK, so maybe getting a grip on your monthly financial statements, preparing your quarterly sales numbers, or trying to understand where your inventory turns are inadequate isn’t war… The problems these scenarios present hardly the ‘enemy’, but at times it sure can feel like it.  Just the same, this ancient wartime philosophy can provide precise insights about our modern departmental business challenges.

‘Know Yourself’ – Pay attention to your frustrations.  Often our frustrations raise our awareness to what the primary issues are.  Frustrations can be a terrific tool to identify where room for improvement exists.  Below are some examples of common business frustrations you may find familiar:

  • A lack of transparency regarding operational production status
  • Inability to measure sales productivity
  • Unclear marketing campaigns yield indeterminate results
  • Stagnant customer service performance
  • Slow or ineffective processes hamper improvements

Allow your frustrations to be a bright, red arrow that points you to areas ready for change.   Listen to these nudges from your subconscious and pay attention to when and under what conditions they occur.  Then ask yourself, what can I control that can affect a positive change?

‘Know your Enemy’ – Understand the process.  Take time to understand the current business processes that surround the area of frustration.  Why are things done the way they are done?  Are the processes efficient and well-defined?  Is it clear when a step in the process is over?  Are our communications sufficient?

                                                    If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

                                                                                                                                – Albert Einstein

Clear understanding of your business processes can provide valuable insight as well as help to explain the causes of ineffective behavior.   Perhaps parts of your process must be more clearly defined. Maybe some need more accountability or measurement.  Still others may need to be completely reengineered.  Getting the process right is paramount.  If everyone is clear on their roles, duties are well-defined, and there is consistent communication, things will begin to improve.

‘Battle’ – Continually improve.  This is easier said than done, of course. However, once the foundation of a solid process is established, then the work of improving it can reliably take place.  This is where consistent and regular reporting and analysis become invaluable.  Clear process definition, accountability, and understanding will allow measurements to be taken as the most influential process steps are performed.   This data can then be monitored over time and adjustments made.   In essence, reliable processes produce reliable data.  As a natural implication, the data has integrity and the decisions made based upon this information will improve your department and your organization’s performance.

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