The Most Important Question to Ask About Your Business

Finding out what needs improving could reinvigorate your entrepreneurial spirit

Written by Wayne Vanwyck

You already have processes in your business, whether you know it or not. Employees already follow certain steps to get through the day, much of the time without really thinking about it.

In my last article I encouraged you to develop processes for all the key activities in your business. The idea was making what you do franchisable, not because you want it to be a franchise, but because the act of building processes makes your business run better and be more saleable.

Are the processes that your employees habitually engage in the best, most efficient, most effective and most productive steps they could be taking? Are they, in fact, processes that still make sense?

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Len Luksa once told me about one of the tasks he had to perform as a young HR representative at Ford Motor Company. He had to go out to the parking lot every morning, count the number of bicycles, and fax a copy of the count to Ford World Headquarters in Detroit before the daily executive meeting. Apparently, someone performed this exact routine every morning at every Ford-owned facility worldwide.

Surprisingly, no one before him had had the courage or curiosity to pose the question, “Why are we counting bicycles?” Len did. His supervisor didn’t know the answer, nor did the supervisor’s manager.

When they dug deeper, they learned that it had been a standard procedure when Ford was still a young company. The number of bicycles indicated to senior management how they were doing at providing an affordable means of transportation, and helped them gauge what their own employees were able to buy and what level of wages were needed for them to be able to purchase and operate a car. The information hadn’t been looked at in years—maybe even decades—but someone was still paid to collect it every day.

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To avoid Ford’s fate, all processes should be assessed from time to time to see if they are still worth doing. Reboot your business by looking at all areas that impact your success and asking what I call the Systematic Process Question: “In your opinion, what is the one most important part of our business that could benefit immediately from a systematic process that would assure consistently successful results?”

Suppose you were to ask your IT department the Systematic Process Question, or your shipping department, or sales, accounting, customer service, manufacturing, purchasing, janitorial, management, human resources, and so on. Each department will tell you that they have a process—and they do.

But then ask if the process is documented. Ask if someone else could look at the documents, follow the instructions, and see the task through to completion. Ask them when they last reviewed the process in light of changes to technology, demographics, and new insights. Ask if the process was developed through an innovative, thoughtful approach or by following the line of least resistance.

MORE DOCUMENTATION: One Proven Way to Increase Your Company’s Sale Price »

Why at this stage, when your company is mature and you’re not handling every day-to-day detail, would you want to invest the time, money and energy into making your business a model of repeatable processes? Fair question. Here are a few possible reasons.

  • It gives you something intelligent and purposeful to do in the next three to five years that will not only build a stronger, more viable business, but also pay huge dividends when you sell it.
  • It creates a lasting legacy. If you get this right, the business can continue to run and be successful whether or not you are around to manage it.
  • It diminishes the fear of not having a business worth selling or one that could actually decrease in value over the next few years.
  • If you offer the business to family members or senior employees to purchase, you will feel confident that they can continue to run it successfully. And if you take back the mortgage, you are more likely to get your monthly payments.
  • It provides additional security for existing employees.

You might even be less inclined to sell the business once you’ve got it running smoothly. I expect that one of the reasons you became an entrepreneur in the first place was to be more independent. By having processes in place and employees who follow them, you regain some of that independence.

Wayne Vanwyck is the founder and CEO of The Achievement Centre International in London, Ont. He is the creator of The Business Transition Coach Forum and the author of the best-selling books, Pure Selling and The Business Transition Crisis. He has been training and coaching business owners for the past 30 years.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com