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Six simple questions to test the health of your company
April 8, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment
Companies are very much like people. They are born from a union of ideas; they experience all of the awkward phases of learning to walk and develop basic skills; and hopefully, they grow up with much success. Like people, companies can catch colds – they face obstacles in health when it comes to performance issues, cash-flow challenges, and other problems that surface unexpectedly. Companies need to work out to stay strong and lean rather than heavy and lethargic. Companies can get sick and die.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to protect and ensure the health and vitality of your company. That being said, you are also the one who is ultimately responsible for making your company sick through bad decision-making, procrastination, allowing the company’s culture to deteriorate, poor cash management, and a host of other faux pas that leaders notoriously self-inflict.
Companies of every shape and size are susceptible to infection. The question always comes down to whether or not the company is healthy and strong enough to fight the infection off.
Here are six simple, yet intensely profound, no-compromise questions to test your company’s current health:
- Are you the system? Systems exist to create predictable outcomes. Building, perfecting, and locking systems are tedious yet essential parts of ensuring the right outcomes. When the leader needs to micromanage daily work, the leader becomes the system. If you’ve ever uttered the words, “Can’t they just do their jobs?” you have become the system – and it’s not working for you, your team, your company, and your customers. If you are the system, your company is not healthy.
- What is your company fighting for? People fight for causes they believe in. Fighting for a cause unleashes the most precious energy source a company can possess – passion. Passion drives productivity, innovation, efficiency, and the ability to achieve outcomes that others perceive as unattainable. If the vision, purpose, values, and guiding principles of your company do not ignite the passion of your team, your company is not healthy.
- Are you managing cash flow? Cash is your company’s fuel. It’s hard to fight and win in today’s economic climate if your company’s fuel gauge warning light is flashing. Too many leaders don’t pay enough attention to cash management until their fuel tank is critically low. Repeatedly filling your fuel tank with borrowed money is dangerous because debt saps future cash. Maintaining a cash reserve of three to four months operating expenses is not something you dream about – it’s something to discipline yourself and your company to do. If you’re not relentlessly managing cash flow, your company is not healthy.
- Is information really flowing? The human body possesses a sophisticated information flow system. The simple act of walking is a coordinated effort of information flow and execution. In most companies, information flow is best described as constipated. Information may flow to some areas, but only trickle or bypass others. Think of information flow as “what, why, how, the score.” The right outcomes occur when expectations are clarified, processes are defined, deadlines established and agreed to, and progress is monitored via feedback or the equivalent of a scoreboard. Invest the time and energy to ensure information is flowing to every nook and cranny of your company. If it isn’t, your company is not healthy.
- Is your GPS turned on? I use GPS navigation in my car, on my iPhone, iPad, and the Garmin on my road bike. These days, it’s almost impossible to not know where you are and if you’re on course to your intended destination. Do you know your company’s present location on its three-, five-, or ten-year plan? What are the ten initiatives you plan to complete this year? Which benchmarks and critical numbers are meeting expectations and which ones need focused attention? If you don’t know precisely where your company is, your company is not healthy.
- Can it endure? As a human being, your time on earth is finite – so is your time as leader of your company. In contrast, a company can and should endure long after you’re gone. The ability to endure is the ultimate indicator of the health of a company. Are you building a company capable of enduring or a fortress to support your ego? Are you building a company that is growing in value – and does your Balance Sheet prove that it is? Are you grooming your replacement? Are you letting go of the reigns and allowing your leadership team to be accountable? The most important thing for a leader to remember is that he or she is not the company. The company is a living entity with its own vital signs and purpose for existing. If your company cannot endure beyond your leadership, it is not healthy.
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