What Keeps Your Business in Business?
by Mark Kimbell

The next morning, Allen approached his job from a completely new perspective. Now that he understood how the crew made money, so many things seemed clearer to him. He realized they didn't get paid for making mortar, building scaffold, or refilling the water barrel. Those other things mattered, but they weren't the crew's purpose. They were just steps in the process. At the end of the day, there was only one meaningful question: How many bricks did we put in the wall? - The Hod Carrier - Kimbell Associates LLC

Why does your company exist? A quick glance at your company mission statement will remind you that your company is in business to "make our customers successful by providing outstanding service at a good value" or something equally noble. But, let's get a little more mercenary for a moment, and ask the question a little differently: How, exactly, does your company make money? And, most importantly, what is your specific contribution to that effort? Knowing the answers to these two questions can make the difference between outstanding performers, and average employees.

Awareness of the financial implications of your activities is incredibly empowering. Without it, your duties become an end in themselves. For example, the stockperson in the grocery store who focuses only on his duties believes that, as long as the canned vegetables remain stocked, he must be doing his job. By contrast, if he is focused on the need of his organization to sell food products to customers, he is likely to view stocked shelves with concern. Maybe the prices aren't clearly marked, or maybe the cans are dusty. Whatever the problem, he must correct it because this organization won't survive - and he won't have a job - unless customers buy his carrots and green beans.

Financial awareness also has a strong unifying effect. Employees are more likely to help each other when they understand that they are pursuing a common goal, like staying in business. For instance, suppose a worker on an assembly line notices that the line has stopped moving because of a problem upstream from her station. If she is focused only on her duties, she might be inclined to kick back and enjoy the downtime, knowing that she has an airtight excuse not to be working. On the other hand, if the same worker is sensitive to the financial realities of the business, she is more likely to walk up the line to lend her expertise to the solution of the problem. Yes, that means that the line will start moving again, and she'll have to get back to work. But, she understands very clearly that that's the only way she's going to keep her job.

Once you understand how various activities affect your company's financial fitness, your priorities are likely to become much clearer. Suppose that a middle manager at a software company is scurrying to complete his weekly report, when one of his employees shows up at his door with a pressing personal issue. At the same time, an email message pops up on his screen, saying that some of his engineers are meeting in five minutes to discuss a quality issue with an application that's due to be delivered to a customer that afternoon. Given these choices, many managers would take the time to finish the weekly report to avoid getting in trouble with their boss. Others would make time to discuss the employee's problem out of genuine concern, and because of a common tendency to assign the highest priority to whatever situation physically confronts us at the time. Both of these issues are important, and need to be dealt with as soon as possible. But, the manager who is focused on the financial needs of the organization will make his top priority the quality of the product being delivered to the customer. He knows that, without satisfied customers, there will be no more weekly reports to write, and his employees will have to add a bombshell like unemployment to whatever problems they're already dealing with.

It's easy to get lulled into the daily grind of your own individual duties. However, top performers never lose sight of the impact of their individual efforts on the financial health and well-being of the organization. The construction worker in the excerpt above could look at a brick wall and tell very quickly whether today was a good day or a bad day for his company. What determines whether today was a good day or a bad day for your organization? Most importantly, what did you do, personally, that influenced the answer to that question?

Mark Kimbell is President of Kimbell Associates LLC (www.kimbellassociates.com) and author of The Hod Carrier: Leadership Lessons Learned on a Ladder. You can contact Mark by telephone at 812-284-2400.

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Copyright 2002 by Mark Kimbell. All rights reserved.

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