I'm not known for my preparation. I am often asked to make choices, not to prepare. After all, someone has to make a decision and say: "now we are going to do it". However, this does not mean that such a decision should not be well-considered. Especially when the company grows and expands. A seemingly simple choice is behind the scenes usually a well-considered and well-prepared decision.
Preparation is crucial. It also gives you an enormous return on investment. It can keep you from making big mistakes. On the other hand, you should not overdo it. Opportunities come and go. If you don't act fast enough, you can miss an opportunity. The balance between fast and well-considered is often difficult to find and to keep.
I often write about problems and opportunities as if they were the same or similar. This is because I often see problems as opportunities and false opportunities as problems.
To answer this question, you must first look at the opportunity or problem in front of you. First of all, it is important to find out whether a problem or opportunity is worth tackling. Only then do you look at the possible risks. You can make an estimate of the potential size of the problem or opportunity within a few minutes. For this you can use the questions below:
- How big is the problem or opportunity?
- If I ignore it, what will happen to my business?
- If I ignore it, will we not notice anything, will everything stay the same or will that mean the (beginning of the) end?
- If it's a problem, how do we deal with it now?
- For example, is the problem already being solved manually?
Depending on how busy your business is, you can use the answers to the above questions to quickly assess whether the problem or opportunity is worth dealing with at the moment. If you answer these questions honestly, you'll be surprised how often things are done a certain way for months without any complaints. In busy periods it is therefore often better to keep it that way. Change takes energy and not all improvements will immediately give a better result. Very often the result remains the same and only the execution changes. Precisely in those cases it is crucial to ask yourself if this is the right moment to solve your problem. In many cases time will also solve your problem.
Dissect a problem or opportunity before you start the solution
The next step is to dissect the problem or opportunity to get a clear picture of its scope. It happens too often that people think they are solving a problem, when in fact they are not. The solution they offer is then either just a band-aid, taking the problem out of the picture temporarily, or it is a solution, but it immediately creates another problem.
People often want to solve a problem too quickly, because the problem seems acute. It seems like a matter of life and death. Panic sets in and other, often more important long-term issues are pushed aside to solve the acute problem. The current situation may be solved, but if only the short term is taken care of, the same problem may return a week later.
Example of an acute problem
Workforce planning is a clear example of this. A good personnel planning is crucial in every company with production or operational employees who are paid on an hourly basis. Good planning makes the difference between a relaxed company with a good working atmosphere and a company with a bad working atmosphere and therefore a huge turnover in staff and absenteeism.
In order to make personnel plans for the coming weeks or months, the current staffing levels and workload are often examined. This goes well, until there is growth. In that case, easily predictable growth signals are missed. If one does not look ahead and there is a growth in decrease, the pressure on the company increases immediately. Especially since it generally takes several weeks before a team is in a higher gear, which increases the backlog.
In these situations, you often see people continue to "look at today". By looking at today, I mean that they look at the staff shortage of a certain day or week to determine what is needed in the coming weeks. They signal to the HR department or Recruitment, and they then start looking for new staff. Sounds good right?
Follow the steps: Step 1
How big is the problem or opportunity and what will happen to my business if I ignore it?
The problem is acute. If not addressed quickly, customers will walk away and give negative reviews. This is potentially the beginning of the end.
If it is a problem, how do we deal with it now? For example, is the problem already solved manually (possibly with some effort)?
The problem is now solved by making a planning based on the current numbers. This planning is extrapolated to the coming weeks. However, this is precisely the cause of the problem, because it meant that we did not see the growth coming and ended up in this situation. This means that they only look at the present, and not at a possible changing future.
Adjusting the planning based on the current numbers is therefore just a band-aid. This creates two pitfalls. The first pitfall is that the growth is temporary and the backlog will only increase the workload. As soon as sufficient personnel are found, the backlog will be cleared and the work pressure will decrease. This may be reinforced by the fact that the temporary growth will cease. This creates a surplus in the workforce. This also brings disadvantages, such as financial pressure on the company to motivation problems among employees because there is too little work.
The increased online purchase of products in May and June is an example of this. This increase is caused by the fact that people receive holiday pay. For many companies, the increase subsides again largely in August, because many people are on vacation. Companies hire people in May and June while they are no longer needed in August.
The other pitfall is the possibility that the growth is not temporary, but merely a harbinger of things to come. In this case, the problem may persist. This is a constant challenge for the really fast-growing companies (those with growth of 20 to 100 or more percent per year). They must continually assess how many staff are needed to maintain stable occupancy.
Avoiding pitfalls: step 2.0
If it's an acute problem, you have to deal with it first. Be quiet about what is happening. Above all, don't let the people around you who are panicking make you crazy. People have the strangest expectations when they become emotionally involved. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it a temporary problem?
- What happens if I underestimate the problem?
- What happens if I overestimate the problem?
- What happens if I devote all my time now to the acute problem? Will I also solve tomorrow's problem, or next week's?
Then dwell on what needs to be done to completely eliminate the problem in the long run. Especially if you do survive the problem in the short term. Of course, it's inconvenient if you have to disappoint some customers today because you can't get an order right. However, this should be your preference if it means that your future customers won't run into the same problem.
A tip for when you have to disappoint customers: communicate proactively and clearly. Customers are often very understanding when you explain what happened. They won't like it and some will be really angry. However, remember that as long as you communicate clearly and honestly, you do your best, and you learn from your mistakes, you do deserve the space to make mistakes from time to time. Mentally, give yourself that space and don't be too hard on yourself.
Learning from mistakes and solving problems: step 2.1
Don't sit still if your business has been saved for the next few weeks. Look at what went wrong and prevent it from going wrong again, so that the pitfalls are not a recurring risk. You need to dissect the problem before you get to the solution. Returning to the example above, was the problem actually a (temporary) shortage of staff or was it deeper rooted?
The staff planning was the problem in this example. This planning was too simple for the situation. Once you have a few employees, it is important to pay attention to internal and external revenue or growth drivers, such as holiday pay or the December rush. Also, your company's marketing department may need to learn to plan marketing campaigns and share this planning with you or your staff planner. Anything at your company that has or can have an impact on sales and therefore on operational workload is worth collecting.
Collecting growth drivers often becomes easier with age. You know earlier what a busy period will be. It also becomes easier to assess the job market. Your first employees often come from your immediate surroundings, which makes it easy to build a team in the first few years. After some time, this can become a challenge. With the collected data, your company can make a better personnel planning and thus reduce the risk with relatively little effort or even eliminate it altogether.
In a fast-changing world, the opportunities fly by. Especially once you get going. It is crucial to be well prepared in order to make a sound choice. However, speed is perhaps even more important! If you spend too much time preparing, it can happen that the opportunity has already flown.
So be quick. If you're immediately excited (and I mean really "HELL YEAH"-enthusiastic) and have the ability to seize an opportunity, don't wait any longer than absolutely necessary. In such a case, it's better to act immediately and clean up afterwards, than to see your missed opportunity turn into a huge success and spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had taken it.
So get ready and seize the opportunities that will make you the next super entrepreneur!
- Use the questions from Step 1 to quickly determine if it's really a big opportunity or a big problem.
- Don't let yourself go crazy and calmly dissect the problem or opportunity before you start working on the solution. This way you will avoid spending time and energy on band-aids.
- If an acute problem forces you to come up with a short-term solution, make sure that once the peace and quiet have returned you actually remove the problem completely. This will prevent you from sinking back into the turmoil again and again.
- To look at your problems differently, you can ask yourself what it would look like if it were easy. Instead of looking at what you have, look at what you should have. Then you can work towards that too.
- Speed is important. The bigger the opportunity or the problem, the sooner you have to make a decision. If the pay-off is bigger, you can also take more risks.