Sydney, Australia, 25 October 2017 How do you grow without overstretching your operations or blowing out your budget? Accelerating your business starts with your standard operating procedures, says Chief Productivity Officer, James Powell.
Many of our freight forwarding clients experience growing pains when they try to scale their business processes for growth, but the cause isn’t always the same. Some have expanded rapidly in the past few years, either organically or through mergers and acquisitions. Some are simply increasing the volume of their orders. But most are offering an increasing range of value added services in addition to their core activities. More often than not, clients' expectations for these services are higher than ever. Standards around visibility and punctuality are increasingly crucial for gaining and retaining business, even though prices are more competitive than ever.
But, while you may have talented staff who can handle these requirements and offer a high level of service to your customers, the increased amount of work might mean that they end up buried under a mountain of paper. The merging of multiple systems or the introduction of many new staff put you under further pressure. Suddenly, systems that worked well become unfeasible when put under stress. Errors begin creeping in. Your deliveries are increasingly late. Staff are burning the candle at both ends and are less motivated than ever before. As a business, you want to grow, but, as an organization, you can't handle it. You risk either losing your reputation or threatening your bottom line. How did this happen and what can you do?
Every business is different and one company's problem may be another company's competitive advantage. But based on our experience helping logistics companies make use of technology to succeed in a competitive environment, we've collected plenty of tips that might help your organization overcome growing pains and build a strong base for scalable success.
Start at the beginning
It might seem obvious, but without reliable information, any analysis of your business is likely to be flawed. If you’re relying heavily on paper-based or manual processes you’ll not have the level of business intelligence you need to make informed decisions, without trawling through invoices and spreadsheets.
While getting detailed, automated data about your staff's productivity and operations might be a pipedream, a good place to start could be to document your standard operating procedures. Doing this can have a number of positive effects. Having oversight of your processes allows you to more easily see where your staff's time is being taken up. Breaking down tasks may allow you to share certain jobs between employees rather than having to wait for a potentially overloaded person to find time. Similarly, you can start identifying the bottlenecks that are slowing down your operations and work to address them.
Several companies we've worked with find that once standard operating procedures are documented and reviewed, that additional support documentation and learning materials can be created to speed up some internal onboarding processes like training new hires. Accelerating these processes can free up the capacity of your most knowledgeable staff to work on more complex (and more valuable) tasks rather than spending time answering questions. With documented procedures and learning materials working hand in hand, you've got a strong base for growth. And as your business scales, so can your processes.
Consider your culture
Your culture is part of what defines you. As your business begins to grow and you bring on new staff, there is a risk that what originally made your company stand out will be diluted rather than strengthened.
Organizational and cultural change is not a bad thing; you need to move with the times. But if you aren’t actively nurturing this change by encouraging the best bits of your culture and addressing any issues that arise, it can quickly get out of hand.
Knowing your culture and being able to communicate it externally not only gives you a point of difference in the market, but also helps your staff work more effectively. If your people know you have a culture of asking for help when required, they may be more likely to seek assistance rather than waste time or make mistakes. If you have a culture of transparency and honesty, problems may be brought to you before they become catastrophic. And when new staff or companies come on board, they have clear guidance on how to work and you have an effective standard to measure them against.
Take a holisitic approach
Disconnects between operations, sales, and marketing can be dire for your business. If sales is promising more than you can deliver, or your operations department can do more than what sales knows about, you get a recipe for unsustainable growth.
There are many ways to bridge this gap but having a deeply integrated system can help unite your company under shared goals and with shared information. The right technology gives you the information you need, when you need it, to help make the best decisions for your business. Integrating your system and processes will not only save you time and help reduce errors but can also allow your decision makers to better address problems and find ways to minimize your growing pains. This might allow your operations team to find new services they can offer to clients, or help your sales staff identify clients that can complement your existing service offering.
Building your growth on a strong base of reliable information, a clearly defined culture, and departments that work with each other instead of against each other, are all strategies that can help you effectively and successfully grow. And when these strategies are underpinned by an integrated technology solution, the ability to assess and accelerate this growth becomes much easier.
If you'd like to see a real-life example from one of our customers, see how CLEARFreight's culture and commitment to integration has enabled them to grow rapidly.