In 2001, Toyota introduced a philosophy called Lean Manufacturing. This new philosophy identified key principles the company could follow to eliminate waste on the production lines and foster a culture of continuous improvement.
You too can use these principles as a template to continuously improve your business.
1. Take the long view - Invest in tomorrow's profits today
In any business, large or small, it's important to reinvest your profit to improve your business over time. Whether it's an expansion to your facility, an upgrade to your computer systems, a major marketing campaign, purchasing new equipment, updating your premises, or increasing your inventory, it's critical to invest for the future.
But most importantly, be willing to invest in your employees. Your people are your most precious asset. Provide them with necessary training to help them thrive and perform their jobs most effectively.
Yes, it can be expensive. But it's great for your company and your customers. In the long run, it's great for tomorrow's profits.
2. Go and see
Does a customer have a problem that you don't quite understand? Is there a process that's not working and you need to find out why? Is there an employee that you might be able to help?
To get a better understanding, get out from behind your desk. Don't simply skim across a problem from a distance. Show your interest. Become familiar with the problem first-hand so that you can help get it solved.
3. Imagine you were your customer
Ultimately, no matter what your job title is, the customer is your boss. Everything you do must revolve around the CUSTOMER.
Look at your business through the eyes of your customers …
• What is their impression of your grounds?
• Are you treating them the way that you would want to be treated?
• Does your company make the business transaction easy from start to finish?
• Is your business responsive to customer needs?
• What do you think they would change about the way you do business?
After all, customers are the ones who pay the bills. So always look at your business from their perspective.
4. Empowered people produce powerful performance
Have you ever worked for a company where you weren't given any freedom to determine the best and most efficient way to perform your work? Have you ever worked for a boss who refused to listen to any of your ideas about how to take care of customers better, make the company stronger, or increase profits? Have you ever been micromanaged? It's frustrating, isn't it?
And, it's not effective. Good businesses realize that empowered people produce powerful results. People work best when they're given a certain amount of autonomy to do their job. Employees are more engaged when they are listened to about ways to improve customer service or the workplace. Whenever employees have influence over their job, the authority to make decisions, and the freedom to get things done, great things can happen!
5. Learn quickly from triumphs and from tragedies
As you pursue continuous improvement in your business, you'll quickly discover that some things work really well, and some things not so much. There will be both "triumphs" and "tragedies."
Whenever you experience a win, analyze what went well, document a process for it, and keep doing it. When you screw something up (and you will), learn from that too.
Whenever you catch someone doing something right, reinforce it. Learn from it. When mistakes happen (and they will), use it as a learning experience.
6. Share openly and borrow proudly
What works well in one type of business might also work great in a totally different kind of business. None of us alone has all the answers so when we share information with each other, everyone benefits.
Find ways to network. Share your ideas and borrow from others.
At TAG Truck Center, we bring together folks from all stores periodically for a "Best Practice" exchange. During these gatherings, everyone involved is able to share openly what's working for them and we are able to borrow proudly things that are working for others.
Napoleon Hill, in his book "Think and Grow Rich," refers to these best practice exchanges as Mastermind Groups. Exchanging ideas with each other is a great way to improve your business.
Charlie Nichols lives in Paducah and is general manager of TAG Truck Center in Calvert City. TAG is West Kentucky's full service Freightliner and Western Star heavy duty commercial truck dealership.