Common Goals Drive Actions
When I was Vice President of Creative Services at Conseco, we were always out of literature for key products. ( In the insurance business literature is all you have to sell, so these outages would cripple our sales team.)
Our back-order list was close to 300 different items and climbing. There had been numerous meetings on the subject, but very little action. So I stopped talking about procedures and policy and asked a simple question.
If our goal was a back order level of 100 what would we do?
The defined target gave a focus to our discussions. It was no longer a vague “get better” but a very specific goal, and every day we knew exactly how far we were from our target.
Set a Time Line
To add an incentive, I offered to take the print team to any restaurant in town if we reduced our back orders to 100 by September. 1. I agreed to take them to Applebees if we made it by October 1. Our destination would be McDonalds if it took until November 1 to reach our goal. The date gave us the sense of urgency we needed to keep this in the forefront of our discussions.
We kicked off every production meeting with a brief conversation about the back-order list and the ideas started flowing. We began to tag projects which were associated with back order items with red flags. Everyone, even teams supporting the print staff (editors, designers, writers), all knew if something with a red tag landed on their desk it was their first priority.
Slowly the numbers started to improve; 275, 245, 225 . Every morning when the back order report arrived I would post the results on the wall. We could see real time results of our actions. We identified the actions which made the most impact and made sure to focus on those items.
And the numbers continued to fall; 199, 175, 150 . We began to talk to the other department representatives who often had to approve the reprints about our red tag priorities and suddenly they gave these items top priority as well. We hand carried rush jobs across the 11 building campus instead of waiting for interoffice mail ( good thing it was summer).
Our printer knew these jobs were always first in line. Even if we paid a rush charge every now and then it was worth it to fill the back orders. Then our arch enemies, the inventory department, the people who believed we were solely to blame for the inventory mess called to find out what we were doing. They wanted to know what they could do to help. We asked them to run reports of items close to zero, so we could start the reprint process before we hit crisis level. And the numbers got lower; 140, 125, 109.
On September 1, we went to Lunch at Cafe Nora. When my boss saw the bill for the lunch she didn’t bat an eye, because no one ever believed we would be able to achieve this goal. No one but me! And the cool thing was that the back orders continued to fall. We still made little tweaks, but with a good system in place, we got ahead of the curve, and managing back orders became easier.
In February of the next year, the back order list was blank. For the first time since that report had been run, our back orders were zero.
There are several important lessons for small business owners in this story:
1) Define your goals, with a specific time line
2) If you are serious create and follow an action plan
3) Track your progress
4) Involve others, do not assume you can do it on your own. We would never have succeeded with out the support of the printer, inventory team, and other managers.
Now is a great time to define new goals, but don’t stop there! Build a plan, track your progress, and involve others if you want to succeed!