Traction: Get a grip on your business, by Gino Wickman
There is no one way to raise the perfect child. There is no one way to formulate a compelling strategy. There is no one way to solve your marketing problem. And there is no one way to build a successful business.
That said, resignation and deciding the course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a predetermined plan, is not a solution either. Neither is following your intuition, or the latest fad that catches your attention. Business is just too complicated for that.
The approach that author Gino Wickman writes about is based on having conducted over ten thousand sessions on business correction with clients. During these engagements he saw that only about 5% of entrepreneurs and business owners were satisfied with how their businesses were performing. They were making enough money, growing, solving problems well, and were able to have a life outside of their businesses.
For any committed businessperson to achieve this 5% status does not require that she have a single skill or set of skills; or he have a string of lucky breaks; but that they think about their business through six key components, Wickman explains.
A guide through chaos
Let me state upfront: I like structure and I favour structured thinking. But only as a guide to getting a grip on chaos. As such, a guide must be vague enough to allow for creative thinking, nuance and difference, and not be presumed to be a prescription.
Wickman’s model is such a guide and it is why I believe it deserves the attention of anyone serious about improving their small to medium size business.
Wickman has a six-part model – six components you need to get right to give you the best chance of sustainable success.
The first component is the "Visions Component". This is the common understanding of where you are headed. As I have asserted many times, a plan for where you are going and how you are going to get, there is a waste of intellectual power and time. It is a statement of the patently unattainable and untrue, because is it a description of a journey from a known present to an unknowable future. That is logically impossible.
Wickman’s Vision Component is only a vision – not the steps you have to take. It is an aspiration, so all staff are pointed in the right direction.
"The sun" he writes, "provides the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy, yet if you stand in it for an hour, the worst you will get is a little sunburn. On the other hand, a few watts of energy focused in one direction is all a laser beam needs to cut through diamonds."
Having a common aspiration is uniting and positive, but it must leave the manager’s consciousness and become a common understanding.
The second component is "Great People". Successful leaders must surround themselves with great people – there simply is no other way. A successful and sustainable business has the right people in the right places. A person could well be the right person, but the manager’s task is to see they are right for the team and the task. Remember: you don’t get what you expect, you get what you tolerate. Tolerating the wrong people is obviously no way to run a successful business.
To avoid the vagueness and subjectivity that pervades the performance of so many people in so many businesses, you must focus on the third component – the Data. Having clear numbers to guide performance and activity cuts through subjectivity. It also makes the management of people somewhat easier and correction and direction clear. Everyone needs a number or a few numbers. Calls are answered in three rings. You meet no less than 10 clients and potential clients a week: 5 new and 5 prospective. The numbers must be appropriate and their purpose clear.
This clarity of expectation leaves nowhere to hide and assists you, as the manager, to have a clear sense of how your business is performing.
This will inevitably lead you to the fourth key component – "Issues". Issues arise constantly. They could be a limitation on sales because you have a supply constraint, a decline in productivity because of absenteeism, and so on. Clearly identifying the issue is not enough. It has to be solved, not discussed and left dangling.
Clearly identifying issues in a formal way allows them to be addressed through analysis, debate and a decision on the way to deal with it. Clearly identifying the issues must be in writing so they don’t disappear from your attention until they are solved. Having a list of issues also allows you to deal with the important and urgent ones first. An issue register that is addressed on a regular basis allows for systematic attention to problems. It avoids the problem toleration that afflicts so many businesses.
The fifth key component is systemising your business. This applies to the core components that make up your business. If you know what needs to be done and how to do it, don’t allow that method of work to deteriorate, formulate it as a complete system. Only through systemization can a business be scalable.
This systemisation is not limited to a product or service, it is everywhere. On the management level, you deal with issues at your regular bi-weekly meeting. You adopt the method that has evolved into a powerful tool and repeat it every time you address an issue. You nurture and perfect the system perpetually.
The inevitable result of the attention to the first five key components is a better business. Better because it is more successful for you, your people, your customers and your suppliers. And best because repetition and constant improvement leads to the 6th key component: ‘Traction’. Traction is achieved once doing the right things is ‘just the way we do it around here’.
Traction has a rhythm to it. It has regular, appropriate meetings, to achieve specific ends, solve problems and monitor progress. These meetings correctly managed are a habit of successful work, not an interruption.
In Wickman’s experience the results are higher value of the company and greater satisfaction for you, the business owner.
If you are the business owner, this could well be your book for the year.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High -+--- Low
Practical High +---- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on strategy and implementation and is the author of ‘Strategy that Works’ and ‘The Executive Update.’ Views expressed are his own.