The hardest thing to do in business: building an efficient organization (Part 5)
Process: getting the right things done right.
For the last few weeks, I’ve talked about the critical importance of “people” in organizational management. Today I want to talk about “process.” Every single day, I’m approached by people with great business ideas, and I also have my own fair share of new ideas. Sometimes I just love to sit in my study, or go for a walk, just thinking about a new business idea.
Let me share with you one of my best kept secrets: If I can’t get my mind around the PROCESS, I’m not going to do it!
I have to feel I have a deep understanding of how an organization will emerge to take this great idea forward. I can easily take 50% of my thinking time on this. Once I get my mind around the process, I can then focus on the right PEOPLE to make the right things happen.
Process and people are the backbone of the organization.
Now what I mean here by “process” is the series of actions you take in order to achieve an intended outcome or result. Within one business, several different processes usually take place – raising capital, strategic planning, recruiting and training staff, research, product development, product testing, marketing and so forth.
When I first started in business, I was still very young, and had worked for just a few years. Fortunately, my two employers had been a computer start-up, in Cambridge, England, and a state-owned enterprise (SOE) in my home country, Zimbabwe. In both organizations I’d made observations about how companies are set up and run.
I loved the start-up, which had only two owners. Decisions were made quickly and I got my chance to do all sorts of things, even though I only had a freshly-minted engineering degree! The SOE was the exact opposite: it had rigid organizational structures. There were many highly-skilled and qualified individuals, but decisions were slow.
Whilst I enjoyed the mission of the SOE, I knew I had to get back to the start-up environment. I nevertheless took away a critical understanding of how big organizations work, including their political culture.
If I’d been able to choose, I probably would have first joined a large international organization before I went off on my own. I certainly would have loved to get an understanding of “best practice” from an international organization like Coca-Cola or GE, both of whom I greatly admired. The opportunity was simply not available, so I did the next best thing… I bought books about them.
My favorite books were written by entrepreneurs, explaining how they set up these businesses. At weekends I’d just disappear into my own world of Sony, IBM, Coca-Cola — the great companies of my day. I didn’t just read, I devoured their material!
I wanted more, so I moved into the really academic work of people like Peter Drucker and W. Edwards Deming (Google them). I had all their books and articles.
In my own country, I’d constantly ask questions about the organizational structures of well-established companies. Information was always limited back then, not like now with the Internet!
As a young entrepreneur in Africa, it won’t always be possible for you to start your own business after a professional career in an established organization where you can learn all the ropes, and study processes.
# You still owe it to yourself to try and close the deficit in your understanding of what it takes to organize and build an effective business organization.
# You may not even be ready yet to have people working for you, with all those fancy titles and positions, but you still must have the intellectual curiosity to do your homework and understand what’s really happening!
If you don’t understand the processes that help you build and run an efficient organization — managed by capable, highly motivated professionals — you’ll struggle, wear yourself down, and probably end up bust, or worse.
Let’s get down to business, real business. We’re good managers, what about you?