Want Your Business to Run More Smoothly? Processes Are the Answer

Early in the morning of September 7, 2019 the Golden Ray, a massive car transport ship – 2 football fields long and 17 stories tall, departed the Port of Brunswick, Georgia. The Golden Ray was on a journey to deliver over 4,200 trucks and cars to the Middle East. Before departing Brunswick 285 Hyundai Accents and Kia Fortes were unloaded from two decks and 335 Kia Tellurides were loaded onto three decks. The additional cars added 411 tons of weight.

The morning was mild and waters were calm. At 12:45 am the harbor pilot guided the Golden Ray out into the channel. At one point the narrow shipping channel bends to the right, but when the harbor pilot tried to turn the floating parking lot, the ship didn’t turn. He continued attempting to turn, but suddenly the Golden Ray turn over on its side.

The ship couldn’t be refloated, so crews had to slowly cut the ship into huge sections, which were loaded onto tug boats and floated to a recycling site. Work continues two years after the accident and claims are expected to top $400 million.

Four hundred years earlier on August 10 1628 the world’s most powerful naval ship was launched from Stockholm with the intention of instilling fear in Sweden's enemies. The Vasa weighed 1210 tons, stood 172 feet tall, had two decks of canons, and was 226 feet long... a massive ship. On the glorious day of its maiden voyage two blasts of wind caused the Vasa keel over and sink only 1,400 yards into its maiden voyage. Fortunately, the ship sunk in brackish water so it was remarkably well preserved.

The ship was designed and built under the leadership of Henrik Hybertsson, a Dutch master shipbuilder of 20 years. Prior to the Vasa, a naval vessel with two decks of cannon had never been built, so Henrik was improvising as best he could.

What do these incidents have in common? It appears that in both cases processes either were not in place, or they weren’t followed. For example, in building the Vasa some ship builders used the Swedish ruler (12 inches to the foot) and others used the Dutch (11 inches to the foot) so the ship wasn’t symmetrical. In loading the Golden Ray, they overlooked the weight distribution and loaded heavier vehicles higher in the ship…it was top-heavy.

The Vasa was the first naval ship built with two decks of cannons, yet Henrik Hybertson never tested a smaller version to assess it’s sea worthiness. Apparently he assumed if ships with single gun decks could float then certainly a ship loaded with two decks of cannons would as well. Terrible assumption. Or perhaps the King of Sweden didn’t allow him time to build a prototype.-

Additionally, in both cases the ships had reduced their ballast, making it easier for the ship to tip-over. The Golden Ray had discharged 1645 tons of ballast water prior to its journey.

What lessons can be learned in running your business from these incidents? 

Lesson 1: Successful business owners don’t overlook the fundamentals by assuming things are good. You may think that something like this could never happen to your business, but I caution you that taking your eye off the fundamentals can be costly for any business. It’s often the little things that cause the biggest problems.

What assumptions are you making?  Are you assuming that your customers are happy? This can be a dangerous assumption. Ask your customers; gain certainty.

Are you assuming that your employees are happy and love working for you? Perhaps that’s the case, but how much time do you spend with them understanding their career goals? Or, actively working to help them achieve what they want? How much decision making have your appropriately delegated? Do you deal with employee issues when first made aware of them? Or, do you assume that things will get better?

Are you assuming that marketing doesn’t work because your phone isn’t ringing enough? Have you looked into the fundamentals? For example,

  • Are you marketing to the right target markets?
  • Have you identified what makes you different from your competitors?
  • Does your messaging resonate with your target audience?
  • Have you checked your competitors’ websites to understand what they’re offering? What they’re saying?

You have to know and address the fundamentals of your business to be sure it’s running smoothly and effectively. If you don’t, be sure the lifeboats are readily accessible.

Lesson 2: Highly successful businesses are able to navigate even stormy waters, because the owner has installed processes through all aspects of the business that are routine. A process establishes the one way a task is to be performed. I tell owners that processes need to be installed in all areas of their business where operations are routine. Non-routine tasks need to be left to the discretion of the employee(s). It doesn’t matter if it’s Tuesday, or rainy, or you’re busy, there should be only one way to perform a specific task.

Processes exist to increase efficiently and operational excellence. Here are some areas I work with business owners in developing and installing into their businesses.

  • Sales process – from when the lead is received until the decision is made there’s a single step-by-step process
  • Performance evaluation – who’s involved, how often, what’s the objective(s)…
  • Collecting past dues – what happens and when, no exceptions
  • Scheduling process – single process to reduce the possibility of scheduling mistakes
  • Customer service – how your people must respond to inquiring customers/prospects
  • Internal communications – how often meetings held, how long, who participates
  • How to answer the phone – how quickly phone answered, how to answer, the on-hold policy
  • Invoicing process – what are the terms, when are invoices issued
  • Ordering materials – ordered as needed or on a specific day, how are they ordered, what approvals are needed
  • Payroll – how do employees get paid – who prepares payroll, does someone review
  • Accounts receivable – how often are your receivables reviewed, by whom, action steps

 These are a few of the areas of a business where processes are needed. I find that all too often owners are so focused IN the business they’re not thinking about processes and where they should be installed. As a result the owner leaves how the business is run up to the operators…Tom does it this way, but Lisa does the same task a different way, and the new employee has no idea. Had there been a process that had been followed when loading the Golden Ray it may not of tipped-over.

Presumably owners think their busy-ness is more important than the details of basics. The fundamentals aren’t fancy and many owners who have been running their businesses for years may think that their knowledge and skill level is well past the basics. But one of the greatest football coaches of all time would tell them differently.

In 1961 36 members of the Green Bay Packers football team began training camp looking to take out their anger for losing the NFL Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagle the prior year. Vince Lombardi, hall of fame coach, called the players over to him and held up a football and said “Gentlemen, this is a football.” The point being that he was going to demand that his players start at the beginning and focus on the fundamentals of the game. Not surprisingly, the Packers finished the 1961 season 11-3 and won the NFL Championship. They FOCUSED ON THE FUNDAMENTALS.

Final Word:  Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of your business. Take the time to examine all phases of your business and install processes so that it’s impossible to incorrectly load your ship.

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