Now, where do you prioritize?  Where do you focus Your efforts?

ParetoWhile this outline on assessing your business was linear, nothing in life – and certainly nothing in the challenging environment of business management – really is!  In actual practice, by the time you have made it through a review of all of your business functions, you will have suffered many interruptions to your planned assessments. You will have been unhappy with some of what you saw and rescheduled follow up meetings with better preparation. You may have even already kicked off an initiative or two because you could see clearly that you were headed for trouble unless you made a change!  And by the time you have gained good insight to each function, you will almost certainly have identified several areas that need the most immediate focus.

However, a few more words of caution.  I have seen that leaders who come from operations or manufacturing often want to first focus on operational excellence in these areas.  Similarly, those with sales backgrounds want to focus there.  Likewise for engineers.  As a General Manager, it is essential that you be focus on the areas that truly need the most improvement. Take a triage approach first and make more complete structural changes as you understand your business, your market and your customers better.  At this point, there are two possible mistaken reactions that General Managers tend to have, depending on their natures.  The first is to only focus on one major area or problem at a time.  While you do want to limit your personal focus to the top priorities, you have other leaders that you can delegate to and who should be able to follow your direction and make positive changes while your focus is more diffuse.  The second mistake is to try to change too many big things at once – things that are big enough that they require too much of your personal time and attention – so that you become the bottleneck in all of them.  Neither extreme is necessary.

While different businesses will have different issues and different levels of maturity and operational excellence across the various functions s- and therefore each need a unique approach – my general guidance is to look first to manufacturing: can you build a quality product? And then to sales: Do you know how to and can you sell the products that you have today?  After any immediate triage there, you can start the spiral outward to look at how to increase margins and share, or how to improve your products and services, or how to build in greater operational efficiency so that running the business is easier and so on!  In many turn-around situations each major function needs an overhaul, but some areas are operating sufficiently well to allow you to focus on just a few areas until you turn the corner.

In several of the turn-around operations that I have led, many areas of the sales force were weak and operations was weak, but the combination of poor product quality and the lack of clear messaging to customers was killing the company.  As a result, I focused on teaming engineering with operations to fix the quality problems, and worked personally with stronger elements of the sales force and marketing to build a solid message, collateral and selling approaches to help our sales teams and channels get moving and make a difference.  Once this was completed, I was able to establish objectives for improvements in each area and iteratively make those improvements.  Remember, it should be a disciplined and iterative process. It really cannot be done without reliance on best practices, data and a disciplined approach. Triage first.  Stability second.  And growth third.

As one of my own mentors once said, “General Management is the best job in the world.” When you get it right, it is great fun and very rewarding.  There can be no doubt that it is exciting.