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May/June  2004

Customer Service
    tips for quality service

So, Who’s Steering Your Ship?
by Carl Tompkins

Come time ago I found an analogy that I believe fits well within our glass industry. That analogy is comparing any one of our glass-related businesses to a large sailing ship that is propelled through the use of large sails and multiple masts. Even if you have no sailing experience, you still could surmise that only a ship with properly trimmed sails, a well-organized deck and a captain directing the ship’s position from the helm is one that is going to reach its targeted destination in the shortest period of time. Needless to say, the trimmed sails and organized deck are the doings of a well-trained crew.

The reason I ask who’s steering your ship is because most business owners or managers claim to be at the helm. By job description and title, I would agree. But many times the action taken fails to back such words. No one is at the helm and, because of this, the ship is either spinning in circles, running off course, running too slow or has crashed onto the rocks.

So where is the captain? He is on the main deck trying to untangle the rigging while screaming for help. Why? Because he needs to fix the mistakes of his crew, fill in for those who are seasick or possibly better enjoy deck duty over steering.

Now let’s bring this back to the world of glass.

When I see business owners installing glass, running parts around town, setting up stock, taking the truck down for oil changes, making phone calls to collect delinquent customer payments, working the front desk, etc., I see people who are not managing their businesses properly and largely because their time is spent doing the job of a subordinate. There is no one at the helm of the business directing its path. The only thing that will save the ship is calm weather and favorable winds. This means that the success of the business is reliant upon outside sources beyond the captain’s control. If this resembles your situation, you need to take corrective action in order to get back to the helm.

Matters of Size
The first question to answer is, “How big is your ship?” This will determine how many masts are aboard that require management (i.e., proper trimming). Each mast represents a subject and duty of management. Such examples might be sales, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory/warehousing, installation, maintenance, etc. Next, identify how many sailors are on board the ship. Who are your employees, what are their backgrounds, what are their areas of expertise and what are their desires of accomplishment?

Tying these two subjects together, each mast must be assigned to a designated sailor for management. More than one mast can be assigned to a sailor depending upon the size and time requirements of each. It becomes that sailor’s duty to manage that mast exactly as the captain requires. Only when each mast is trimmed properly and managed by those assigned sailors does the captain have the time to be at the helm.

Full-Time Helmsman
Getting to the point of being a full-time helmsman takes time in itself. Yes, common sense tells us that the captain will need to jump down on the main deck on occasion, but only to the smallest degree if we are going to be serious about our best position of business contribution.

Schedule time to review your business management subjects. Under each subject, identify in writing the requirements of what must be done to manage it properly. This can become a job description. Then move to identifying who would fill each position best. If those chosen are agreeable to the task, you must then train them how to meet the objectives of that business management subject.Now, once trained to the written requirements, don’t strand the sailor and lose sight of his needed support. Meet with each of them once a month to discuss how things are going. Empower them to take charge, make decisions and be accountable. Provide recognition for those things done well and then, as a team, identify areas of possible improvement. As captain, this is your most important task and one that will best prevent catastrophes. Make sure your meetings are held off-site and privately. Your mandate from each time together (lunch, coffee or just a soda) is to come away knowing what you can do better to support their efforts, recognizing their accomplishments and leaving them with a strong vote of confidence. If they have people reporting to them, they then are to conduct the same monthly meetings with their direct reports.

A Good Captain
Finally, be a captain that your crew will be proud to serve. As the crew looks back and up to the rear helm of the ship, especially during stormy weather, they need to see their captain at the wheel. This creates an example to follow that overcomes any wave that may try to sweep them overboard. 

You, as captain (manager/owner) need to be at the helm, which is always at the highest viewpoint of the vessel, in order to see what lies ahead. This creates the means to steer the straightest path toward success by avoiding problems before they occur. 

If you’re reacting to problems (i.e., fixing them after the fact), you’re back on the main deck again and in the wrong position. Instead, you should be mapping out where you want your ship positioned in the next three months, by year’s end and in five years. Your thoughts and actions need to be centered on creating greater operational efficiencies, adding capital, growing revenue and increasing both gross and net profits.

The Test:
How to Judge Your Own Ship

Now that you’ve read a little about this analogy of a ship compared to an auto glass business, take the following test to see who is steering your ship.

1. Have you identified your subjects of management?
2. Is each subject of management covered by a written record of requirements and objectives?
3. Have you assessed your crew and assigned the appropriate subjects of management through provision of written requirements and objectives?
4. Has each crew been educated in how to meet each job requirement and objective?
5. Have you had your monthly meeting with each direct report crewmember to review their progress and made sure they’ve conducted their meetings with their direct reporting personnel?
6. Is at least five hours of each business day spent at the helm?

If you answered yes to questions 1 and 2: you have a good foundation of subjects requiring management and have converted such subjects into job descriptions. These two sets of tools are critical, but offer no reward at this point because none have been assigned for completion. 

If you answered yes to questions 1, 2 and 3: You’ve achieved what has been stated previously with the additional benefit of demonstrating your ability to delegate. You’ve relieved yourself of needless workload, creating more time to manage the future of the business. The risk is that it is up to the crew in how best to accomplish their job requirements and objectives. They may choose a different means than you would like, because they lack your specific training and education. 

If you answered yes to questions 1, 2, 3 and 4: You’ve achieved the positive rewards of numbers one through three and now have added specific training and education in how each crew member is to achieve his goals and job requirements. This creates the added benefit of business efficiencies that best fit your style, size and way of doing business that reduces the costs of mistakes and lack of productivity. What is lacking is the management fuel of recognition to sustain the crew’s productivity for any length of time. 

If you answered yes to questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5: you are in a great position. Your entire operation is running under a long-term management philosophy and procedure that will maximize productivity and operational efficiencies. With what the market provides, you’re capitalizing on such opportunity at the highest reasonable rate possible. The only thing lacking is future development, long-range planning and best-of-business growth plans. 

If you answered yes to all six questions: You’re able to achieve the best of both worlds: an operation run in the most efficient and effective means possible and the long-term positioning of your company for future growth and development. Operations control costs while growth and development increases revenue. Added together, the highest rate of retained earnings and profit are secured.


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