Volume 10, Issue 4 - July/August 2008

Customer Service
tips for quality service

The Three-Step Test for Business Success
by Carl Tompkins

Having spent many years working with various businesses in an effort to help improve their success within a number of subjects, I’ve come to learn that the rate and level of such success is dependent upon the fulfillment of three steps. These steps pertain to all types and sizes of business spanning all industries. 

By understanding these three steps, you can test your organization’s ability to succeed when embarking on any future projects. Note that the test is pass or fail and that each step is tested and graded accordingly. Three passing grades must be achieved if projects are going to succeed.

Management’s Will
The first and most prevalent step is entitled “The will of management.” There are a lot of additional terms and phrases that fit well within the confines of this titled step. Examples are “commitment,” “dependability,” “stick-to-it-ness,” “never give up,” “no going back,” “making it happen,” “delivering results,” “the buck stops here,” “critical importance,” “do or die,” “accountability,” “reliability,” etc. When the targeted results within any project are not attained, and the company test is applied, this is the step that fails in grade well more than 70 percent of the time and, when this occurs, the remaining two steps have little to no chance of salvaging the situation. 

Under the old adage, “It all starts and stops at the top,” management always provides approval to undertake new projects. Once management’s decision is made, great speeches are delivered, announcements are made and new activities begin. The resulting problem is that nothing changes and the investments of money, time and employee trust are lost. 

When meeting with management to discuss the situation, what becomes apparent is that they have not done their part to support the project’s success. The most prevalent excuse, and my favorite is “I just haven’t had time,” or the equivalent, “I’ve been too busy.” The truth behind such responses is that the project just wasn’t that important to begin with or they would have prioritized the time to fulfill each of the terms falling within the realm of “the will of management.” It should be apparent that to achieve a passing grade, management must be involved continually, driving the process, following up and monitoring progress.

Business Environment
The second step of the test is one of the “business environment.” Championships are won through team effort and, using baseball as an example, even the best of players cannot win the World Series if they are not supplied with the proper field, bats, balls, gloves, helmets, uniforms, etc. While living and breathing daily commitment toward project success, management’s most valuable activity of participation is making sure that their employees have been provided the time, facilities, equipment, discussions, training and support in order to deliver winning results. The graders in this step are the employees, and effective management must ask the right questions to learn what grade they are achieving. If a failing grade is provided within any environmental condition, it must be fixed if the project is to succeed.

The Final Step
The final step of the test is called “Goals and activities.” This step provides companies with a means of designing projects that have the chance for success. If management is living the proper will and employees are working within the best possible environment, but the goals and activities designed within the project are either ridiculous or ineffective, the project fails. 

As a reminder, since I’ve written on the subject of effective goal setting in the past, the key is to design “S.M.A.R.T.” goals. The “S” represents the need for goals to be specific in design in order that everyone can read and come away with the same assessment of what the goal is about and what is to be achieved. The key here is to avoid the communication error of “bypassing” that simply means to avoid the use of words that can mean different things to different people. The letter “M” stands for making goals measurable. This is accomplished by making sure numerical values are incorporated. The “A” and “R” stand for making sure that goals are agreeable and realistic, respectively. These two letters go hand-in-hand in with the belief that that employees must feel that the goal is attainable, making it realistic. This greatly enhances the chances the goal will be viewed as being agreeable by the entire team. The last letter, “T,” is to make sure the goal has a beginning and ending date defining start and finish. Have your employees’ grade management on S.M.A.R.T goals in order to determine a passing grade.

There are specific steps that, when followed, offer the best use of time and resources. Keeping the S.M.A.R.T. goal in mind, start by defining the targeted outcome of the activity. Such an outcome need not pertain to the accomplishment of the goal but, instead, possibly a portion or component of it. Next, define who is to be involved and how that team of people is to proceed. Then move to defining the timing of the activity and where the activity will be completed. The final step, which is most critical, is to define what will be delivered to prove the activity is complete. 

The grading of activities is fulfilled by the completion of the activity worksheet that itemizes each of the subjects previously outlined.

A passing grade on each of these three steps is the required foundation for any positive change within any organization. It may appear to make good commonsense, yet this often is the source of striking out when it comes to business success. Employ the test in order to hit a homerun for your business! 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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