George: "Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable. I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a
party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I've made in my entire life has been
wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat - it's all been wrong."
Jerry: "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."
When considering business management, George and Jerry (ok… and Einstein, if you wish to include his inferior mind) are absolutely right. Working harder does not necessarily improve performance, especially when all of the assumptions are wrong. It can actually be even more disastrous. Here is an example (this anecdote sounds crazy, but I consulted on this case and, I swear, it is absolutely true).
The client, a manufacturing concern, was losing money hand over fist. It was not a slow leak, but a Titanic-sized rupture in the hull of the business and I was called in a last ditch attempt to right the ship. I reviewed product cost information (no financial statements existed, note: see a previous post on the value of financials) and very quickly realized that cost for the product was a least 40% higher than the product price. When I pointed this out, they stated that they had been working harder to get more product out the door to increase revenue. Yes, their strategy was to literally “make it up in volume.” In this case working harder was worse than having everyone in the business doing nothing other than sitting in EZ chairs drinking beer all day (not a terrible Saturday afternoon strategy, but it is seldom successful in a manufacturing environment). After I explained my (insert air quotes here) “brilliant” findings to them, I then then sprinted out the door to cash the check they gave me as soon as possible.
This is a perfect example of how working harder did not improve the situation at all. It only made it worse. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, take a breath and ask for help. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective on a problem is just the thing to improve performance. Talk to a banker, a business consultant, a friend or even another business owner to get their opinion. Slowing down, in many cases, is better than charging blindly forward. Taking the time to identify problems, set goals and work toward solutions, though not as glamorous as making a wild charge into the breach, is a great first step to improving business performance.
Work a little less hard. Not that there is anything wrong with that.