Small changes win big results in business improvement

Nigel Collin | Author & Founder | Game of Inches

A while back when working in New Zealand I noticed a billboard saying ‘by the time you finish reading this the world will have changed’. I like that because it’s true. The world is changing and so, no matter how successful a franchise business might be it still needs to constantly be seeking ways to improve.

Business improvement shouldn’t be an option; it needs to be an everyday process on every level of a business.

The challenge though is two-fold.

Firstly, that there is a myth in the world that to grow and be successful you need to come up with the next big innovation or quantum leap. That to outpace your competition and increase profits you need to reinvent your system and what it is you do. That business improvement equates to big explosive innovations. That’s not actually true.

Business improvement is a ‘Game of Inches’, where small changes make big happen. It’s having a constant hankering for implementing everyday innovation and improvement. It’s about consistently finding ways to improve everything you do and having a process to do it every day.

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity of interviewing over eighty successful business entrepreneurs and leaders from many different industries, and this obsession for constant improvement appears again and again. It’s a common trait of successful businesses and so shifting your mindset from seeing business improvement as singular, big changes to one of everyday, small changes you open the door to a myriad of improvements and opportunities for growth.

The other challenge is enabling your team and franchisees to take ownership of constant improvement on a daily basis as well. Let’s face it most people in your business are simply trying to keep up with their own workload and their own tasks on a day-to-day basis that they simply don’t have the time or inclination to focus on finding innovative ways to do things better. And yet it is our people, those who are on the front line serving franchisees, suppliers, partners and stakeholders who are in the best position to see where improvements could be made and how they could be made.

What if then, you encourage your people to find ways of improving just their part of the business, no matter how big or how small that improvement may be? Imagine the difference that would make to the business as a whole. You’re not asking them to change the system or recreate the process, you’re just asking them to improve how it’s how done and how it’s delivered.

This requires you to give people permission to seek ways that improve their world and more importantly act on those ideas. If they don’t feel they have your permission to do so, they won’t. It also requires that you have a process in place that is easy and accessible for everyone to follow and tap into. Interestingly in a survey we conducted, 95 per cent of participants from a range of businesses and industries said they actively sought to improve their business and profit, and yet almost half of them (46 per cent) admitted to not having a process in place to do so.

One of the things that stands out from interviewing many successful people and businesses is that patterns appear in what they do and as a result there is a definite process they follow to consistently improve their businesses. There are four key actions involved:

1 Find the gap:

The challenge for many franchises in regards to improvement is that they become idea hunters instead of gap hunters. Gaps are problems or areas in your market or business that if addressed or improved create viable outcomes and move your business forward. I’m all for innovative ideas, but if an idea doesn’t solve a problem or exploit an opportunity then it’s not a useful, relevant or viable one. The world is full of ideas that don’t solve problems or exploit opportunities, so focus on finding gaps within your business and your market and then find the ideas to address those gaps. Which is why enabling your people to find ways of improving their part of the business is so important.

2 Take Action:

The business world is full of ideas that are never implemented so taking action is vital. Which is why finding gaps is so important because it keeps ideas purposeful. If you don’t allow people to act on their ideas nothing will ever get done. By focusing on making small changes and small improvements if those changes and improvements don’t work then they don’t work on a small scale. Which of course brings up another very important point, we learn from mistakes and the truth is if you are not making mistakes you are not doing anything. The good news is that, in many ways, the ‘Game of Inches’ mitigates risk because it’s not about reinventing the entire system at once.

3 Test and Measure:

The previous step of taking action raises the question of how will you know if the action you have taken is working? The answer lies in testing everything every step of the way. You need to set in place expectations or benchmarks of what you think or know the outcome should be. You need to be able to measure if an improvement is or isn’t working. Not just when it’s completed but for every step of the way.

4 Delete or Improve:

Let’s be honest, if the improvement you put in place isn’t measuring up or isn’t doing what you expected it to, you need to let it go and find another one. You need to brave enough to kill an idea if it isn’t delivering. And if your improvement isn’t working then you need to improve it and make it better otherwise complacency sets in.

Business improvement is not a once off event. It is a ‘Game of Inches’ where you move ahead, systemically every day. It’s giving yourself and your team permission to find gaps, take action, measure if things are working and then either deleting the idea or improving. It’s a consistent process and one that needs to be achievable for everyone on every level of your business.

Nigel Collin is an author, professional speaker, and founder of Game of Inches, specialising in a process for sustainable business growth by making small consistent changes.

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