Steven Mugglestone

The more I learn, the less I know

Posts Tagged ‘business improvement

Our Lessons in Change and Improvement:

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All organisations realise that change is inevitable to achieve continued improvements. Change and improvement is an on-going process and part and parcel of the life and success of a business. Sometimes, however, in order for the business or organisation to achieve the aims and ambitions that they set out with, change has to be a bit more urgent and radical.

Sometimes also an SME has to face radical change to help the owner build the business and achieve a successful exit. Most corporate finance advisers agree that to maximise the value of a business, the owner should be able to walk away from that business and it should be able to operate successfully by itself, without their input. This can be radical change for an entrepreneur who can be typically driven and controlling. How can you ensure that the required change and improvements are implemented successfully and this is sustained without the owner/manager reverting to “doing everything themselves”.

Here are some of the areas that from experience we believe can be the key to the success of change and improvement:

• Love your employees
• Building capacity
• Connect peers with purpose
• Learning is the work, consistency and innovation
• Transparency and openness
• System learn (and improve)

Love your employees

Focus has to be given to your employees. The key is both bringing them into the development of the organisation and ensuring continuous learning and development. Appraisal systems, development programmes, sharing information and regular staff consultation is not just for large organisations. It is the key to ensuring that your employees are part of the journey of the business and an integral part of the team and this will help to ensure successful change and improvement continues.

Building capacity

Automation and documented practices are the order of the day, but people are the real key to building capacity and the ability of the business to achieve and produce more. To successfully build capacity for your organisation it will mean looking at competencies, resources and motivation. To use an analogy getting the right people on the bus; getting the wrong people off the bus; getting the right people in the right seats; ensuring that all are motivated (and remunerated, seeing that they are sharing in the success of the business) to achieve and ensuring that the bus is in good working order.

The other key to building capacity is a documented system/process. Without the need to go into details, successful organisations such as McDonalds can look to ensuring that a new restaurant franchise is successful in opening and continued operations as the systems and processes are well established and documented, ready to be used and adopted as and when required.

Connect Peers with Purpose

Your staff can learn from you and each other (which can also mean carrying on doing the same thing in the same way over and over again, as that has it has always been done). Staff, generally want to learn and improve and a key way to achieve this, is to share good practice with others.

Purposeful interaction works effectively under three conditions:
• When the values of the organisation and those of the individuals and group gel and mesh
• When information and knowledge about effective practices are widely and openly shared
• When monitoring systems are in place to detect and address ineffective actions, whilst reinforcing and consolidating effective practices

How can a small business achieve this (without fear of losing staff). One suggestion is that your accountant will act for a number of businesses. They can either help directly, perhaps look at having one of their own staff help one of yours directly to share good practice and ideas. They could even introduce you to another client with similar aims and look to their own staff to start to share good practice (under an appropriate agreement).

Learning is the work – consistency and innovation

Looking at the success of such organisations as Honda, the single greatest difference with them and other organisations is the depth of understanding of their employees regarding their work.

The essence of Honda’s approach to improving performance consists of three components:
• Identifying critical knowledge
• Transferring knowledge using job instruction
• Verifying learning and success

The key to all of this is relentless consistency so that everyone fully understands their work, helps to train others and all are continuously appraised.

Transparency and openness

On-going data and access to seeing effective practices is vital for success. Employees need to understand the road that they are on and be given information which shows that the business is on that road, or if not how the business is getting back on it. Information sharing is key, it does not mean everything, but key performance indicators should be identified, agreed, shared and monitored.

Another key area of transparency is to consider a 360 degree appraisal system, where the directors/owners of the business are open to appraisal, review and recommendations by their staff. This can be scary for some, but has proved to be effective for all and many large and successful organisations now use a 360 appraisal system.

Systems Learn

Continuous development and learning depends on developing all of the staff, all of the time. The fact that organisations such as Honda and Toyota can succeed over decades and that these companies show no leadership effects or changes from succession and continuity is because of a robust set of inter-related management practices and philosophies that provide advantage above and beyond the ideas or inspirations of a single individual.

Once a system and process is agreed, it should be documented. Improvements to the system can be addressed and documented accordingly. The key efficiencies gained from this are:
• Staff understand what is expected and have guidance for work
• The systems will continue to reflect the best possible practice available
• Staff will be supported by the process and knowledge
• Staff changes and new staff can be accommodated efficiently



How to maximise the value of your business, the good, the bad and the downright ugly:

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Selling a business is a long and difficult process and it is not something that many business owners do time and time again.  It is, therefore important to get things right and treat the sale of a business as one of the most important decisions that a business owner can make.  In today’s market of ever-increasing complexity and competition, there are many hurdles upon which the deal may fall. Getting the business ready for sale, systemised, streamlined and attractive beforehand is essential.  Whilst this blog is about that, the points raised are also central to improving a business now and for the future, irrespective of a future sale.

Here are some tips, therefore for avoiding potential threats to your sale, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

1)      The Good: effective reward plan
People almost always will represent a significant proportion of the value of the business.  Your team, therefore, needs to be encouraged, inspired and on board.  You need to have smart reward strategies in order to make sure that they are tied in and have a stake in maximising the value of the business. It is also important to get all staff pulling in same direction so it is worth reviewing your reward strategies or incentive and retention plans. This can be a sound strategy since a future purchaser would be effectively paying the cost of the incentivisation. It goes without saying that this needs to concentrate on retaining key people and developing the rising stars, who are the future of the business’ success.

The bad: lack of internal support for the deal
Morale often decreases with uncertainty about the future of a business, poor morale and suspicion about future plans may cause high staff turnover and low morale, which in turn does not look attractive to potential purchasers.

The ugly: downright negativity
Negative morale, negative attitude and a team who do not understand or care about the current and future direction of the business will always show themselves, if they are there, to anyone carrying out a review of the business.  Many business reviews will carry out commercial due diligence, speaking to the current and sometime ex-staff.  Skeletons in closets, bad practices and bad attitudes will soon come to the fore and any potential deal will be scuppered.

2)  The good: an action plan
This really helps you and any potential buyers see your focus, so build a clear set of strategic goals and fully identify your critical success factors. Formulate an action plan and put in place robust delivery processes to make sure the company is performing at its best for yourself and future potential buyers.

The bad: lack of clear focus
Any buyer will be looking for a business that has a clear strategy in place for the future; and one that has been able to improve the business performance into a competitive advantage within the market. A buyer will be looking at whether a business has got a clear focus.

The ugly: day to day planning and the business owner working in and not on the business
It is said over and over again.  Work on your business and not in it.  Any business that requires the owner to drive the sales, negotiate the supplies, control the cash and make the tea on a daily basis will not be an attractive proposition to any potential buyer.  It is neither a system to improve your business if you are not selling.  You need to sort it out and get a plan.

3) The good: a well thought out succession plan
The same as having a clear strategic plan will mean that the business owner will begin handing over responsibility to others to show potential buyers that knowledge will remain. The maximum value of a business will be reached when the business owner can work out the door and not return, safe in the knowledge that the business will continue successfully without them.  It is important, therefore to build a competent level of management early on and ensure that there are no weak links in the key strategic positions. To aid this, you should carry out a full due diligence assessment on all management and staff to show the levels of capability in the business

The bad: all the relationships in one basket
For many businesses, the outgoing owner will be totally linked to its past successes, in many cases having built it up from scratch, winning contracts and managing strategy and performance. Relationships with customers and suppliers needs to be handed over.

The ugly: there is no standalone business
At the extreme, there is not really a standalone business as the owner is key to every relationship.  If the fall ill, the business will struggle, if they leave, the business will fail.

4) The good: commercial due diligence
Carry out commercial due diligence test, a test of business areas, not just financial, such as environmental, health and safety issues and team reviews. When preparing for due diligence, attempt to identify the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) which the potential purchaser will use to value the business during due diligence. For issues that arise after a potential buyer is interested, it may be helpful for them to see a timetable of when corrective actions will be implemented.

The bad: untested business processes
If you leave it too late to run a business health check on your procedures this may leave buyers feeling there is not enough time to make the necessary improvements around any serious issues raised by the buyer to negotiate a reduced price.

The ugly: unknown and weak business processes
If improvements are needed, the business is either not operating as efficiently as it could be or it could be facing serious risk issues.  Uncovered by third parties may mean fines, prosecution and a serious dent to the reputation of the business, which may prove disastrous.

5) The good: a well structure tax plan
Always talk to a tax adviser and this is even more important if you are considering selling your business as they can help you navigate the sale process, make sure you can take advantage of any planning and advise on the best time to sell.  They will be able to help you understand what you ultimately realised from the deal.

The bad: lack of tax planning
It is not all about the buyers, sometimes the seller can cause a deal to fail.  Sometimes a lack of planning with the sale at this time will trigger a potentially huge tax bill for the buyer and they will not go ahead.

The ugly: It’s too late
Deal done, but you find out that stamp duty, VAT, income tax on bonuses, valuation, redundancies etc, etc, etc were not considered and calculated before-hand.  Too late and a big tax bill looms.

Many of the points above are as relevant to a business who are not selling in the near as to those that are.  The advice is about how to improve the value of your business, now and in the future.  The key to all business success and in particular in safely negotiating the difficult path of a sale lies in acting early and responding to any issues quickly. As experienced business professionals, finance directors and accountants, we have helped many business owners improve their businesses now and at the time of sale and we look forward to helping many more and sharing our experiences and knowledge with them.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
Finance Director Services

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Written by Steven Mugglestone

September 26, 2012 at 10:58 am