Imagine eating a lot of food (or junk food) every day.  When you eat an unhealthy diet and do not exercise, the food you eat is stored as fat and over time, can affect your health and wellbeing. But if you throw away your unhealthy diet and start exercising and watching what you eat, you become better physically and mentally. It’s the same with running a business.  

Running a business is like a star athlete competing in a major competition. If you want to win, you have to train, watch your diet and be in the right mindset to beat your opponents. Likewise, if you want your business to succeed, you have to nurture it. Depending on which area needs the most focus you may have to invest in training or upskilling your people, employing new talents, developing strategies to guide business activities or improving processes to increase productivity. If you want your business to succeed you have to invest money, time and commitment. 

If you don’t give your business the attention and focus it needs to grow, your business will become unhealthy. Imagine your business as a small child. If you only feed him or her junk food, the child will become obese and unhealthy. Obesity can affect the child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Now take a look at your company.  Is it carrying too much unwanted fat? Maybe you have too many staff doing one job. Or you have invested in projects that have brought in no tangible results. Or you have a toxic culture of finger-pointing and name-calling? Or leaders who don’t lead? 

In this article, I would like to discuss lean, healthy organisations.  The type of organisation that runs smoothly and efficiently.  Successful businesses with an enviable organisational culture that attracts the best talent in town.  I am going to show how you can trim the fat off your organisation and transform the business from sluggish to active.

If you want to succeed, think lean

The concept of a lean organisation is similar to that of a top athlete.  Think of a lean, agile and flexible athlete.  To succeed, the athlete needs to be focused, determined and in the right frame of mind. He or she needs to stay fit, train hard to hone their skills and develop an attack strategy that can beat their competition.  Top athletes don’t get to where they are through sheer luck.  They are at the top of their game because they have plans that are expertly planned and precisely executed. 

That’s exactly the same for a business. Most people start a business to succeed. Your business is more likely to succeed if you train it the way a top athlete trains.  

Here are five ways to turn your business into a lean and mean money-generating machine.

1. Be flexible and adaptive

Successful businesses are not reactive.  They are proactive. They have the ability to respond to rapid (or sudden) change and to pivot themselves out of a disaster. How do they do it? They can do it because they have a superior understanding of the environment they are operating in and are keenly aware of all internal and external factors that impact this environment. They have plans in place they can execute immediately as well as the ability to plan quickly if needed. In short, they are prepared. 

2. Look at your culture

An organisation’s culture creates the right type of environment for a business to thrive. The role of organisational culture is to align the people with the vision, mission and values.  If cultivated properly, culture can become a catalyst to guide employee behaviour. Beyond vision and mission, organisational culture also shapes attitudes and behaviours. An organisation that has a healthy culture is one that is inclusive, supportive and adaptive. An unhealthy organisational culture on the other hand promotes silo mentalities, secrecy, fear and distrust. Why of the two cultures do you think is more likely to succeed?   

At the heart of culture is the leaders. The way a leader thinks and acts affect how the people around him or her behave.  A leader who is not interested in helping his or her people seldom succeed.  

3. Be customer-centric

Identify what your business wants to achieve and for whom.  A customer-focus vision means answering questions such as: What do my customers need? How can I provide it? Is what I have better than other options that are available to them? Don’t make the mistake of focusing on features before first identifying what the customer wants. 

Customers needs are constantly evolving. If you want to stay customer-centric, you may want to consider prioritising innovation and creativity as key strategies to help your company grow.  

3. Get smart. Be efficient. 

There is no wastage in lean organisations. Every input that goes into the business becomes an outcome that contributes to its growth and success.  Processes are clearly defined so the business activities can run smoothly. The company is supported by visionary leadership, empowered

s and a culture that is inclusive, engaging and supportive. Considerations are given to every phase of a product or service lifecycle and there are plans in place for every scenario. Just like the athlete training to win, organisations that want to succeed also do not take chances. 

4. Evaluate. Innovate. Improve. 

A top athlete very seldom rests on his or her laurels. They are constantly challenging themselves to be better than they were in their last win. Their training, diet and mental agility exercises do not stop when they are at the top. In some cases, these strict regimes intensify because the athlete wants to stay at the top not just get to the top.  

The same goes for a successful business. Complacency eventually slows you down. As a business strategist, clients hire my services to help their business. Many of the businesses that engage my services are successful ones. Some are industry leaders.  In most cases, I am received with open arms as the leaders and managers are keen to pick my brain. Sometimes, I face resistance. One of the most common resistance I face is a manager telling me on our first meeting: ’If it ain’t broken, why fix it?’

Well here’s why: Think Kodak, Polaroid, Toys R Us, Pan Am, General Motors, Tower Records, Blockbuster and others. They are just a few examples of big brands that have died because they kept the status quo.  It’s true – some things don’t necessitate replacement but if you keep putting off improvements,  you become complacent and eventually the rest of the world catches up and overtakes you.  If you wait too long, you become obsolete. That’s how a business dies. 

Business continuity is about continuous improvements whether it’s processes, people, products or place.  

How to avoid getting fat in business

The term ‘lean’ has a close association with Ford Motors. Henry Ford set up a very productive organisation beginning with raw materials and ending with the customer driving away in his or her car.  Ford was the first to apply lean concepts to his organisation including standardisation, waste reduction, and just-in-time production. Lean principles today are not limited to just the production line. It can extend to the entire organisation.  

Every business can learn to be lean, reduce waste and embrace agility if they are open to changing the way they do things.  Take for instance a company’s organisational chart.  An organisational structure that is cluttered with many people doing the same task and no clear reporting lines can lead to chaos, confusion and even, conflict.  Let’s say everyone in the team is working well and delivering outcomes. It may appear productive but a single outcome is delivered by many when it could have been done by one or a few. That’s not efficient. To avoid excessive resource wastage, companies can look at the business environment they are operating in and consider all the pros and cons. Understanding why you are doing well and what is impeding your growth, helps you produce strategies that are leaner, better, and more effective.    

Getting rid of the excessive ‘fat’ in your organisation is about evaluating whether your business is operating at its optimal efficiency.  Start by asking yourself: ‘Is my business operating in a way that is delivering the best results to get it to where I want it to be? If the answer is no, then you need to pause and take a closer look at what’s going on, where the wastage is and what else can you do to optimise your operations, improve your processes or support your people.  

It’s time to get rid of the ‘fat’ before it turns into a dead weight that will pull your business down. It’s time to get fit for success.  

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