How to Begin Improving Your Small Business
Was 2012 a good year? Whether it was or wasn’t, it could always be better, right? Now is the time for improvement — not only for 2013, but beyond. So how do you do that? Where should you start to improve a small business? Whether you have 150 employees and several department heads, or five employees, each with their own responsibilities, the most immediate impact may be at the department level. Have each department head or employee examine their department as if looking from the outside in. Have them take ownership. If they owned their department, what would they change?

Below is a Department Improvement Survey with a downloadable pdf to share with your direct reports. Explain to them that now more than ever, when regulations, taxes, and the economy are almost unpredictable, it’s up to everyone to make their departments more efficient, and therefore, the company more successful and profitable. If they want to share in the profits through wage increases, bonuses, or benefits – it starts with them. Being more efficient doesn’t just mean cutting costs. It’s also revenue building. The bottom line is – what will improve the bottom line?

Department Improvement Survey (downloadable pdf)

Part I — Ideas For Improvement

What would you do or change in your department to improve?

Equipment — Not only now, but looking down the road, as well. What will you need? What is becoming outdated? What equipment, because of its inefficiency, costs jobs, revenue, or time? What equipment would make us more efficient, or give us opportunities we don’t currently have? What equipment do our competitors have, which we don’t and should?

Customer Experience — How can we improve the customer experience? What can be done in your department to avoid losing valuable clients? How can we be an easier company to work with for our customers?

Procedures — What procedures are missing that would make us more cost effective? What procedures or policies need improved? How would you change them? What would you do different?

Morale — How does morale affect production in your department? What changes could be made to improve morale? How can we find and keep the best long term productive employees?

Product — What products/materials cause redos, stoppages, or costly overruns? What materials should we look at to improve? What new materials should we consider and why?

Cost Cutting — What can be done in your department to cut costs?

Revenue Building — What can be done in your department to add revenue?

Part II — Department Evaluation

Rate your department from 1 = (great) to 5 = (needs immediate attention) on the following. The more honestly these questions are answered, the more opportunity management has to help you focus on improvement. Feel free to explain or clarify any answer.
• Overall efficiency
• Inventory, wastage, and material control
• Avoiding mistakes, which add additional expense to jobs
• Systems and procedures
• Time management
• In-house training
• Equipment
• Morale

Part III — Personnel

• Name employees you would identify as potential managers.
• Who on your team has skills we should use in other departments?
• What employees do you have difficulty managing, and how can we help you?

Part IV — Comments

What additional comments would you like to share?
*If you’d like to privately meet to discuss any of this, please contact management.

Follow-up

After giving your personnel a week or so to complete the survey, review them, and look for the following:
• Company-wide or multiple department trends
• Priority areas for improvement based on the biggest bottom line impact
• Personnel opportunities

It’s easy to take on too much, and it may be best to begin with one or two initiatives in each department. Delegate the responsibility to department heads, except where they need help and guidance. Set time limits to implement the changes and follow-up periodically. Now go make the future a little brighter for your small business.

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