10 Awesome Ways to Improve Small Business Performance

At some point, most small businesses hit a productivity dip beyond their control. Marco-economic forces, weather-related interruptions, supply chain issues, viruses…sometimes we just can’t catch a break! Whether your company is in Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, or Toronto, here are ten important but oft dismissed keys to increasing productivity. If you’re in the dip, choose one of these tactics. When the headwinds cease to blow, you’ll be ready to take full advantage.

1. Strategic Planning

Why yes, Bellrock does provide strategic planning facilitation services, thanks for asking! But you don’t need a facilitator to get an out-sized return on answering a strategic question. Here are some of our favourites:

  • If I handed you $1,000,000, how would you invest it in the business? (add zeros as appropriate).
  • Who is your “customer” (deceptively simple) and does everyone in the business define that word the same way? (other tricky words include: investor, product, service)
  • If your business disappeared tomorrow, who would miss you and why? How can you do more of / charge more for that?
  • Why do people work here? How can you amplify what they love to make it even better?
  • If there was just one thing the business could do differently that would make an impact, what would it be?

There are SO MANY questions to ponder. Consider keeping a list of strategic questions. Whether you have a monthly strategic meeting calendared (oh! Do that!) or just find yourself with a couple of uninterrupted hours on your hands, deep thinking about these issues should lead to insight and action.

2. Review Past Performance

Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And here you are in a productivity slump. It might be time to analyze what got you here:

  • Year-over-year and month-over-month financials. What story do they tell?
  • How many customers were acquired last period? What did that cost?
  • How many new products have been introduced? Were they successful?
  • How do we define success? (oops! Put that one into the Strategic Planning category)

Call me crazy, but Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  For the results that you wish were different, review what you did, and find something new to try instead.

3. Invest in Individual Goal Setting

There are many, many ways to approach this. One tried and tested tool is a “Wheel of Life”. Google it and you’ll find a bazillion of them. The wheel is a pie chart, and the slices of pie represent different areas of your life such as family, friends, professional development, finance, health, etc. You can cut your life pie however you want. The centre of the pie stands for zero and the crust is ten. Now rate how you are currently doing on that scale and develop some FAST goals to improve your score on one or two slices.

Or perhaps you want to invest in your employees’ goal setting. You could take that pie and divide it into relevant competencies for them to develop. Have them self-evaluate (on a scale of 1 – 10 how are you performing at X)? They’ll tell you they’re a 7 and then the real fun begins when you get to ask, “why didn’t you say 8? Why not 6? What would it take to be an 8? Is that a developmental goal we should target?” etc. etc. etc. Of course, a goal without a plan is just a dream. But a goal is a great start!

4. Solicit Customer Feedback

If your customers are generous enough to grant you their time, take them up on the offer. This is an agenda you could use if you’re sitting down with them.

5. Build the Recruitment Funnel

As Alec Baldwin likes to say, “Always be recruiting.” No, that’s not true, and Glengarry Glenross was a play before it was a movie. Regardless, you should always be looking for talent. Stay in touch with those A-players that left and the ones that you almost hired but they went to the competition. Consider your dream candidate for all the roles you have. Where are they?

Consider the way you usually recruit. Is there a different way to find the right people? Is there a different profession those people are currently in with transferable skills? One of our clients looks for people that are hard working and people smart. It turns out, people who work as servers in restaurants are both hard working and people smart. It also turns out that our client is pretty good at training people on the technical skills in their industry. It also turns out there are a few waiters that are looking to ditch the evening and weekend shifts. They aren’t afraid of the hard work to learn a new industry. Match made in heaven.

6. Create Professional Development Plans

This is a two-hour brainstorming meeting. Pull the team together and ask them what people need to learn in the first, second, and third period of development at your firm (this could be measured in months or years – it depends what you do). Now you have a list of all the skills they need to learn. A list can be converted into a grid. Have they been exposed to the concept? Have they completed it themselves? Are they competent? Can they teach others? Wait, whaaat? Now we have a skills matrix.

Humans like to keep score. Post that matrix somewhere so that individuals can track their progress. You don’t need to award competency badges like the Girl Guides, but it isn’t the worst idea.

7. Engage in Group Training

Again, we’re in a lull. Let’s learn something. If we learn it together, let’s talk about it afterwards to make the learning stick. Isn’t that why Teams channels were invented? Our clients often schedule brief meetings a day after Management Foundations classes to summarize what they’ve learned and develop action logs for what they will implement. Return on Time Invested? Exponential.

8. Summarize a Podcast

Asynchronous learning works too! One of our favourite clients circulates a weekly <20-minute podcast for everyone on the management team to review. They also have a few focus questions (e.g., What were your three key takeaways? What could we implement immediately? What made no sense to you?) to prime the discussion. What they don’t do is sit around and share some tea while they debate the merits. Not that it’s a bad idea. But for them, the company that learns the fastest wins and this is one step toward the podium.

9. Team Building

Got a little downtime? Maybe just hangout? There is something to be said for unstructured play, inside jokes, shared experiences, and bonding. Or maybe the unstructured bit is too much to bear. In that case, just go for lunch and try this team building exercise that we recently did with two different companies:

  • Where were you born?
  • Do you have siblings and where are you in the order?
  • What’s something formative you experienced as a child?

Both teams were composed mostly of people who’d known each other for 10+ years. Both teams were in the construction industry. Both teams had everyone in literal tears by the end of the exercise (one due to hilarity, the other sympathy).

10. Rest

Got a little downtime? Maybe just don’t work. Breaks do not take away from productivity, they are part of productivity. Get out of your head! Go for a hike. Travel. Do something you would never normally do. Get some sleep. Giggle. You only get one shot at this life – make it count. While well rested.

PS – In the shared histories exercise (point 9) both teams asked Tara to participate. While the birth location wasn’t overly interesting, when they learned she has no siblings, she had the experience of hearing from both groups simultaneously and in unison, “Oh! That explains everything!”

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Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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