March 30, 2010

Does your process/workflow match your strategy for success?

Last fall, I stopped by a local sandwich shop and got in line to order some lunch. I had always admired this shop because of their smooth flowing process. They were able to move people in and out quickly. Even at high noon, in the heat of the lunch hour, they were able to keep the lines moving. This day, however, was different. The normally fast moving line was moving very slowly. I tried to see what was different. They appeared to have the regular staff behind the counter. It seemed like everything was stocked. And it didn’t sound like any one person was placing a particularly large order.

And then I heard one of the employees ask: “Would you like your sandwich toasted?” Toasted? This place had never offered toasted sandwiches before. I remembered that a new company had been saturating the market, with their ads about their own toasted sandwiches. It seemed like this shop was responding to the competition. On the surface a good thing to do. Check out your competition, note what they are doing, come up with a response, and implement. They had responded, and the initial feedback seemed positive.

Over the next few weeks, I stopped by the shop several times. Each time I noticed the same thing. Prior to the changes, the lines moved quickly, now they seemed to take forever. Before, customers were friendly and bantering with the employees, now they openly complained and stated they might have to find a new place for lunch. They came here because of the speedy service, and if that was no longer available, it might be time to look elsewhere.

I thought about what I had observed and wondered what business issues I might uncover. Here is what I concluded.

The leadership team had come up with a vision and a set of strategies that allowed them to attain their vision. They had researched their market, uncovered some opportunities for success, and designed both processes an workflows to help them along the way. They executed their strategies flawlessly.

Then a competitor came into their market, observed them, and implemented an alternative approach to business. In response, our little shop altered their own approach to match the competitor. What they failed to do was recognize two key elements of their own success.

First, their approach was working. They had done their market research, built up a clientele, and established their competitive differentiator in the market, speedy service. This change ignored their current success.

Second: They had designed their processes and workflow around their competitive differentiator, speedy service. They had even set up their physical plant to match. Once they made the decision to add toasting, and a toaster, into their business, they needed to rethink their process and workflow before they implemented the change. They didn’t.

In the process of ignoring these items, they turned what had been a successful business into just another sandwich shop.

Do your processes and workflows match your strategies for success?

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