How to Dramatically Increase Business Performance in Three Simple Steps

A key common denominator across all businesses, irrespective of sector, size or location, is the need to raise performance. Performance in sales, production of widgets, debts managed, customers satisfied…the list goes on. So if raising performance is business critical to all organisations, why is it that so many of them are so bad at making it happen?

Numerous textbooks, hypotheses and research projects exist to specifically address this very issue. Yet no matter which different angle you take, it really does boil down to just three very simple objectives. Any organisation that recognises and acts upon these objectives, consistently, should succeed.


Objective 1: Give everyone a chance to be a hero


give everyone a chance to be a hero

How many of us, at some stage of our lives, has imagined being a hero? A childhood super-hero that can fly, climb buildings and possess incredible strength? Or perhaps a grown-up hero that pulls people out of a burning building? The reality is that most of us never get the chance to realise our hero dream in such dramatic fashion. Yet every business owner and manager has the opportunity to tap into that basic human desire every day. It also happens to be my first objective to maximising performance.

When I was running my mail order clothing business (Moose) I would set sales targets for the year. We would send out all of our catalogues, do various promotions and hope it all came together to hit this annual sales target. Of course it didn’t! The reason it didn’t is because the end goal was too far away.

At one particular stage I had recruited a talented young guy called Owen. I knew we were in a cash flow hole and one evening I calculated what we needed to do to get out of it. Basically it boiled down to bringing in £1,000 of net sales each day. The next morning, instead of giving Owen the usual list of tasks that needed addressing, I gave him just one: bring in £1,000 worth of sales that day and each day for the rest of the week. Nothing else was important. I told him to take a cup of coffee into the back room and spend 15 minutes planning how to achieve it. Key point: Empower them to figure out the solution!

Something remarkable happened that week and over the weeks that followed. Sales increased sharply and were consistently around the £1,000 per day level. By focusing all of his attention on that one overarching mission, Owen became remarkably efficient. He was also a hero. Perhaps not the hero he had always dreamt of being, but a hero none the less with an opportunity of being a hero again tomorrow. Key point: Give people a reason to want to come to work!

I see this lack of focus in other organisations all of the time. I often fall into the trap myself. It is so easy to do because we allow people within our organisations to side-track us from what really matters. Time-stealers. Emails, meetings and people popping their head around the door are just three examples that reduce our efficiency. They are effectively the villains, sapping our super-hero strength. If we collectively eliminated time-stealing from our culture, performance would increase dramatically.


Objective 2: Find everyone’s carrot


The £1,000 per day sales goal for Owen would not have been possible if he wasn’t fully motivated to do it. I was fortunate in that he was a dynamic and intelligent guy. He was also bought into the vision of what I was trying to do with the company. So it was easy for me to get him up for the prospect of being a work hero.

Other employers will not be so fortunate to have an Owen. Many people just turn up in the morning with the single objective of getting through the day as quickly as possible and escaping. Employers will have to work far harder at finding a way to motivate these kinds of people.

I suspect many feel like this because they see their job as mundane and boring. Perhaps they don’t see the value they bring. I recently read or heard an anecdote about a guy who was cleaning the floors at NASA, at a time before the first moon landing. John F Kennedy, the US President at the time, was visiting the Space Centre and asked him what he was doing. He replied – “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, Mr President”.

reward people for raising performance to suit their needs

As much as everyone likes the idea of being a super-hero, for many the attraction is the reward it brings. The second objective for raising performance is identifying everyone’s reward mechanism. Just like the janitor at NASA, many will feel rewarded simply by being aware of their importance to the organisation. Being given an opportunity to play a part in something special is often the greatest motivation they need. For others, it might be a more basic physiological need, as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

So finding everyone’s carrot is really about understanding what makes your staff tick. What can you do for them that will help them do something for you – improve performance? Without this second objective, objective one cannot be sustained. Key point: Raising performance is a continuous evolution. Every organisation can always get better.


Objective 3: Get all the cogs aligned


how to raise performance across an organisation

Objectives 1 and 2 are great on an individual level. But to raise performance across an entire organisation you will have lots of people that need to do lots of things to the maximum of their ability. If you are going to succeed as an organisation, it is absolutely imperative that everyone is working together in sync.

This means you will need to develop a strategic approach. My over-arching strategy with Moose was to solve the cash-flow problem. By getting Owen to focus 100% on £1,000 per day, my energy was directed to all of the things needed in other areas. So £1,000 of sales per day was one critical aspect of a wider solution.

All of the heroes across different areas of the organisation need to be part of a wider plan. If you have a sales team that increase orders by 20%, you will need the operational people focused on a 20% improvement to ensure those orders get turned around without detriment to customer satisfaction. An additional 20% of orders will place other stresses on the business. Are the heroes in those areas aligned to the strategy to cope with the additional volume? Key point: By raising performance in one area, don’t undermine it by creating bottlenecks through under-performance in others.


So these are my three objectives to maximising performance. Believe me, the businesses that are growing sustainably across the globe are doing this in one form or another. Companies like Timpsons and Richer Sounds have been doing it for years. There is a huge correlation between share price and employee satisfaction (over the long term). Many businesses invest huge amounts of money in leadership and management training when all it really boils down to is these three objectives above. Of course other interpretations are available. But for any business that substantially relies upon motivating people, it’s ultimately about creating an army of carrot eating heroes.

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