Leeds, UK, 9th May 2018 – I’ve spent my entire life starting companies and building brands. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the moment you get complacent, you’re in trouble.
It’s easy – especially when you find a bit of success – to stop thinking like an entrepreneur, and to rest on your laurels. But you have to fight complacency at every turn if you want to build something of true value.
This week, I’d like to share with you one of the ways that I make sure I never stop innovating, and keep moving the company – and myself – forwards. It’s a little strategy that I call my ‘shop floor days’.
As often as I can, I take myself out of the office and spend the day with one of my customers or prospective clients. No, I don’t mean I have a fancy lunch with the chief executive. I get up at 5am and go to a customer depot to spend the first half of the day riding around with their engineers, contractors or delivery drivers. Then around 2pm, I go and work in their offices, sitting with the people answering calls and making bookings.
The shop floor idea isn’t all mine. It was inspired by the time I spent working with GE, the American conglomerate, back when it was run by the visionary leader Jack Welch. Back then, GE leaders spent a lot of time analysing the way things were done. They were always looking for a way to make small but consistent improvements. The strategy is known as “six sigma” – you can find more about six sigma here: https://www.ge.com/en/company/companyinfo/quality/whatis.htm
These shop floor days have had a profound effect on the businesses I have built, and have informed so much of the new products and features that I have created. This is how I find customer pain points, and learn how to solve huge technical challenges.
I build a rapport with the people I meet, and they share their experience of their job, and I take notes. It’s that simple.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to get customers to agree to a shop floor day. I’m treated like an extension of the company. The people I meet are always open and genuine – they don’t think I’m there to catch them out. They know I want to help, and that anything they say will be treated with absolute sensitivity.
One heating and plumbing customer had no racking units in their vans, so thousands of pounds worth of stock was just piled up in the back. Another bakery chain was sending drivers to stores at 2am to deliver fresh bread, but when I came along for the ride, I saw that drivers were being mobbed by homeless people who wanted yesterday’s leftovers. These kinds of issues are often unknown – or, worse, ignored by middle management. It took me speaking up about it to bring them to the attention of the top brass.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve done over 100 of these shop floor days, and they are among the most interesting and inspirational ways that I can spend my time. I have even branched out, and now spend the odd shop floor day with my own employees too, sitting with the team or out on the road with a member of our sales team or installation engineer.
Of course, my shop days help me to sell BigChange. I can explain how our technology would allow the driver / engineer to do away with all the paperwork lumped in the passenger seat, or how stock could be tagged so everyone knows where every part is at any time. For the bakery driver, who battles the homeless every morning, he is able to check into the system and reassure the company there have been no issues.
But my feedback also saves these companies money: we’ve helped remove unnecessary driving time, making workers much more efficient. Our booking service also helps them offer a much better customer service. People know exactly when someone is coming to deliver their washing machine, which means they’re not waiting in all day. These things add up, and have contributed to BigChange’s success.
Every business owner should take the time to get out of their office bubble and spend time with the people who use their product or service. No business is ever fully optimised; there is always room for improvement. See you next week, and good luck fighting complacency. It’s a battle we all must wage.
All the best
Founder & CEO