How to break a business coma

We talk about a wide array of business topics/suggestions here at Business is Personal.

Occasionally, I get emails asking how to get all of these things done in a state of overwhelm.

It’s an easy problem to have.

You have plenty of ideas and read the things I and others suggest, much less see all those bright shiny objects that appear on your radar.

Each one has the potential to improve or distract, depending on how you leverage them.

If you focus on one, implement or discard it, then move on to the next one, you’ll build an effective system to run your business. Otherwise, the flood of posts, emails, webinars, products and services can distract you into one form of a business coma: Analysis Paralysis.

Other forms

When a business is in a coma, it functions much like a coma patient.

In some mysterious way, internal functions continue to work as if they’re on life support. The business is alive, but it can appear to be doing little more than consuming energy and creating waste. It’s almost impossible to see what’s going on inside much less determine if the business is aware of its surroundings.

Sometimes the coma is an overwhelming amount of inefficient work that prevents building the products/services your business’ future demands.

A dysfunctional business can exist this way for years. The “coma” eventually becomes comfortable, seems normal and that makes it even more difficult to break out of. Excuses for postponing improvement are often layered on like old paint.

Systems can perpetuate coma, but…

Airlines are an easy target here. It’s easy to forget that they deliver millions of people/cargo shipments to their destinations, at a reasonably high on-time percentage and do so safely, all without losing too many bags. They manage this because they have systems in place to help them deliver consistently.

These systems range from sophisticated electronics to a clipboard, checklist and a pen. By design, these systems support a staff that might range from catatonic to remarkable. Most of the seemingly-catatonic are scheduled into that state via long/split shifts and customer-relationship-numbing measures that make sense only when you’re disconnected from the customer by a stack of oft-worshiped spreadsheets.

I strongly encourage the use of systems, but I don’t worship them. They free you from the “mundane but important” so you can focus on personal and important things that can’t be automated – like finding a wayward bag.

Where’s mom’s bag?

Travel experiences feel remarkable when someone takes a moment to do what they would want done for their mother. Maybe not remarkable in Seth Godin terms, but remarkable compared to a typical travel experience.

These “little remarkables” are frequently prevented by situations these businesses create. Eventually, the inability to perform these tasks becomes an insulating layer of undesirable phone-tree-like blubber that few customers can pierce.

On the Friday before Christmas, my mom traveled here on two airlines. Her itineraries were not connected, so her bag stopped in Salt Lake while she flew on to our place. Neither she or the check-in attendants noticed the disconnect and neither did airline systems. The disconnect became obvious at baggage claim.

During our three day baggage chase, which involved tweeting with Delta & American, phone calls to American and SkyWest and four visits to the airport, a young SkyWest baggage guy at our local airport went out on a limb and gave me the baggage office number in Salt Lake. A few hours after my call to SLC, that young man called to say the bag was on its way.

Pavel did what he didn’t have to do, perhaps what policy didn’t allow, but what he would’ve wanted done for his mom. With help from a SkyWest baggage guy in SLC, they performed a small but important task during peak loads that created their little bit of Christmas Eve remarkable.

Breaking the coma

That fourth decimal place on corporate’s P&L spreadsheet…means nothing without customers. The airline’s iPhone app is useless without the staff behind it. The people and the systems have to work together to be useful.

Break the coma this year. One step at a time, focus on building systems that automate the mundane and important so you and your staff can do the important things that ARE personal.