Cascadia Business Development Blog

Cascadia Business Development Blog

5 Common Inefficiencies to Tackle Today

Every business has one—the dreaded “Process” that no one wants to acknowledge is holding back the company. It’s the elephant in the room, the one that everyone knows is stifling growth, but no one wants to address. It’s usually a big one, so know that you may need to walk before you run. Start with small things and work your way up to tackling the elephant.

Here are 5 things that may be causing inefficiencies in your company today:

  1. Inconsistent processes. How many people are doing the same task in your organization? Are they all doing the same task the same way? For some organizations, there are rules, regulations and requirements for how a task should be completed. It makes the consistency of the process among different employees even more important.
  2. Siloed data, information, or knowledge. Do you have information hoarders? Are there people or departments within your organization that own data or knowledge that others need to access? These information hoarders become an obstacle for people to get their jobs done quickly, efficiently and effectively. Identify them and find ways to store and share knowledge more efficiently.
  3. Duplicate, triplicate and even quadruplicate approvals. If a task or project requires several layers of approval, you better have a really good  reason. Multiple layers of approval become a bottleneck and slow down any momentum a project or idea might have had. Does the owner really need to approve all purchases, or only those above a specific amount or those that significantly impact the company’s cash flow? Do three people always need to sign off on all expense reports? Are there some levels of authority you can allow your staff and supervisors to manage?
  4. Unnecessary steps. These just add time and cost to everything. If in fact, the auditors really don’t need copies of everyone’s individual monthly expense reports, you can probably stop requiring your administrative assistant to gather, copy, sort and file them each month. Sometimes these practices continue even when no longer necessary because the appropriate communication hasn’t occurred. You know the auditors don’t need those copies, but did you relay that to your administrative assistant?
  5. Information overload. If you’ve ever searched through 12 pages of cash flow reports to find the one expense that caused last month’s shortage, you have experienced this. It’s also called a data dump. Today, we are bombarded with information, and it’s even more important to find ways to clearly present pertinent information in a concise, easily-digested format. Use dashboards to consistently present the key performance indicators on a regular basis. Use charts, graphs and infographics to quickly show key points and data.

Process mapping is a useful tool to identify and eliminate these inefficiencies. By visually mapping out a process, you and your team can see where there are obstacles, duplication in efforts and even mis-assigned roles and responsibilities. Taking the time to map out a process and implement appropriate changes can result in the long-term multiplier effect of efficiency and increased productivity.

Training is Great! Efficient Process Design is Even Better!

Now that you have your Purpose clarified, and the right People in the right places, how do you go about supporting your people more fully?

The first thing that comes into most people’s minds at that question is training! And yes, training your people to do the functions of their jobs is critical (if you want to keep them that is). Over 40% of employees who are not effectively trained in their job functions leave the organization in the first year of their employment. So yes, training is very important (and the topic of future posts).

But what about the design of the job you’ve asked them to do? Has the job been designed thoughtfully to provide efficient and logical processes? Are the processes and procedures clearly defined and regularly refined?

Take, for example, the new membership setup process at a local gym. All the new member’s information is entered into the main database, and then re-entered into the program that prints their new ID and then RE-entered again into the security system to activate their 24/7 access to the building to work out. Imagine how excited (not) the front desk staff will be when you run a new membership special this Spring and announce your goal of adding 250 new members in 5 days! This is just one example of a myriad of inefficient internal and customer-facing processes we subject our people to every day.

Sometimes inefficiencies are glaringly obvious, like the example above. However, oftentimes the inefficiencies are hidden because everyone has just gotten used to doing things the inefficient way (or worse yet, found shortcuts that may or may not support your company’s desired end result).

Process mapping is one way to really begin to understand where redundancies, unnecessary steps and bottlenecks occur. It is a systematic way to visualize processes, from the very simple to the highly complex. This exercise can be done internally, but we’ve found it to be more impactful when it’s completed with an outside party that is not familiar with the process and can ask the difficult questions—especially “Why? Why do you do it this way? Why is this step necessary? What happens if you don’t do it this way? How do you verify it is done? How do you communicate the process to different departments?”

Developing a habit of continuous process improvement will help your company be more productive, efficient and resilient. When your company has a culture of continually looking for ways to hone existing processes, you are better able to respond to unexpected external influences that might require you to change a process to be complaint with a new regulation or provide a better product to a customer.

Next time, we’ll delve into how you can begin to assess your company’s processes and find ways to continually improve them.

Your Company Impacts More People Than You Think

Last time we focused on Purpose—why your business or organization exists. In this post, let’s talk about People—who your business is and who it serves.

As of this writing, there are no businesses that function without people. Businesses still require people to do the work (make the stuff, sell the stuff, service the stuff); people to buy the product or service; people to provide and sell supplies and inputs to the business.

Most articles about people focus on how important the right people in the right jobs are. And we cannot possibly agree more – in fact, our next post will give you some ideas on how to do this. But for now, let’s focus on the impact your company has on people, both internal and external.

Internal—these are the people you hire or who volunteer within your organization, and there are many, many resources on hiring, onboarding, developing and coaching internal people. A quick Google search brings up more articles, books, blogs, conferences, webinars and websites devoted solely to how to manage/supervise the people you hire than you could possibly read in a lifetime. These are just a few that we’ve found to be helpful:,,

Cascadia offers a customizable leadership training program, CapacULead; and a Learning Management System, StrongestLink. We can create training specifically for the needs of your company and your people.  Check out this infographic for a quick synopsis of our comprehensive training development process.

External—these are the rest of the people in your world—board of directors, customers, community members, your mentors, family and support network, and the families of your internal people. When you begin to inventory the people and lives your business or organization impacts, the ripple effects of your success and its importance become clearer.

We recently worked with a local technology company who wanted to reinforce how important what their people do every day is to the companies they serve. We created an infographic representing all the People their company impacts. They are small—9 employees, however, when they calculated the impact they have on their clients, it was staggering. They impacted (significantly) the ability of several companies to conduct and grow their businesses, which, in turn, impacted the number of people they could hire and promote, which impacted those employees’ families and the customers they ultimately served. Overall, their little company and the service they provide to their clients affect thousands of people. Can you just visualize the ripple growing into a tidal wave?

Take a few minutes to do your own “People” inventory. You might be surprised at the profound effect your company has on people—internal and external. Share

5 Ways to Incorporate your Purpose into your Daily Operations

In our last post, we described the importance of knowing and understanding your company’s “Purpose”—WHY you do what you do. The next step is to infuse Purpose into everything your company does and here are 5 ways to do that:

  1. We all know it’s important to communicate your company’s Purpose to your employees when they first come on board. But like any message, once is never enough. Continually reinforce it and make it visible to your employees, whether they have been with you 20 years or 20 days. Post it in the breakroom, add it to staff meeting agendas, put it on a t-shirt, engrave it on a rock, write it on a wall, make it the company screen saver, name an employee recognition award after it.
  2. Don’t just tell your employees, live it. Circle back to your Purpose every time you announce a new product, a new initiative or a new project. Connect your goals for each project or initiative to your Purpose. Connect your employees’ individual performance goals to your company’s Purpose.
  3. Include your Purpose in your decision-making process. Ask “Which choice aligns better with our Purpose?” “If we do XYZ, will it move us toward or away from our Purpose?”
  4. Hire to your Purpose. Develop interview questions that tease out whether a candidate “fits” into your culture and supports your company’s Purpose.
  5. Measure it. Occasionally, take a step back and consider the last month, quarter, year and ask yourself “Are we achieving our Purpose?” “Are we doing what we set out to do (or at least on the right road to get there)?” “Do we have the right People, Products and Processes in place to achieve our Purpose–and make a Profit?” (If this last question seems familiar, check our blog post Make 2017 the Year You Build Your Business’s Capacity for more on our 5Ps.

Incorporating your company Purpose into everything you do creates a cohesive sense of direction for your staff and leadership team and helps your customers better understand the value you bring to them. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be consistent.

Purpose–WHY Your Business Exists Really DOES Matter

We are all accustomed to answering the question “What do you do?”—and we usually have a pretty good answer. But rarely do we hear “WHY do you do it? What is the purpose for your business, the reason you started this journey called entrepreneurship (whether that journey began decades or weeks ago)?”

Or another way to ask that question (the George Bailey version of the question): “What would your community look like without your business? What does your business contribute to your community, industry, clientele that no one else does? How do you create or add value for your customers and your employees?”

For most non-profits or charities, purpose is crystal clear: feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate youth, save the whales, clean up rivers, etc.

For-profit entities on the other hand, sometimes struggle to answer this question succinctly. There’s usually something about serving the customer, or producing an exceptional product, or excelling at XYZ. Some organizations refer to their mission statements to define their purpose. Purpose isn’t necessarily always about social impact—although often there is a social aspect to defining a company’s purpose.

For some business owners, creating a business can be a way to build the world they want to live in. In other words, building your own company gives you the freedom to create a small space that reflects how you would like the world to be—more inclusive, more respectful, more creative, healthier, more productive, more constructive, more supportive, more…whatever. As a business owner, you have the chance to shape a little part of the world into a good place to live. As you build your business, your purpose will help guide how you develop your people and nurture your culture.

Identifying your company’s purpose, embracing it and championing it within your organization is important. On an operational level, your business’s purpose helps answer questions about what type of business entity will you set up, how you will organize and manage your people, what type of leadership you will need, even where you will locate the business. (i.e. if your purpose is to create unique surfboards for professional surfers, you should probably consider moving to a surfing community.)

Being a purpose-driven organization requires first knowing your purpose, communicating it to your stakeholders (internal and external) and then staying true to it. In our next installment, we’ll tackle 5 “How to” ideas for communicating your purpose and incorporating it into your daily operations.

In the meantime, ask yourself these 4 questions about your company—(Hint: the answers should all help you understand and fulfill your company’s purpose):

  1. How can we add or increase VALUE?
  2. How can we enhance or change how we APPEAR?
  3. How can we elevate or improve how we PERFORM?
  4. How can we continuously LEARN and GROW?

5 Steps to Assessing and Building Capacity in your Business

In our last blog post, we described what it means to build capacity in your organization and the benefits of continually evaluating and assessing your capacity to grow. In this post, we walk you through the 5 steps to building sustainable capacity within your company.

1.    Conduct a capacity audit

This capacity audit will address the five functional areas of your business to establish a baseline or current state capacity. Do a thorough review of your historical documents (your marketing, your strategic plan, your job descriptions, etc.), review processes and procedures, and gather key perspectives from stakeholders and team members, keeping the following questions in mind:

  • Are your development goals properly aligned with your mission, values, and organizational structure? (Purpose)
  • How are you enhancing customer relationships, continuously adding value to product and services, and tightly managing your pricing and sales strategies? (Product)
  • Do you find ways to continuously improve operations, become more efficient and productive? (Process)
  • Are you maximizing performance and increasing your employees’ potential? (People)
  • Are you ensuring strong financial management and profitability to support goals? (Profit)

 2.    Determine capacity needs to accomplish your 2017 strategic goals and initiatives.

In your review, identify areas where resources are needed and where there is capacity.  Look at both internal and external resources and evaluate how you are utilizing each.  For example, how are you using association memberships like the Chamber of Commerce, the BBB and others?  Are you leveraging the resources the these organizations provide to meet some of your identified needs?

3.    Compare your strategic goals and your current state to identify gaps.

Through the review of your processes and gathering key perspectives, you will be able to identify where there are improvements to be made.  In what areas and in what sequence will improvements need to be made to successfully complete the year’s strategic goals and initiatives?

 4. Establish improvement initiatives.

Define your improvements across each functional area.  Describe each, assign primary and secondary responsibility, define your measurement of achievement, and develop a system to track and celebrate progress to maximize engagement and accountability while monitoring the expense for the capacity building improvements and its ROI.

5.    Create 30-60-90-day plans to build capacity.

Help your team sequence the work by breaking the improvements into manageable chunks of work.  What needs to get done first, in the first 30 days?  What follows, or is not high priority, that can be done in the first 60 days?  And what can wait for a 90-day deadline?  This process can be used again and again to help track progress, to keep the team accountable, and to ensure the improvement initiative is ultimately completed.  An initiative may only take one 30-60-90 cycle, or it may take more than one, depending on the amount and complexity of work involved with each initiative.

Next time we’ll begin our journey through the 5Ps and discuss how each of them can be integrated into a comprehensive strategy to grow your company and build your capacity.


Make 2017 the Year You Build Your Business’s Capacity

Are you struggling to define the exact path your business will take in the coming year? You know where you would ultimately like your business to end up, but perhaps you’re struggling with placing the building blocks in the right places in the right sequence. You’re not alone. This is one of the biggest challenges business owners and leaders face as their businesses mature. The secret to creating this path lies in process-based capacity building.

Process-based capacity building has at its core the 5Ps of business: Purpose, Process, People, Product, and Profit. The functional alignment of these five core areas synergizes maximum business success. Most companies eventually face a predictable crisis of stagnation marked by drops in revenue and profit growth. Rarely is this because your business model has suddenly become outdated or markets have unexpectedly dipped. Rather, it is the result of small breakdowns in one or more functional areas or over stretching of key resources. Misalignments are occurring if you are hearing the “un’s, re’s, mis’s and dis’s” that impede growth – unreliable, unproductive, repetitive, reactive, misaligned, miscommunicated, disorganized, dissatisfied, to name a few. While you understand at some level that you must focus on fixing the problems behind these descriptors to stabilize and grow, emphasis on doing so is often lost in the business of day to day business.

Capacity building guides you through a process to:

  1. Systematically and repeatedly assess your current state.
  2. Compare that current state to your strategic goals and desired future state to identify gaps.
  3. Establish improvement initiatives to realign each functional area to growth and success.
  4. Shore up operational shortcomings.
  5. Ensure that your team members are working toward a unified vision with clearly defined tasks and in direct alignment with your strategic initiatives.

In short, capacity building means taking the right actions, at the right time, for the right reasons by “clicking out and back filling.” This means identifying the next best improvement initiatives to help achieve your strategic goals (clicking out) and what needs to be improved, shored up, put into place to achieve those specific improvements (back-filling). Focusing on building capacity in a process-based manner allows you to:

  1. Continually evaluate the degree to which you are delivering on your promises, both internally and externally.
  2. Recognize how well you understand and track operational strengths and weakness.
  3. See the extent to which you know your financial numbers and manage your KPIs.
  4. Develop and train your entire team to contribute to your vision.
  5. Grow your ability to stay connected as a team to your core mission.

Process-based capacity building is a framework for determining what your next best steps are to ultimately achieve your strategic goals. There are five steps to this process and our next blog post will address these steps.