Editor’s note: Lea Strickland is president and chief executive officer of Focus Resources.
CARY — Every task requires the right tools. Building a successful business is a task like no other. It requires a comprehensive set of tools that fit the task. Using one tool when another is required often leads to unanticipated consequences. Having the right tool isn’t sufficient. It is also necessary to know when, where and how to use it.
Tools are tools, not solutions.
The best tool used in the wrong situation can’t generate the same results as using the right tool for the right task. One example of possible tool/task mismatch is the implementation of new software, whether accounting, business process or any other type. Software applications are invaluable tools, but the only problems they can fix are those related to information flow, processing, data-gathering and reporting. They do not address the real issues of the business activities. They don’t deal with the underlying processes or management decisions that generate the data and financial results.
Automating Inefficiency – Software and Other “Tools”
The implementation of new accounting software is one instance that illustrates this point. Many organizations identify improved reporting as a means of generating better results; when you get more information, you can manage the business better. This is often an appropriate tool for improving business and individual performance. However, accounting software can generate vastly different amounts and types of information, depending upon how it is structured. So, even if you get the "right" accounting software, an ability to set it up to support your organization’s needs can still leave you in the dark. Right tool and right task, but an inability to wield the tool appropriately spell disaster.
Problem Identification – The Sharpest Tool
The most valuable tool any organization can possess is the ability to identify its problems. Many organizations are in a continuous tool-acquisition mode. They constantly seek the "ideal" tool to fix "the problem," throw money at symptoms and fail to get to the root cause of business issues. The problem must be well-defined and the root cause understood for any tool to have an impact.
One Problem, Many Options
Once the scope of the problem is known, it is necessary to generate a range of possible strategies to evaluate based upon the cost, organizational constraints – including the internal capabilities – and the possible benefits achieved by each. Problem definition and analysis enables the organization to obtain and deploy the “right” tool set and learn to use it to the best effect, thus ending the eternal quest for the "magic bullet." The biggest, newest, flavor-of-the-month tool may not be the "answer." It may be that the answer lies in understanding how to deploy and fully utilize the tools you already have.
Keep in mind that the "tool kit" available for use in improving your organization may be the people within your organization. If the organization is properly staffed with qualified, capable, knowledgeable and experienced team members, the combined intelligence of this group, when properly utilized, contains tremendous capacity to improve results.
Unfortunately, the tool that is most often overlooked is existing team members – individually and collectively. The habits, assumptions, perceptions and lack of an ability to maintain a core understanding of the spectrum of "talent" within the existing organization often is the prevailing constraint on organizational success.
Organizations expend substantial resources in recruiting, screening and hiring individuals who add to the organization’s capabilities. Often applicants are incorporated into databases that allow the organization to identify critical skills, experience, and credentials. Once those individuals become part of the organization, once they are absorbed into the internal structures, the visibility of skills, knowledge, experience and abilities often disappears or becomes "discounted" due to "close proximity" or "familiarity."
Organizations that fail to maintain the visibility and functionality of software and other technology tools and lose sight of the talent already within the organization seem to be doomed to perpetually seek the "holy grail" of “tools.” That is an expensive and costly process that all too often leads to impaired competitive capability and rising costs of doing business.
Having the right tools is important. Being able to maximize the return on any tools you have is imperative. Whether the tools in your tool kit are people, technology or any thing else, knowing "how-to" is the ultimate determinant of success.