One Hour a Day

How creating time to look ahead can give you perfect control of your business.


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Can you relate?

Multiple customers call in a single day and complain about delivery problems that I didn’t even know existed.

My backlog of orders drops off, and before I know it, I’m spending too much money on labor.

Chemistry and materials expenses are out of control this month. I should have realized it in time to fix it, but I didn’t... I get to the end of the day and feel like all I did was put out fires with customers and employees... I could grow my coatings business if I could just find more time to dedicate to sales... I wake up at three in the morning and can’t fall back asleep because I feel like my business is out of control... Sometimes my boss (shareholder, owner, banker, customer) asks me how my operation is performing and I don’t have a good answer.

Chances are you can identify with at least one, and likely several, of the above. After all, life in the finishing industry is an endless barrage of distractions. An employee catches you on the way into the plant with a complaint about his supervisor; a regulatory report, due tomorrow, sits on your desk in need of review and signature; a customer issued a corrective action request last week and it’s due by the end of the day; a new chemistry supplier is stopping by for a “honest 15 minutes of your time;” the banker wants financials and a mechanical failure on the shop floor just shut down your busiest production line.

With all of this, who can find time to focus on the “important things” like sales growth and continuous improvement? By implementing a new tool, might I suggest, you can.

I conceived of this tool in response to my need to find some way to invest time in the future of my business, not just the emergencies of the day. I labeled it my “Power Hour,” which I later learned is also the name of a popular drinking game, so be careful not to confuse the two. My version works like this…

Carve out an hour of your day, preferably early, and diligently schedule it on your calendar. Nothing but a true emergency should interfere with your prescheduled “hour of power.” Reserve this hour of your day for running through several tasks and exercises focused on the “big” picture of your business. The “Power Hour” generally flows as follows:

Start by reviewing your professional mission statement—basically a sentence or two that summarizes why you come to work each day. The answer is different for everyone (make money, support my family, improve the lives of my co-workers, achieve a dream, etc.) Result: Reminding yourself of why you work in the first place helps to keep the crises of the day in perspective.

Next, take 10–20 min to focus on top line growth. I keep a list of major business development projects on my laptop. I follow up by e-mail with associates and by phone or e-mail with prospects. Result: A minute or two on each of ten or so major prospects ensures that new business projects are moving forward every day.

If they’re available to you, review call reports or history reports from your sales team for the previous day. Result: You’re fully updated on all customer and prospect issues.

Now review all the critical metrics of your business. Average daily revenue for the month, revenue by customer, chemistry and materials usage and revenue dollars per labor hour are examples. Result: You’re up to date on the operational performance of your business, set to act on anything that looks out of line, and prepared to answer performance questions from bosses, investors and bankers.

Review your backlog or work-in-process report, note anything that looks out of whack and follow up with your team. Result: You’re prepared to head off any customer problems before they occur and are ready to respond to customer questions or complaints should they come your way. Update your to do list and face the day with complete knowledge and control of your business.

The “Power Hour” takes discipline. It’s never the most urgent thing on your schedule, but once it becomes a regular part of your day you will find yourself much more prepared to face the rigors of managing your coating operation.

My personal friend and revered leadership guru Chuck Zamora has a great quote, published in Chuck Zamora’s Little Black Book of Quotes (Professional Success Press, 2008).

“Great Leaders are not great because of their vision, their motivation, their inspiration, their dedication or their drive. Great Leaders are great because of their Systems and their adherence to those Systems.”

The “Power Hour” is a perfect example.