UpFront: Learning to Float
By Brian J. Hogan
There's an old saying: "Half of life is showing up." Its meaning, as I've always interpreted it, is that to succeed you've got to do the basic things—get into the game, execute the fundamentals, don't beat yourself, just be there.
Lately I've had contacts with some folks who appear to have forgotten about all that. Their companies are characterized by a good deal of flash and sizzle, but they don't seem to have taken care of certain things required of every successful business: having a good product, supporting it with excellent maintenance, and using all the available advertising channels to give potential buyers accurate, thorough information about the product. They're like kids who try to swim before they know enough about the water to stay afloat.
Not that the basic tasks of business are easy.Taking a product—for example, a machine tool—into the market is challenging. The design must be sound, there absolutely must be quick access to service personnel and spare parts when they're needed, and the potential customer must know what you're trying to sell before he'll cough up any hard-earned cash. If there are business partners involved—if you rely on a tier system to supply critical components, for example—those partners must be profitable. If they're not, the entire structure of your business is threatened.
In a competitive market, unless a company attends to the basics, it simply has no chance. No matter how unglamorous the fundamentals might seem, they must take center stage at every firm.
Attending to the basics of any business is rather like disciplining yourself to exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and get enough sleep—all boring, boring, boring! It's more fun to concentrate on stirring up buzz in the market, speculate on the stock exhange, party hearty, and avoid the plant (there's little or no glitz in the plant). In the end, however, personal and corporate discipline bring forth personal and corporate health.
Just give some thought to companies lately in the news that are in difficulty. How many of them kept their corporate eye on the basics? How many of them sustained an internal dialogue that said: "This is our business, that is not. This activity is necessary, even vital, that is not." I'd bet a jar or two that their managers were focused on something other than the fundamentals, something other than "showing up." For them, falling market share or declining profit margin can never be the result of inferior product quality, uninspired design, or difficulties in the plant. What could be the cause? Well, remember the line from the old commercial? "It must be the shoes!" Right.
This article was first published in the November 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.