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Increasing Flow and Igniting Fire

Winning Advice for a Tough Economy

by Mike Foti

Do you sometimes feel like you are batting your head against a wall in your business? Prices are going south. Costs are going north. Margins are getting squeezed. Where is the magic “silver bullet” of success? The quick answer – it does not exist! If there was one quick answer, everyone would be using it and profits would flow as freely as water from a tap. As a leader of a business, a department, or a field crew, what can you do RIGHT NOW to move from bleeding edge losses to leading edge profits? Consider 3 Steps:

1. Think People – “Drill Down to Go Up.”

2. Think Strategy – “Jump Back and Get Out” to Move Up.

3. Think Speed, Efficiency, and Flexibility

1. Think People – “Drill Down to Go Up”

Results happen through people. Plain, simple, no rocket science here! Saying the statement is much easier than making it happen. Getting production, profits, results from others is about using influence, expanding ownership, and removing the obstacles for success. How can you drive this process?

• Take down “scaffolding” and influence “your people’s people!” – Are your top leaders influencing the people driving the day-to-day profitability-those closest to the action (estimators, field sales people, service technicians, machine operators etc.)? If not, meet with these profit-generators and explain, in plain English (no “business-speak”), the facts, the realities of your performance, your competitive position, what customers are telling you with their pocketbooks! Then ask them to get specific about how they can deliver exceptional results in their positions. Work together to set up measurements of performance and track actual results.

• Make matches; Reduce fires! Stop putting people into “jobs.” Match your people’s talents and skills to where you need them to “show you the money.” Identify who is unproductive. Determine if they have the skills, talents, and values to be successful in another capacity. If not, work them out of the business ASAP. If repositioning can work, get them working on the “fires,” the problems in your business. Forget “jobs” and start working on goals. Get your talent to dig in and “extinguish fires” while simultaneously igniting results.

• Remove barrels – Your job is to make others’ jobs easier! Are your systems giving those closest to the action the information needed to improve results today? Are bad managers in your organization killing innovation, dampening enthusiasm, and bring everyone else down to their levels? You don’t have time to let your “orange barrels” eliminate “green light” performance!

• Call in the “Dynamic Duo” – No, I’m not talking about Batman and Robin – although it would be great to see the “competitive villains” whisked away! I’m talking about using the dynamic duo of “ignorance and intelligence.” In today’s intellectually competitive world you need to identify (a) what you know, (b) what you don’t know and (c) what you are going to do to improve on “a” and “b.” Some quick ideas:

• Create an advisory board/ Find a mentor. Results magically improve when you surround yourself with smarter people (people with skills you lack) who can both inspire and challenge your current ways of thinking without concern for political correctness or hurting your feelings.

• Develop a “learning plan.” What are you reading, learning, and applying right now? Be strategic with your reading. Can it help you solve a current challenge?

2. Think Strategy – “Jump Back and Get Out” to Move Up

Most leaders are drowning in the sea of their own problems. Gasping for air is not the best time to develop winning plans! To get out of your funk you need to “jump back” from current operations, analyze your current reality, and get focused on winning approaches for the future. To do this, consider these ideas:

• Fix it, Grow it, or Blow The Segment Down! – Get your team involved and break the business in smaller segments (by products, services, markets, geography, customers etc.). Determine your segment profitability, growth, and competitive position. Then ask three key questions:

1. What are the critical issues facing the segment?

2. What can you do to make $ RIGHT NOW?

3. Is this segment worth the effort?

Finally, define the steps and people accountable to fix, grow, or blow the segment up.

• “Coulds vs. Shoulds” – Excitement, growth and profits require stretching your organizational limbs. When someone says “we could do this,” pause, then start digging into “should we do this?” I’ve seen many businesses become unfocused scrap-heaps of energy, effort, and dollars by not investing the time in the analysis to make this distinction.

• Visit the person who pays the bills – See your customers. What do they like/ not like about your performance? If they like you – get referrals so you can start dialing for cash today. Ask them their problems, pains, and challenges? Is there money in solving their problems for your company?

3. Think Speed, Efficiency, and Flexibility

If you’re not achieving the results you want right now don’t be deceived that happiness is right around the corner. I could show you a business I “invested” (that is a nice term for lost) $250,000 in over 4 years waiting for the “corner” that never came! Getting “fixed” in a tough economy requires implementing a thorough, tenacious, “cornerless,” plan leveraging speed, efficiency, and flexibility. Here’s how:

• Rev Up – My Dad (a long-time construction entrepreneur) had a saying on his desk that “Happiness is a positive cash flow.” To win, consider these ideas to open up the cash spigot:

• Reducing in-process materials and increasing inventory turns.

• Offering cash discounts to speed payments.

• Billing quicker.

• Paying faster (yes – not a misprint) while simultaneously negotiating better prices and terms.

• Clean Up – Tough times are made to clean up past “messes” (the fat and inefficiencies built up in the “good ‘ol days). Some ideas:

• Stop paying $2,976 for coffee and water. One of my branches spent this amount on coffee and water last year. How did we not notice? The bills came in monthly for at about $100 to $200 a pop. Switching to Maxwell House and putting a filter on our tap – total cost $400 (yearly savings – $2,576). Look at your expenditures by vendor for last year. Cut the fat!

• Pride of Ownership – Look around at the neatness of your office, plant, job sites. Is a sloppy, disorganized environment inviting waste, inefficiency, even theft. Get pride – get clean – save money!

• Limber Up – Are you stuck with slow-turn inventory, underutilized equipment, and people? Rethink what you see as “fixed” in your business. Look at “rent vs. buy,” “make vs. outsource” decisions and find ways to get flexible now. On the flipside remember one mans junk is another man’s treasure. If you do have cash reserves consider buying up your competitors fixed assets at today’s bargain basement prices.


Tough times call for tough measures. They call for you to do things differently, take new actions. How are you planning to increase your “flows” (reducing costs, improving margins, speeding payments etc.) and ignite the “fires” (getting people matched with work and results required) of those around you? Take action and watch the success flow!

Mike Foti is Chief Executive Officer of Cleveland Glass Block (a Northcoast 99 recipient for best employers in Northeast Ohio and a Community Pillar Award winner for community service) and President of Leadership Builders. Mike is a national speaker, writer, and consultant who helps individuals and companies get results through people. To ask Mike how he might help you, or to receive his free tips and leadership articles, call 216-531-6085 or visit his web site at

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