We are in the last few weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown. Everything isn’t going to return to normal right away, but we’re very close to being able to come out of this stay-at-home order and resume something resembling business-as-usual.

 

Since we’re not there yet, though, you’ve got a decision to make: What is the best way to spend these last few weeks of down time?

 

Some day you will look back on this experience and think about how you spent the time you had. And you’ll question whether you used it the best way you possibly could.

 

I’d like you to nod your head at that time and affirm that you used it well, and here’s how I think you can make sure that happens:

 

Many people have received their Paycheck Protection Program money, although as I write this it’s being reported that the program is out of money. If you got yours, great. If not, hopefully you’ve got enough capital to get you through. In all likelihood, you’ve also got some idle staff at the moment. What is the best thing they could be spending their idle time doing?

 

Either way, we need to make decisions about how we allocate the time and resources available to us during this once-in-a-lifetime slowdown.

 

I’m hearing from some companies that they’re using the time for training. That’s a mistake. Training is something you should always be doing. It should be ingrained in your ongoing operations. If you see this as a time for training, then you misunderstand what training is. It’s not something you stop work for. It’s part of work.

 

Still, it’s essential to use this time to do something that can have a large impact on your company’s performance going forward, and also something you would probably not have time to do once business returns to normal.

 

That means updating – or creating for the first time – the Your Company Way.

 

By all means, fill in your company’s real name. It doesn’t matter what it is. Ours would be the Red Wagon Way. Yours might be the Grand Manufacturing Way. Or the Johnson Technology Way.

 

What matters is less what you call it than what’s in it. And what’s in it should be the definitive guide to your operations and how they work.

 

This is a competitive imperative. That’s because, in any particular industry, there’s really not that much difference between competitors as far as their basic business concepts. The difference arises in the area of operations. The company that performs the best usually wins the competitive battle, and solid operational processes put you in the best position to get there.

 

But working on processes is time-consuming, and most of the time we’re much too busy to focus on it. This is a rare situation in which we’re not too busy. If you’ve been putting it off for years because you figured you never had time, don’t put it off another week. Because if you do, you’re going to get busy again and you’ll have lost the opportunity.

 

But since you only have a few weeks to do this, it helps to know where to start. A lot of people get tripped up because they think they need to first find and document all their processes. That becomes a massive chore all its own and they never find them, so they never get started.

 

You don’t have to do that.

 

Making this work means finding and documenting the six-to-eight most important processes your company has. If you’re not sure what they are, bring your team together to brainstorm it. Reading Jim Collins’s pamphlet on the flywheel might also help. (The information is all over YouTube if you don’t want to buy the pamphlet.) You can also work with an outside coach like me to help you identify the top six to eight, and make sure you don’t do more than eight. That should cover everything you need to document to achieve operational excellence.

 

Once you identify them, assign various team members to go through and determine what’s already documented – and what still needs to be. Review the information and see what needs to be updated.

 

It’s important to have everyone work on this as a team so you’re not making these decisions in a vacuum. One process affects another, so groups working in silos will result in processes that step over and contradict each other.

 

You don’t want to do this with endless full committee meetings, but at some point the whole group has to come together to check in so there’s mutual accountability.

 

Remember, operational excellence is likely your best competitive advantage. And you’ll never have a better opportunity to hone and refine your processes than you have right now. So take advantage of it. Because when everything ramps back up to full speed, you’ll be ready to achieve operational excellence – and that could make all the competitive difference.

 

Written by: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors