Shoveling Elephant Poop


I once took a job that was below my skill set and experience level because I thought I wanted to “just be an employee” for a while and let managers deal with and fix the problems. When I told my mother about this job and my reason for taking it she replied, “yeah, ok, I know you and you will be running the place before you know it because you could take a job with the circus and by the end of the first show you would have made an analysis and set into practice the most efficient way to shovel elephant poop.” She was right, minus the elephant poop. I like fixing things. Anyone who knows me even a little bit can attest to this. Fixing things comes in all forms for me. It may be an actual squeaky wheel, a broken lamp, a business related issue, a connection that needs to be made, an employee who needs some love, you name it and I will fix it.


I have worked for various sized employers and I always find room for improvement at all business sizes. The thing is, most businesses do not proactively manage growth. They speculate what inputs will be required to grow, i.e., more money, more staff, more space, new equipment, new and improved software, but they don’t always think through all of particulars of managing the processes, systems and policies to control the added inputs and the products of those inputs. For example, I spent five years working for a Fortune 100 company that I was particularly attracted to because of their mission and that they were a large company, and presumably, a well-oiled machine. They were well-oiled in so many ways which is what allowed them to become wildly, and sometimes recklessly, successful. What I quickly learned was that each of their locations were lead and managed as separate units, but followed the same general policies and processes. And that each location had departments and each department ran differently by nature of fundamentally being different. Well, while the location I was working at was overall hitting all of the corporate level desired targets and checking all of the regional level and company-wide boxes, there was still room for improvement. For a description of this improvement, and to not reveal the company name, I am going to pretend that the department I worked in made perishable doo-dads and the doo-dads monthly sales were $20,000 for this department at this location. The doo-dads prices varied between $1.99 and $9.99, with the average doo-dad sold priced at $3.99. So that is just slightly more that 5,000 doo-dads sold per month. You may be thinking: “What amazing sales! This is great news!” All in all, 5,000 units was an amazing amount of this product to be sold, but what you don’t know is that this same department was overproducing this perishable product and their shrinkage was $14,000 per month. So the actual sales were only $6,000. Then taking into account the inputs (materials and labor cost) for the doo-dads, $6,000 was not a bragging point. This oversight of product shrinkage was occurring because no one on this team had worked in a business environment that trained them to look for exposure to threats and reduce them. I had, but I also was not the supervisor and the supervisor did not take kindly to my observations, another business problem in and of itself.


Within a few months the supervisor realized she was in over her head and she quit. I applied for her job and I got the job. I immediately began to plug the holes that were leaking our profits. This came by way of spending a couple of months building and implementing processes and systems that were missing. In order to ever take a day off and to not be required by your staff every minute of the day, your processes and systems must be able to be followed and tweaked easily by your staff. This is what I did. In the first month of implementing the processes and systems I created, our team reduced shrink from $14,000 per month to $2,000 (just $500 of shrink per week). This was widely received as nothing short of success and within a short period of time this company was flying me all over the place to make analyses of other teams in departments like mine and help them to solve this issue on their team. It was hands down one of the most rewarding jobs of my life because I like to be able to assess a situation and figure out how to improve upon it. When people have a long tenure and are ingrained in their work they aren’t always capable of seeing these things because they are too close to the problem — the myopic view. This was the case here. I was the newbie, I have a knack for analyzing things to improve upon them, and so I saw the problem immediately.


Taking into account this little bit that I just shared, imagine being in my brain and conducting business with any size of business, but particularly smaller businesses. I try to support local business whenever I can, which tend to be small businesses. Throughout my transactions with them, I frequently find myself wishing I could help them to make their own lives easier and get them out of their own way. Some of these businesses are very easily scalable and could have amazing success if they were able to analyze their business day-to-day operations objectively and then know what tools they need to fix the issues they found. But if they had the ability and knowledge to do that, I sincerely think they would have already done it and I wouldn’t be left feeling like a frustrated customer who would love to help their business be the best it could be.


The bottom-line is this, your business has a problem, you may already know it and you may not, but it’s there and it’s holding back your success in some way. How can I help your business be as successful as you want it to be?