You Need More Than A Map

Dec. 21, 2004
Knowing where you're growing means knowing where you're at.

Last month IndustryWeek hosted a one-day conference in Dallas, followed the next day with a plant tour. The tour destination: SuperSack in Bonham, Tex., about 80 miles north of Dallas. If you've ever seen the movie "Paris, Texas," you've got an idea of where Bonham is. I had a seat at the rear of a cushy tour bus so I could stretch, snooze, and read the paper. Six-lane highways sped us out of downtown Dallas, and eventually two lanes led us toward Bonham. En route I saw a miles sign that read "Paris 37." I saw that sign a couple of times, in fact. IW conferences typically come off without a hitch, but about an hour and a half into the trip, the bus stopped, made a U-turn, and throttled back up. No big deal. Missed a turn, I thought. Ten minutes later we stopped again, and I was asked by a colleague if I'd ever been to the plant. No. I walked to the front of the bus where I saw the driver and a conference attendee contacting the plant by cell phone. The driver surveyed her surroundings, relayed the highway number on which we were parked, then received more directions. All set. The driver handed me a map she'd been using, and pointed out where she expected to see a landmark -- a diner -- which would signal our turn that would lead to the plant. About five minutes later we passed the landmark, but no evidence of our turn. We barreled onward hoping to see the turn appear, but realizing we obviously were headed out of Bonham. I looked closely at the map. No compass points. Another attendee on the bus stated what had become painfully clear. We were heading in the wrong direction. In fact, the two previous misdirections were predicated by thinking we'd been in one area of town when in fact we were at the opposite location. The bus stopped again and backed into a residential drive, alongside a fence displaying sun-bleached cattle skulls. Passengers were mutinous. The skulls mocked our plight. Once more we turned toward Bonham. Then, amid shouts of "turn here," "that's it," "no, there," we pulled into a gas station and I asked for directions. We arrived at the plant a few minutes later. So what's this got to do with IW Growing Companies, IndustryWeek's new publication devoted to the information needs of small, growing manufacturers? The north Texas landscape. That's your business landscape. Your growing manufacturing company is the tour bus. All of us on the bus -- the bus driver, attendees, myself -- we're the employees. You are most likely the bus driver. As passengers, we knew our destination, down to the address. You know your company's destination -- success -- and you've targeted it down to very specific levels of profits, revenues, market share, etc. Our bus was certainly moving quite fast -- as evidenced by the scrub trees, rusting tractors, and fence posts whizzing by -- so we must have been getting closer to our destination, right? Your company is moving; it's growing quite fast. You see evidence of this in the new manufacturing capacity you just leased across town, the new employees you're struggling to hire, the proliferation of customer orders and supplier invoices that pass through accounting. But like us, not knowing where our bus was at a given moment, you and your company might not know where you are, either. You've got a map, a strategic plan, but maybe it's missing the compass points that allow you to take a precise, realistic assessment of your organization -- quite difficult in a high-growth mode. Your management, though not necessarily asleep at the back of the bus, assumes you're following a well-detailed map -- your vision -- so they follow. They support you, they even laud your willingness to admit misdirection and move the company on another route. Your employees -- working closely with customers and suppliers, they know first-hand how the operations and market are responding to your navigation -- assume you must have some damn-fine master map and that ultimately you will deliver the company to its destination. But can you? Pull your bus over. Identify your current location, not just from financials, but from voices within your company and from benchmarking outside of your company. And, by all means, pull into IW Growing Companies. Ask us for directions, and get your monthly bearings. When you find out where you're at, you'll have a better idea of where you're growing. Email us at [email protected] and let us know what you think of IW Growing Companies.

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