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The word “hero” has positive connotations for most people. In business, though, heroes are a mixed blessing. When a business reaches a certain size, it needs to learn to rely less on heroes, and more on a systems-based approach—or else face getting stuck where it is.
What does the contrast have to do with logistics, warehousing, and fulfillment? For many small companies, the hero approach is the norm when it comes to logistics and fulfillment. One survey, the State of Small Business Report conducted by Wasp Barcode Technologies, found that 48% of small businesses do not track their inventory, or else use a manual process. It’s not too far of a leap to conclude that, in many of these cases, it is a single hero or a small hero team doing the manual entry, tasked with keeping track of everything going on.
While this might work for many small businesses, the fact remains: Those heroes themselves are keeping those businesses small.
In a business context, the term “hero” has come into use to refer to a talented person who, through a combination of knowledge, effort, and will, manages to make a department, operation, or project just work. These are the people that work late to get something right, have developed many processes personally, and seem to know all the answers.
But, as a company grows, having a resident “hero” can almost be a bad thing. Yes, heroes tend to be the knowledgeable “doers” in an organization, always managing to keep the ship afloat (so to speak). The ways in which they do so, however, do not scale with a business. The knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm of a hero actually begins to work to a company’s detriment.
This is because heroes tend to…
Again, these are simply tendencies that business heroes have. Not all heroes will display all of these features. Indeed, the best heroes display almost none of them...because they understand that the best thing they can do for their business is to allow it to grow beyond them.
So what is the alternative to getting a hero in place? It is to adopt a systems approach. In a systems approach, work is guaranteed not by one superstar individual, but by having the right procedures, technology, and documentation in place. For example:
Admittedly, the systems-based approach can be a lot slower, especially when one factors in the time needed to implement new procedures and technology. But it is one of the few ways to ensure continuity of operations and the ability to scale.
Why the long essay on business heroes versus a systems approach? For many small companies, the hero approach is the norm when it comes to logistics and fulfillment. While those heroes are serving their companies well, they easily could be holding back those companies as well.
The solution, of course, is not to ditch the heroes, but to change the company culture and approach. If a company dedicates itself to bringing new systems on board and using them, people will naturally become less and less dependent on those heroes. The result can be liberating: Those heroes can now go on to do more interesting, innovative things, and the operation can run with continuity. Isn’t that a win-win?
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