A couple of years ago, I did development work for the regional leadership team of a large milling and baking company, located in the northern part of South Africa. During the workshop, we looked at “stretch” for the business, attempting to find possible solutions to grow the business and bring it up to near full milling capacity and also correspondingly increase sales. We struggled with the issues of the business – no one seemed to be able to find viable stretch projects to impact the business positively. I suggested that we question all the major business processes, looking for improvement alternatives – these were the results:
• We tasked the mill maintenance team to look at ways to shorten the eight hour weekly mill maintenance cycle, without compromising quality, to enable an increase in production hours – they managed to shave 105 minutes off the normal weekly maintenance routine per mill, freeing up valuable hours of production, and translating into increased revenue generation.
• We tasked the leadership team, especially the sales functional head, to investigate new markets for their product. The company had concentrated most of their activities within South Africa, keeping their products very local. With the help of the leadership team, neighbouring countries were targeted and potential new clients sought. Today, the company has increased production considerably and now export product to three neighbouring countries.
Looking for stretch opportunities within business is not easy, especially when old paradigms remain as our business operating model – “we have always done it this way, so just need to try harder!” Achieving stretch requires change – a change in thinking, a different approach, a new way of doing things. Repeating what you have always been doing will not give you different results.
Stretch and subsequent new results become a possibility when we ask the difficult questions relating to attitude and business processes, when we rattle the cage of mediocrity and challenge the “why” of doing business the way that we do. Stretch is not an illusion, but a real possibility when the exercise of insightful leadership leads to reinventing what we do.