Historically a tool had to have moving parts in order to be a machine. Complex business systems can have a lot of moving parts. And for smaller organizations, leaders often find themselves as a key cog in the machine. It’s very difficult to work on the machine when you are still an integral part of it. But as you grow you have to find ways to remove yourself from the system so you can be a mechanic.
Our business model today is fairly complex. If you looked under the hood it looks something like this. We start by sourcing birch logs from Lithuania. Those logs are loaded on a Korean ship and head to the Northeastern Chinese port of Dalian. There they travel by truck to a processing facility. While this is going on we are also buying white oak logs in France stuffing them into a container to be shipped by Danish vessel to the same facility.
The design team in the US makes prototype samples for new product designs and sends them along with the design team to the facility in China to meet the raw materials. In China, we begin manufacturing the birch logs into veneer on machinery made in Taiwan. We process the white oak logs into thick veneer on Austrian frame saws. We then laminate the two types of veneer together using Japanese manufacturing adhesive to make a piece called a blank. We then mill the blank on German molders to have a tongue and groove fit. Next we apply Belgian reactive stains to color the face of the planks and then finish them on Taiwanese finishing lines. Lastly we package the product, brand it and pack it back into a container and load it onto another Korean vessel bound for Los Angeles. In Los Angeles the container is loaded onto a train and brought to Memphis where it is brought by truck to a small town in Missouri. From there it gets shipped to flooring stores all over the US.
But I can clearly remember the days when I was the only employee of the company and I can remember making the decision to ship the first load of lumber. I was terrified not only because I didn’t know exactly how to get the process started but also because I didn’t know if the manufacturing partner could be trusted. It took a lot of faith plus trial and error. Sometimes in small businesses it’s hard to work on the machine because as the leader you are still a cog and you haven’t figured out yet how to remove yourself from the day to day so you can actually analyze, admire, inspect, tinker with, or tweak the machine. But as you grow as an organization you have to find increasing amounts of time to work on the business. Which means you will have to train people you can trust to manage more and more tasks so that you can work on the process rather than just be a cog. Finding the time, even if it’s just 30-60 minutes each week to step out of the day to day and think big picture is absolutely critical if you have aspirations to grow. Otherwise the machine is limited to what you as the leader can churn out, and once your time and talents are maxed out, so is the organization.