First learn walk, then learn fly

My company reached an important milestone today, though I doubt anyone but the three partners will notice. After nearly five months of business, we implemented formal cash control on our tills. Now, that may seem like we’re closing the barn door after the horse has fled, but in reality, the timing was right.

Not every business could get away with waiting so long to start watching the cash registers more closely. But in our case, it was a good move. Why? To start with, there are only three of us running the company and the store, and there is a lot involved in running a store. There were plenty of things that were a higher priority, at least at first.

Furthermore, we’ve spent a fair amount of time just getting used to our POS system and working out how to handle the myriad of situations that come up in normal business. For the first several months it would have been especially difficult to determine just where any error might have come from. We were also still working out many of our processes and policies.

Also, we’re all three of us old hands at retail. We don’t make many of the money-handling mistakes minimum-wage sales clerks make. And if we did, the amount of money we may have lost was fairly small in the big picture. It was an acceptable risk to take in order to get other things done that we felt were more critical.

But now many of those original priorities have gone away or shifted. We’re used to our POS system now, and our business processes are largely set. It’s now safe to say that most mistakes are from user error and not from not knowing how our POS reacts in certain circumstances or how to run a transaction correctly. We know we can trust the reports we receive. Now we have a pretty good chance of identifying the root cause of any errors we detect.

Now that all those building blocks are in place, we recognized that there is a benefit to be gained from exercising tighter control over certain aspects of the business; cash management being one of them. We now have a good chance of succeeding, too, rather than just making ourselves even more stressed and causing ourselves even more problems.

Similar compromises are made in most new businesses. You simply aren’t capable to doing everything you know you should do at first. Some things will rightfully need to be set aside until the organization is mature enough to handle it. The time will come when you can now implement additional controls or processes with a much lower impact than if you’d started out with them right away.

The key is to keep evaluating your businesses so that you don’t forget to implement those changes later on down the road when the situation is more amenable. Don’t just forget or forgo important processes in your business just because you weren’t ready for them initially. The time will eventually be right.

This is not an excuse to throw caution to the wind and have no controls in place at all. On the contrary. The point is to choose wisely so that you have just enough controls in place, and then keep adding on as your business becomes more capable of handling it. Recognize that, like a kite, a business needs constraints to keep it aloft, but too many constraints can keep it from ever leaving ground.

Balance, Daniel-san! First learn walk, then learn fly!

What do you think? Do as much as you can up front, or introduce incremental improvements? Leave a comment below!

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