When personal computers began making their way into businesses in the late 1980s the country saw a huge boost in productivity and companies quickly became reliant on their cyber-servants and the information and crucial processes they controlled.
In those days, a computer crisis almost always involved a technical failure of a component and/or the ineptitude of a human being who failed to make a data backup or triggered the erasure of records. Those problems still exist in varying forms but the biggest worry now is the malicious intent of human beings, whether inside our organizations or hiding in some distant cyber “back alley” waiting to burglarize and seize control of our systems.
Having begun my business career in a chain store retail environment the importance of achieving measurable goals -- particularly sales increases -- was baked into my brain. This was an era of very high inflation and a business that was not growing in step with rising prices was actually losing ground. It still makes for a feeling of puzzlement inside me now, decades later, when I encounter CEDF clients who do not establish relevant, defined goals for their own business growth.
Along the way, by owning my own retail operations, I began to better understand the nuances of defining goals and motivating teams to accomplishing them. If for example, one has a location impacted by a major change in customer traffic due to the disappearance of a nearby major store, the underlying need to accomplish growth doesn't go away, but the management approach sure does. When your team is feeling discouraged over the difficulty -- if not impossibility -- of achieving a goal, you need something besides a bigger whip.
This is just one situation where systems should take the spotlight. Like a baseball batter in a hitting slump who refocuses on fundamentals, systems can mitigate or even turn around what seem to be intractable challenges. But effective systems have to already be in place and ready to reach for. Perhaps, because I spent so many of my early years as a systems-builder in the organizations where I worked, the need for systems and processes seemed so obvious, for years I didn't understand their real value in supporting the accomplishment of goals.
I've run across a few articles in recent years about using systems over goals. Some by cartoonist Scott Adams inspired discussions in our Small Business As Usual podcast 18-4 with Caleb Roseme.
But I don't completely agree. A ship can have an efficient crew, working with great efficiency, but the rudder has to be pointed in some direction. As baseball great Yogi Berra supposedly said, "If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else."
I recently sat in on a teleconference seminar hosted by CEDF about the range of issues to consider before buying a commercial building. There was a lot of very helpful information provided on the financial aspects the transaction but very little provided about the initial evaluation of a building prior to the decision to purchase. And not knowing the history of a building from the utility services perspective can be costly to a buyer.
Almost every day in my position at Norwich Public Utilities (NPU), I work with existing and prospective commercial and industrial buyers prior to a final purchase. It’s important that I work with them as soon into the process as possible to make sure they have fully assessed the building’s envelope from a utility point of view. For example, is the building up to code? Are the existing utility services adequate for the proposed use? Is the hearing and cooling system adequate for the new use? Many times, a buyer will not even contact the utility company until they’ve leased or purchased a building, only to find out that there are significant utility upgrades that need to be done prior to energizing the building.
The City of Norwich building officials have a check list for building owners and developers that provides important information about specific building permits or code upgrades that may be required. There may be zoning issues that require code corrections or zone changes due to a proposed change of use for the building. The Norwich Community Development Corporation (NCDC) can also be a helpful resource for guidance and assistance with code corrections and financing.
NPU can provide a potential buyer information about the history of utility service in that particular building, any service upgrades that may be required for your specific use and deposits that must be paid for new services to be turned on. Or there may be utility work needed along or beneath the road that a potential buyer didn’t consider and may be responsible for.
Norwich Public Utilities works directly with new building owners and developers to provide estimated monthly utility costs based on projected load requirements for a new business use. It’s important to contact NPU early so that we can help you determine all the costs associated with owning or leasing a building. It’s just as important for a utility provider to know how a building will be used so that we can correctly determine the electric, natural gas, water and wastewater load requirements.
Most responsible realtors check into the utility services for their clients prior to the final sale, but some do not. Prospective building owners need to be aware of all potential costs associated with the purchase of a building including utility services upgrades, deposits for services, monthly estimated costs for services or sewer connection fees required.
If you’re considering buying a commercial building, call your local utility company early on in the process and make sure you understand how the building operates, if there are any code issues that need to be addressed and if the existing utilities will support your proposed use. You’ll be glad you made that call.
Most of CEDF’s borrowers have five of fewer employees. Businesses of this scale are often in a circumstance where the available jobs don’t come with an array of fringe benefits, insurance and perks. Unlike a Silicon Valley giant there’s no employee cafeteria with free food, a masseuse and child care on site.