UP FRONT: How are you doing?

Posted on Jun 3, 2013 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

If you’re like many small-business owners, you sometimes think, “There’s got to be a better way to do this!”

Thanks to a new innovative partnership, now you can efficiently benchmark your small business with similar operations in the Midwest, nationally, or even across the globe. The partnership, between the Wisconsin Small Business Development Centers Network and a benchmarking consultancy firm, Comparison International, makes it easier for companies to share best practices with each other.

CI’s product, called PROBE, is now available at no cost to businesses with 500 employees or fewer through two SBDCs in the New North region.

“PROBE, which stands for promoting business excellence, is a tool for companies thinking about strategic planning that will pinpoint, through benchmarking, where they can improve,” says Ryan Kauth, who is director of the UW-Green Bay SBDC and a certified PROBE facilitator and instructor.

“It’s a global benchmarking system which enables you to compare your company with companies in other parts of the world in your particular industry sector,” says Kauth. “It’s not done just with the owners of the company or the board. It’s a cross-functional way of benchmarking your company, so you need a cross-functional team involved.”

“It’s an absolutely amazing tool to really help (companies) grasp where their procedures, their policies, their practices need help, and it does so in a non-threatening way,” says Colleen Merrill, director of the SBDC at UW-Oshkosh. Merrill also is a certified PROBE facilitator and instructor.

PROBE is essentially a three-step process. First, once a company decides to participate, each member of the team gets a written, 50-question survey about topics such as how the company generates business, who its customers are and how it responds to them, financial practices and how those practices relate to where the company is going.

Second, the group meets with its PROBE facilitator to arrive at a consensus answer about each of the questions.

“It opens up conversation, and I can’t tell you how beneficial it is to have a conversation among multiple levels of management, especially when people see things totally differently,” says Merrill. “It’s definitely a backdrop for strategic planning, because it really tells you where you are at, where you want to go, and how to get there.”

The third step is the actual benchmarking. Within a few minutes, the facilitator can provide a basic report that identifies the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and can make an initial computerized comparison of how the company stacks up against similar companies in Comparison International’s database. But a more detailed comparative analysis follows, which includes graphs and scattergrams that show a company’s strengths, compares it with other companies geographically or by industry, and decides what areas to focus on.

Appleton-based Huzzard Systems, which specializes in application development and bar code integration, is one of the first New North companies to take advantage of the PROBE process. “This analysis forces you to look at your organization through a lens that accents the positive and helps (bring to) surface issues and opportunities that need to be addressed,” says owner Gary Jahnke.

“In just a few hours, we were able to get a meaningful snapshot of our business,” Jahnke says. “I highly recommend it for any small- to medium-sized business that is serious about being profitable, sustaining growth, and creating a culture that strives to achieve perpetual success.”



Interested in a PROBE analysis for your small business?

Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Centers at the 12 four-year University of Wisconsin campuses are the only licensed PROBE facilitators in the state.

These two SBDCs serve the following New North counties:

» UW-Green Bay SBDC – Brown, Calumet, Door, Florence, Forest, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto and Shawano counties. Contact Ryan Kauth at (920) 496-2114 or [email protected] Visit www.uwgb.edu/sbdc.

» UW-Oshkosh SBDC – Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Marquette, Outagamie, Sheboygan, Waushara and Winnebago counties. Contact Colleen Merrill at (920) 424-1456 or [email protected] Visit www.uwosh.edu/sbdc.