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Why Efficiency Matters for Productivity

It’s no secret that efficiency matters in business. Isn’t this something we all strive for: to produce more without increasing the resources driving that outcome? This is the first post in a three-part series in which we will discuss common efficiency pitfalls in companies. Our hope is that you can pause and find one way to increase efficiency in your business today. Are there changes that you can make in your business now that would make you more streamlined, efficient and productive?

Managers that know when to delegate:

Talking to our peers, we agreed (with groans of frustration) that unnecessary all-hands-on-deck weekly meetings are the biggest waste of time. Each of us had the experience of a previous employer who held an all-hands meeting once a week or once a month, or once a quarter. These all-hands meetings don’t ever seem to involve the whole team, the full duration of the meeting. Typically a manager is working with a personal agenda or collecting information from each attendee one at a time. In some cases, information is being shared that doesn’t require any feedback from the attendees (a one-way discourse). We want the unnecessary meetings to stop! The more a manager can fully hand the ownership and execution of a task off to someone on their team, the more they can play a strategic role in growth and success in other areas of the enterprise.

  • Core Problem: One cause of these meetings seems to be managers that are too hands on and need to sit in on (and want everyone else to attend) every meeting. Managers that have trouble delegating or can’t trust their team to execute their jobs might lean toward holding unneeded all-team meetings. If you don’t have a working system to collect the information you need to assess your productivity, you might lean on pulling everyone together to have them report out. This management style wastes everyone’s time to save the manager (or assistant) a few minutes collecting information another way.
  • ACTIVITY: Before you schedule a meeting, multiply the number of people in the meeting by the average hourly salary by the length of the meeting. Is this meeting going to drive outcomes that exceed that cost? Is there another way you can accomplish what the meeting intends to accomplish? What would it look like to cut the length of the meetings in half and hold them half as often?

How choosing the right tool and creating a new process can lead to greater efficiency.

We recently met with a manufacturing company whose warehouse team utilizes post-it notes and paper to transfer inventory lists to the accounting team. The accounting team prints out paper order forms and then an assistant updates a spreadsheet-based off the order forms to keep the overall inventory. This system is wildly inefficient. As an outsider, we were able to immediately see how an inventory software and few pieces of technology would allow us to free up four people to be used toward more productive outcomes.

Sometimes the opposite is true. Companies are so fast to band-aid each problem with a technology solution that they have redundancies and are paying for more than they need. We’ve worked at companies where each person had a Verizon conference call-in number. We also had Skype, which assigns an automatic call-in number. We didn’t need both systems in place. We just needed to assess which is a better use of our resources and choose the best system for our needs.

  • Core Problem: Processes are put in place and instead of seeking out new technology solutions, people are complacent and do things the way they’ve always been done. Sometimes we don’t have the resources for an upgraded system, but often, as time wears on, the inefficiency wastes weeks, months and years in terms of productivity lost. If a decision is made to implement a new tool, be sure to spend the time to see how the solution will solve not only your core problem but what other issues can it resolve. If you can find ONE product that can solve and integrate solutions for four secondary problems, it will be well worth the investment.
  • Activity: Approach one process within your business as an outsider. Create a voice memo or instruction guide for someone else outlining the steps it takes to complete that process. Spend a few minutes researching tools that exist that solve this problem. Is there another way? Take the 10,000-foot view of an outsider and find a better solution.

So far we challenged managers to delegate meaningful work to their subordinates and discussed the some of the reasons inefficient tools and processes exist in the workplace. Today we are going finish up the series with a look at how creating a culture that embraces change will make you more nimble and efficient.

Latitude for Innovation and change

The c-suite leadership within your company will not have the best ideas and innovations to solve the problems for each layer in your company. You need to have a culture where innovation and problem-solving is celebrated and new ideas/solutions are brought to light quickly. We often see that corporate bureaucracy gets in the way of implementing efficient outcomes. You need employees that are willing to problem-solve their day-to-day work and collaborate with peers on finding efficient solutions. Does your culture support free thinkers? Are people not only allowed to speak up and dissent, but are they rewarded for it? If colleagues aren’t just permitted, but encouraged, to speak their minds you’ll stifle new ideas and perspectives that could lead to growth.

  • Core Problem: Leadership does not need to be the primary instigator of change within the company. The more the organization celebrates innovation and embraces change, the more solution-oriented the workplace will become.
  • Activity: Is your company nimble enough to change? What’s one way you can champion lower-level employees voicing inefficiencies they see in their role? Choose one line item in your budget and form a committee to come up with ideas to decrease the bottom line and find another way. Hold a retrospective to analyze a project that has recently come to completion. Don’t only invite the managers of the project to provide feedback, invite the team that is closest to share insights. Invite them to share their thoughts anonymously, personally in a one-on-one conversation, or in a group discussion with their peers/manager.

An efficiency misnomer is that there has to be a major change to make yourself/your team/your business more efficient. Maybe you imagine it will take a full year of coaching, a round of layoffs and an act of God to create a change in your company. But it starts with the small things. Change one process, build-in a few minutes to take stock of your team on a daily basis, or delegate a small facet of your daily workload. Choose a mantra “busy doesn’t equal efficient” or “efficiency, efficient-me!” “Work smarter, not harder” Making small changes will amplify themselves across your entire team; you’ll feel better, you’ll be better; now go get ‘em!

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