Time is money may be a cliché, but it’s also a universal truth in business. Your employees’ efficiency directly impacts productivity, which, in turn, affects profits. As a business owner, maintaining hawk-like vigilance on employees’ on-the-job procedures can make a notable difference to your bottom line. Here are some areas that may need improvement.
Reduce Quality Checks While Increasing Accuracy
High-quality products and services are the cornerstone of every business, so you naturally want top-level accuracy in every process. But sometimes, too much checking can actually reduce accuracy. Double-checking every point in a 10-step process, for example, can place employees so close to the process that they don’t see the errors. Even if you can’t wait until step 10 to look for errors, you can establish the one or two touch points (including the last step) in the process where errors are likely to be most apparent. End result: reduced time with more errors found.
Identify and Address Bottlenecks
From making sandwiches during the lunch hour rush to developing custom software, business tasks often resemble assembly lines. If you find one or more employees sitting idle, you have a bottleneck. But fixing a bottleneck is not as simple as speeding up the preceding processes or even re-distributing the workload. You need to figure out precisely what’s broken before you can fix it.
Shadowing workers or videotaping them is great if they work in a prison laundry facility, but spying makes most employees nervous, often creating more inefficiency. You’re the boss. Between you and the process supervisors, you probably already know every step in the process. You need to create a visual image of the process, so that you can step back to see the big picture.
Sticky notes are a great way to draw a flowchart of the steps. You don’t even have to use your conference room wall any more —they now make special easel pads just for this purpose. If you see that one person performs all of the laborious tasks, work redistribution is a possible solution. Or, perhaps just changing the order of the steps will get the work flowing more efficiently.
As you formulate solutions, keep your sticky note chart up-to-date so that everyone involved has a clear idea of the new procedures. And don’t throw out that flowchart. The new workflow may create new bottlenecks that require adjustment.
Incentivize Increased Productivity
You can choose between a carrot and a stick to achieve the efficiency levels that your business needs to survive and grow. A rewards-based system encourages more productivity while keeping employees interested and happy. Here are a few incentive programs to consider:
Contests where employees earn anything from framed award certificates to gift cards create friendly competition and team spirit;
Privileges like flex-time or even telecommuting options (if appropriate) can help keep employees happy and productive; and/or
Sharing the rewards of increased productivity creates a win-win situation. If greater efficiency translates to a great bottom line, top-notch employees deserve to share in the profits via salary increases or bonuses.
Make sure that you increase productivity without losing quality. The goal is to encourage employees to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their jobs. As an extra bonus, you will have a list of likely candidates for promotion when higher-level jobs become available in the company.
Hire a Professional
Small business owners are often too close to daily operations to pinpoint why productivity is low. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, an efficiency consultant may help find the answers. Experienced consultants have an uncanny ability to hone in on issues that you cannot see. Plus, they are more attuned to effective technology and other solutions, so you won’t have to resort to a trial-and-error approach. By getting it right the first time, you can see a return on the consulting fees more quickly than you might expect.
Make “We’ve Always Done it This Way” a Banished Phrase
Your employees do the job every day. But they won’t offer suggestions if they believe the company motto is “we’ve always done it this way.” Invite their input by making it clear that “we’re flexible” is your true credo.
Flexibility does not mean that you should say “yes” to inappropriate suggestions, but you don’t need to reject suggestions outright, either. Rather, initiate a brainstorming session. Your different viewpoints can work synergistically to unearth a more effective process. Plus, you can always initiate trial periods for a new set of tactics before fully committing to change.
No one wants to waste time performing unnecessary steps or take too long to produce the final product or service. The tedium alone can sap workers’ interest and spirit. As you work together to improve every process, you make the work more engaging while enhancing employee investment in the outcome. Team spirit creates a high-energy environment that makes everyone look forward to going to work.