Despite indications that the economy is improving, here in the trenches we know that layoffs, budget cuts, acquisitions and mergers are still the reality. Managers are asking themselves, “What if these cuts hit my department? How can I do more with less?”
Time-honored admonitions such as “nose to the grindstone” or “come in early, stay late and work through lunch” have been the approach to dealing with productivity and quality problems in the business world for years. These old-school strategies of working harder are not practical with today’s workforce, and at best provide only short-term relief.
To be effective, today’s management techniques must focus on working smarter for the long run. Increasing productivity and quality in your operations and cultivating opportunities to decrease operating expenses is key. Concentrating efforts on these long-term issues will prove more profitable than placing emphasis on shorter-term Band-Aid approaches.
“OK,” you say, “staffing cuts and increasing workloads have left me reactionary and in crisis mode. How do I find time to do this analysis? Where do I start?” The answer—by instituting these five steps:
- Concentrate on your customer.
- Identify your customer’s needs.
- Analyze your department’s operation.
- Formulate your efficiency plan.
- Assess your success.
Concentrate on Your Customer
Who is your customer? It’s surprising how often this piece of productivity is downplayed—or missed all together. As is true in many industries, your internal customer is not the final external customer. Ask yourself how your department can better service your internal customer? By fulfilling your internal customers’ needs, you allow them to more effectively service their customers’ needs. Meeting periodically with your customers helps you understand what they need from your department. An innovative strategy that balances the need to understand the customer with managing increasing department workflows is to invite the department managers (your internal customers) for a standing bi-weekly “working lunch.” The purpose of these lunches is to discuss internal customer needs and to mutually discover solutions that will allow each department to more effectively service its customers.
Identify Your Customer’s Needs
To identify the needs of your customers, you need to assess whether they are satisfied with the service and quality levels that your department currently provides.
What service levels are acceptable to your customer? Is that service level realistic? Achievable? Are there additional services that your department can provide to your customers to enhance the customer service that they in turn provide? On the flipside, are there any unnecessary services your department currently provides that the customer doesn’t need? Customer needs change over time — make sure you’re in the loop.
Is the level of quality you provide to your customer appropriate or overkill? Provide poor quality, and your customer is dissatisfied. Spend too much time on unnecessary quality checks, and your productivity drops. What quality level is mutually agreeable to you and your customer?
Analyze Your Department’s Operation
Start by documenting the workflow. The more detailed the analysis, the more effective you will be in discovering ways to maximize process effectiveness and minimize expenses. What specific services does your department perform for your customer? Where are the logjams that slow the delivery of your department’s service to your customer?
Look at the processes that are performed within your department, their delivery schedules and required resources. Are any of these processes influenced by outside elements? Are all of the processes necessary? Processes that don’t add value to the product being delivered to the customer should be eliminated.
The same goes for redundancy. Consider the effectiveness of combining processes to increase the speed of delivery to your customer. Are you doing something in two steps, when one step would achieve the same goal at the same quality level? Look to identify where the workflow slows or stops. What is creating the delay? Can you control or eliminate the cause of the delay? Can you work around it?
How would you rate your department’s use of technology? Are you taking advantage of all the available tools? When caught in a time crunch, it’s easy to write off the time it takes to learn new programs or technology as a waste of time. Unfortunately, some of us never get back to our initial plan of blocking out time to learn about new technology. Once you’ve worked through the crisis and managed to pull off a minor miracle to get everything done, the urge to plan in advance for the next time has worn off.
Don’t fall into this trap. Take the time to educate yourself on the technological advances available. Some advanced planning could yield real cost and time savings to your operation.
Formulate Your Efficiency Plan
Use standard project management methodology to provide a framework within which to work. First, identify where your inefficiencies are so you can begin to address them.
Next, create your timeline. What are your limitations and goals? Can you make changes in your organization within a three-month timeline, or is a six-month timeline more realistic? If you need to involve other departments or resources, remember to include them in your planning. If your plan includes staffing up or realigning existing staff, make sure you’re allowing enough time for hiring, transition and training time.
Review and assign specific task responsibilities. If your evaluation has identified a lack of training on a specific process as the culprit for slowing production, document and update your training manual and conduct training sessions. Assign team leaders or key point personnel to help manage the changes and track the completion of project deliverables. Establish communication strategies for keeping everyone in the loop on the status of the project. Set milestones and acknowledge when they’ve been met.
Most importantly, empower your staff to discover opportunities to increase department and operations efficiency. Encourage them to participate and help identify where and when procedures or processes can be revamped. Who better to identify trouble spots than those with their hands in them on a daily basis?
Remember, change can make some employees nervous, so make it worth their while to speak up. Recognize and acknowledge employee participation and production excellence by establishing reward programs. Employee reward programs run the gamut from pizza lunches and gift certificates to special parking spaces and comp time. Test the waters for what’s most appropriate to your organization’s culture.
Assess Your Success
This is the step that’s most commonly overlooked. How will you know if you’ve achieved the efficiencies you set out to attain, if you’re not measuring your successes? Successes may be found in easily measurable time and cost savings, or in the less-than-concrete improved customer satisfaction. Number crunching will give you part of the picture, but don’t neglect the value of surveying your customer to judge how your improved processes impacted them.
By implementing these five steps, you can better prepare yourself and your department for the economic uncertainties to come.
Linda Eagle, Ph.D., is president of The Edcomm Group—an 18-year-old banking and financial services consulting firm specializing in the development of creative education and communication business solutions that improve productivity, customer service and market share, providing bottom-line results. Linda can be reached at email@example.com.Filed under: Technology