Every business owner knows the importance of running a profitable and lean team, but when was the last time you took the pulse of your operation? How long has it been since the processes were examined to identify possible wasted produce, or double handling, or time efficiencies, or cost reductions, or new selling opportunities, or improved technologies and materials?
All businesses need regular review against targets to monitor progress and this becomes even more critical during tough economic times.
To avoid becoming one of the statistics and keep you leading the competition with a healthy profitable business, combine regular review and improvement of procedures with new ideas and innovations from your team.
‘How?’ you may ask. Where do you start? The following are a couple of suggestions to help you on your way:
Suggestion #1: What do you do?
Identify exactly what your company does. This may sound like an odd strategy, so hang in there with my thought process for a moment while I explain further.
Identifying clearly your core company purpose provides a gauge with which to measure each business process and ensures everyone has the same understanding of why you are all there.
Think about a normal work day. Do you and your staff spend the majority of your time working to achieve this core purpose? What is the breakdown of a normal work day for core and non-core business activities?
Suggestion #2: How do you do it?
Question each back-of-house procedure (non core activities), against the relevance of achieving your company purpose.
If, for example, you were in the business of supplying glass, how much of the day is spent taking customer orders and filling them (your core business) and how much time is spent on other non-core business activities? If the balance is disproportionate, look for ways to improve your business procedures using simple problem-solving skills.
Example: List each non-core activity that takes up your time, and for one week identify how often these activities occur by placing a tick next to them, or timing how long they take you to complete. At the end of the week, tally-up the figures. Whichever has the highest occurrence or takes up the majority of your time is where you start examining for improvement opportunities.
Suggestion #3: How does it feel?
Have you experienced your company through a consumer experience? Pretending to be a customer can open your eyes to shortfalls and difficulties experienced while trying to purchase your product or use your services. Also, just ask them; survey your customers about their experiences with your company.
Do your customers get shuffled between departments because of unclear instructions, or misunderstood job roles? Is the information your customers need easy to find?
How easy do you make it for your customers to recommend you to their friends?
Suggestion #4: What’s happening on the inside?
For internal customer processes, try tracing the path of a customer order or inquiry through each department. Do all departments use the same information or do some require additional data? Is there double handling? Can all the information be collected at the beginning and shared between departments automatically?
Can any of your manual processes be automated? Are all the steps in the process necessary?
Alarm bells should be ringing loudly if the answer “This is the way it’s always been done” is offered as an explanation to any procedure, and would be an ideal place to start dissecting your operation.
Suggestion #5: Are you happy?
Encourage your employees to look for areas of improvement and equip them with some basic problem-solving skills. The benefits of staff helping with procedure streamlining of their areas creates overall operational efficiencies as well as helping your team to develop ownership and control over their environment. Actively engaged workers who are empowered to find new and improved ways to operate will continue to evolve, offering improvements and innovations that benefit both themselves and your business.
Gain a reputation as being an employer of choice, with staff empowered to improve their own working environments, offer ideas, find solutions, and reduce non-core business problems.
Suggestion #6: Are you lined up?
Out-dated processes often lead to ‘work around’ solutions. If enough time passes, what should be a clear line between customer order and delivery gets looped around in unnecessary circles of business processes.
Examine any procedure that passes through the same department/area/desk closely to find where the system is falling down and straighten out the loops.
Would updating the order form with prompts for all necessary information be helpful? Do you need to document manufacturing lead times so customers know when to expect delivery?
Suggestion #7: Great team and great ideas
Groups will offer multiple view points and varied ideas on solutions to any issues you come across in your business. Use a collective brain to improve your business by gathering small groups for each area to meet regularly, or alternately start with a simple request to your entire team: “Is there a better way to do this?”
All business benefit from operating in a cost effective manner (expenses cut straight into profits). People directly involved in each of your operating processes will provide the best information relating to issues they encounter in that area, and often the best solutions.
Set up a regular review process for all your business procedures and monitor the progress to ensure continual improvement is one of the foundations of your business.
Start today. Start now. Ask a simple question: “Is there a better way to do this?”
Belinda Cook is the owner of Success Strategy Series, which offers eBooks on simple, easy-to-use strategies, encouraging continual improvement.
Photo: brain_blogger (flickr)