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Business Productivity: Maximising the productivity of business systems, processes and structure

Productivity Blackspots

Businesses are dynamic.  They are constantly evolving in response to their environment.  Over time, new and old practices meld together and its not always a harmonious, productive relationship.  Every now and then you need to spring clean your business processes, systems and structure to remove the black spots. 

Here are some indicators  to quickly recognise if productivity black spots have crept into a business. As the business owner-operator or manager you may recognise some of these behaviours.

  • You’re the first to arrive and last to leave each day
  • You are doing everyone else’s job as well as your own
  • You feel the need to watch over people’s shoulders to make sure the job is being done properly
  • There is a lot of band-aiding of processes and systems
  • You don’t have enough time
  • You are involved in fire fighting issues as they arise
  • The wages bill has gone up but you’re working just as hard
  • There is a general sense of people scrambling to keep up

How to Clean Up

Here are the steps to go through to clean up the black spots.  You can implement these as well.

1. Identify the repetitive issues

What issues keep reoccurring frequently?  What problems constantly pop up?  Ask your team to help you write a list of these.  It may take a week or two to compile so you can see the patterns emerging.

These repetitive issues are the symptoms of what’s not working in the business.

2. Identify the  “Black Spots”

Black spots are the underlying cause of the issues you are experiencing.  You need to do some root cause analysis, which is basically a long winded way of saying you need to ask why.

For instance, if phone calls aren’t being answered in a timely manner.  You start asking ‘why?’.

  • Why wasn’t the phone answered in 3 rings? …because Jan was down the hallway
  • Why was Jan down the hallway? ….because she needed to take a file to Jim
  • Why did Jan need to take the file to Jim?... because he can’t access it on his computer
  • Why can’t Jim access it on his computer?...because he doesn’t have security permissions.

Get the drift?  Once you do this analysis on a number of the “symptoms” some common, underlying causes start to emerge.  These are the “black spots”.

3. Validate the Black Spots with Staff

Once you have completed your analysis check back with your staff to ensure you have identified the right ones.  Get their feedback and refine accordingly.  Be aware that your own viewpoint of the situation may be influencing the black spots that you see.  You lack objectivity.  If the opinion of staff is different to your own, don’t dismiss their ideas, find other ways of validating each viewpoint to determine which one is the most effective.

4. Do a ROI Analysis

Some black spots are going to be worth fixing, others aren’t.  Look at the business case for each major change that is planned.  Does it make good business sense? Prioritise those projects that provide the better return on investment.

5. Document and feedback

Document the changes that are planned and how those changes will be implemented.  It’s critical that you get the team's input again at this stage.  You need their support and buy-in or the change process will be ineffective.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate

It’s almost impossible to over communicate with your team during the change process.  Be strategic with your communication.  Highlight and emphasise progress, the small steps as well as the big wins.  Congratulate and reward.  Don’t gripe or publicly comment on people’s shortfalls.  Keep everyone in the loop, ask for feedback and celebrate success.

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