3 Eff words that can increase your company’s productivity

And no, we’re not advocating cursing as a means to an end. Although in your organization’s march toward better productivity it might serve to make you feel better at times…

We can all agree that better use of time, employees, and resources is the goal as we try to streamline our companies and survive the competitiveness of our industries. The question I have is this: Are we defining what that means exactly?
Better use of time = Efficiency
Efficiency is, at best, an overused term. Many of the tools and approaches deemed to make us more efficient are not much more than distractions. The only true way to grasp efficiency is to only focus on the tasks that get you closer to your goal. Shortcuts are helpful, but all of the really important tasks to be accomplished to grow your business have little to do with technology or time management. Those most important tasks typically require stepping outside your comfort zone and engaging people, managing deadlines, and negotiating various deliverables.

The use of your time to master the tasks necessary to meet these goals will result in the efficiency you are looking for.
Better use of employees = Effectiveness
Effectiveness, in my experience, is rarely evaluated. Are your employees busy? Absolutely. In fact, you are probably at a point where you need to hire more to keep up with the endless pile of tasks not completed by your current staff.

Yes, busy is good. Busy work… not so much.

You are paying talented, educated, and experienced people a good salary, but what type of work are they engaged in? Is your employee with a B.S. in Accounting and 5 years experience pounding the keyboard pulling data out of multiple systems and creating […]

How do I make my employees care?

Your primary focus is the growth and financial health of an organization or the smooth operation of a department. You make efforts to provide your employees with the perks to keep them loyal, and the motivation to make them care as much for the well-being of the organization or department as you do. Yet despite your best efforts, their heart just isn’t in it. Both you and your employees are in a cycle of trading their time for your (or your organization’s) money.
So how do I break this cycle?
Unless you’re Google or Facebook, and can afford to provide over-the-top employee perks and benefits to keep employees interested and focused, you’re going to have to speak to their desire to be part of something great. The companies that retain top talent and get the most out of that top talent give those employees what they are really looking for – a sense of accomplishment and ownership. You see, the benefits and perks are all nice, and great for recruiting, but those are not the things that keep top talent engaged. For that to happen, people need to feel a sense of ownership.

Most of my posts speak directly to improving productivity in the workplace, although I did touch on empowering your employees in an earlier post. Simply empowering them, however, won’t break this cycle. You are going to have to lead them. I see many good managers, but very few leaders. Directing traffic, assigning tasks, and monitoring progress is a management activity – more or less the “what” and “how” of daily work activities. A true leader instills the desire to understand the “why” behind the daily undertakings. If you want your employees to care about […]

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    Is it time to upgrade the way you do work? The productivity gains can be substantial.

Is it time to upgrade the way you do work? The productivity gains can be substantial.

You review your personal technology devices – cell phone, computer, tablet, laptop – every year or two. Your company (hopefully) reviews technology platforms and equipment every two to five years. So why are your internal processes the same ones that have been in place since… well…  do you even know when they were established? The gains to be had in productivity are no less substantial than the advances we’ve seen in technology. The changes that are put in place are usually reactive in nature and necessary to keep up with growth. At some point it’s going to be time to step back and evaluate how work is done from start to finish.
Let’s look at this from a different angle
We all want to see results faster, attain information that has already been compiled, be given enough data to make informed decisions, and believe in leprechauns. The first three might actually be possible, but first you’re going to have to step back and look at how business is being done. You’ve been keeping up with the growth and hiring people to help maintain the increased data flow, but you never really feel like you have the entire picture in front of you. Instead of focusing on the specific tasks being done every day, let’s step back and look at daily operations from a data flow standpoint.
Data flow and how it relates to productivity
Chances are, when you established the way business is done you were probably not operating with all of the data input and management systems you are today. Rather than review the processes and activities based on the new information, you have probably taken one of two courses of action. You either slightly altered the […]

What is Productivity?

What Productivity is NOT
I come across articles and blog posts fairly frequently that speak of productivity and time management as if they mean the same thing.  What I find is that most of these articles are simply telling us how to get more done in a day.  How to force more annoying tasks into the limited time we have.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not real interested in scheduling every minute of my day with mundane and redundant tasks.

Yes, productivity can improve with things like better time management, applications for your phone that help you stay organized and on task, and other such things that make up the “what” and “how” of managing your daily life.  But let’s explore another aspect of this.  What if all those extra actions you are trying to organize and manage just went away?  What if instead of juggling dozens of tasks, and spending a good part of your day organizing and managing those activities, they just managed themselves?  That, my friends, is the true meaning of productivity.

Merriam-Webster defines Productivity as the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed.

If we are truly looking for ways to make our work days more productive, let’s stop doing things in stupid ways.  Over the last 20 years, all of my customer success stories were made possible by simple tasks that had been made to be ridiculously difficult and time consuming, and there was significant room for improvement.  True gains in productivity come not from organizing tasks, but from automating or eliminating those tasks.

It’s time to rock the boat and stop using the excuse of “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” to justify an activity.  If you’re concerned […]

Is Excel causing more problems than it’s solving?

Excel does exactly what you tell it to do.  It’s just that sometimes there seems to be a language barrier…
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a fan of Excel.  The capabilities in terms of automation are extensive, and the ease of use is great.  However…  there’s also the fact that many users of the application don’t have a firm grasp of how formulas can backfire if you cut and paste data or move columns around.  As we discussed in The High Cost of Low Productivity, these types of errors could be costing you more than you realize.

In her article “Damn you, Excel spreadsheets, JP Morgan Chase edition”, Heather Timmons points out a real-world example of a problem you could be experiencing in your own organization and not even know it:
“Due to an error in an Excel spreadsheet used to model risk, JP Morgan seriously underestimated the downside of its synthetic credit portfolio, which ultimately led to the bank to declare $6 billion in losses and could lead to another $600 million in fines. As James Kwak explains on Baseline Scenario, the errors stemmed from a combination of copy-paste mistakes and a faulty equation created to crunch the numbers.”
So do I stop using Excel?
The short answer is “No”.   If you’re utilizing Excel for large amounts of information and formulas, and manually copying data into the spreadsheets, you basically have 3 options to guarantee you aren’t creating more problems than you’re solving.
1.Validate, Test, Validate, Test, etc…
The first option is to manually go through and validate all of the formulas.  Copy and paste will distribute the formula to all rows, but now you’re involving people in the process and that introduces risk.  If you’re dealing with small amounts of data and […]

The high cost of low productivity

What you’ll pay for low productivity
So you’re aware of the inefficient and unproductive busy work going on in your organization.  Correcting this problem sounds difficult, potentially expensive, and may seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
Low productivity and inefficiencies are costing you more than you realize.  Here are three of the basic reasons why:
1. Inefficient tasks are prone to human error
Is your management team making decisions based on numbers provided by your accounting team?  Are those numbers provided in the form of spreadsheets, briefings, and reports that are manually generated every month?  Guess what… people make mistakes.  If you have large spreadsheets with multiple and repeated formulas, chances are there are errors.  Maybe the errors are minor.  Then again…

Now, let’s take it a step further.  You have briefing slides that link to those spreadsheets to give a dashboard-style presentation to management. Those briefing slides are linked to the spreadsheets when they are originally created.  Is anyone checking the links for accuracy and completeness?  Everything appears to be working, so is it “out of sight, out of mind”?

I led the design and implementation of an effort to automate monthly management briefings in a large organization.  To accomplish the effort, we had to extract the business rules from the existing spreadsheets and briefing slides.  Once we pulled back the covers, we encountered numerous errors throughout both pieces.  Cut and paste actions inside the spreadsheet caused formulas to point to the wrong cells.  Briefing slides were linked to old versions of spreadsheets.  Basically, the accounting team had been briefing management with bad numbers for FOUR YEARS.  Management had been making critical decisions as to the direction and plans for the organization based primarily on those numbers.
2. Inefficient tasks […]

Productivity begins with awareness

Setting expectations for productivity

I have five questions for you to consider:

Are your employees spending time doing busy work rather than focusing on helping you improve the company’s financial health and profitability?
Are your employees aware of what you expect from them?
Are you certain of what you expect from your employees?
Are new hires educated as to how their activities impact the company as a whole?
Are new hires educated as to why job functions must be performed a certain way?

It’s rare that a new hire walks in the door questioning the process used to perform their daily tasks.  Instructions are given as to how to perform the tasks of the job, and the employee follows those instructions regardless of any imperfections in the process.  If an employee has been hired to analyze the financial health of the organization, but spends the majority of her time gathering and compiling information, are you getting the most value possible?  Or are there ways to make her job more efficient, and increase the value she can add to the organization?

Awareness that there is a problem is the first step to correcting the problem. If you fail to set expectations for automation and efficiency in the workplace, your staff will continue to do things the way they have always done them.  Making people aware of the idea of working smarter rather than harder empowers them to improve the way they do things.

One way to create an atmosphere of efficiency, teamwork, and empowerment is to give your staff permission to improve their work environment and improve the efficiency of tasks they perform.  Changes and improvements can range from re-positioning equipment to automation of data gathering and reporting activities.

Far too often the method by which […]