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 are time consuming

How much time are your people spending on tasks that are manual, redundant, and generally inefficient?  Are the manual data gathering activities the best use of your employees’ time?  Chances are good that your people are spending hours or even days on activities that can be accomplished in minutes if the proper processes are established.

A customer approached me several years ago.  He was annoyed that one of his top analysts was spending three full days out of every week compiling information that was critical to balancing the payroll.  She was pulling information from four separate systems in order to validate and alter the data being collected.  She then manually created a file that was processed into an external system to apply the corrections.  All this effort was taking away from her ability to do her job.  She was no longer analyzing the data and identifying discrepancies; she was spending her days doing busy work.  Critical busy work, but busy work none the less.  With proper processes and automation applied to the effort, the task was reduced from three days per week to 15 minutes per week.

3. Inefficient tasks result in indifference

It is a difficult task to keep your employees focused on growing and improving the organization.  For many employees the tasks they perform every day are a means to an end.  They are trading their time for money.  If you take an educated person who has experience, a strong work ethic, and a desire to make a difference and you place them in a job doing manual and redundant activities all day every day, their desire to excel is going to diminish.  Combine the daily routine with a lack of communication from management regarding how their activities benefit the organization, and indifference will begin to seep in.  With indifference comes lower moral and an increased potential for human error in the tasks being performed.

The price you pay

What price are you paying for low productivity in the workplace?  Is it lost revenue due to making decisions based on bad information?  Is it lost profit due to simple tasks taking an inordinate amount of time?  Is it high turnover of employees?  Sometimes the true cost is difficult to measure.  You may even look at it as the cost of doing business.

If your reason for continuing to use inefficient tasks to get the job done is “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it”, then it’s time to step back and take a good look at how business is being done.  There are improvements to be made, and efficiencies to be gained.  Looking at the price you’re paying to do it the hard way, the price tag that accompanies automation may not seem so high.