The Big Squeeze

Best ways to improve business productivity

Whilst good people are hard to find, and even more difficult to recruit, tolerating under-performers piles pressure on the remaining staff and damages productivity. Simply because someone appears busy and puts in long hours doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is being efficient or productive. The challenge is to stop making excuses and take action, which is likely to be uncomfortable, particularly if the person is popular or has been with you for a while.

You should look at your organizational structure and determine whether those in managerial roles are actually doing what they are being paid to do and adding value as a result. If they’re not, you should consider streamlining the structure and taking cost out.

Look at your organisational processes and decision-making. Better information flows will reduce delays, deliver collaborative benefits and increase productivity.

Review your planning and procurement practices. Reconsider outsourcing functions or processes, which will enable you to increase efficiency whilst keeping costs under control. Opponents are likely to claim your business has unique needs, but it’s rare that these needs outweigh the potential benefits of outsourcing routine tasks. Depending on the size of your company, accounting, marketing & research, sales, IT, HR, manufacturing, shipping and logistics, and customer service can all be outsourced. Even virtual assistants are becoming commonplace, especially for owners of small businesses.

Often, small repeat purchases avoid scrutiny, despite adding up to substantial sums over the year. Supply prices should be tested regularly, particularly in the current climate, as should maintenance and service agreements. Extend your replacement cycle for equipment by 6-12 months. Eliminate anything that is no longer essential.

Expenses can quickly escalate and go unnoticed. For instance, train tickets that could be bought in advance but are not; lunches brought-in for meetings; training and events arranged in isolation of other activities that could be combined; tuition reimbursed without any employee commitment.

If you have introduced new systems or technology, you will have done so to improve efficiency or increase output without additional staff. If you are still operating in the same way and you have not seen a tangible gain, you may want to reflect on the reason. Conversely, you may have rejected productivity-enhancing suggestions that required investment. Now is the time to reconsider.

Meetings can be hugely efficient. Unfortunately, few are. Too many occur without an agenda and clear goals, or allowing sufficient time for participants to prepare in advance, so little gets accomplished. Poor timekeeping wastes people's time and negatively impacts other projects. Invariably, a company’s busiest and most valuable employees spend more time in meetings than is absolutely necessary, decreasing their own productivity and impact. It’s worth reviewing the frequency, content, attendees, and genuine need for each meeting, and to determine which ones can be reduced, consolidated or eliminated.

Pay attention to risk management. Identify the dangers, both big and small, that stand in the way of better productivity and profitability, and prepare mitigation strategies.

Often, small efforts can produce appreciable savings. 

Portfolio Director