Be more productive: Improve! Improve! Improve!

I love challenging the status quo – not just for the sake of changing things – but because there are always ways to do things better.  Here are some suggestions to improve your business productivity.

  • Start with yourself

Take some time away from slaving at your small business.  Step back.  Read. Ponder. Analyze. Plan.

Understand where productivity takes place and what influences it.  Understand the input, processes, output model.

How do you plan to improve your own personal performance?  Your company will improve at the rate you improve.  Lead by example.

  • Involve everyone 

The people who work for you have fantastic ideas.  Your challenge is to create an environment where they feel free to share those ideas and where they get acknowledged or rewarded for their ideas.  People who are not directly involved in a process may be able to offer more objective solutions than those who are struggling with it.  Involve everyone.  Leave no one out.

  • Confront old ideas and traditions

Some traditions are good.  Really good.  Perhaps excellent. But are they the best?  People get emotionally attached to the way things have always been done.  Try to move from the emotional to the rational by focusing on your goals.  Once you have established a new best way of doing something, stick with it until someone finds a better way.

  • Keep it simple

Think of the critical results you want to improve.  What will give your business the competitive edge? Work back and think of ways to change the system so that these improvements can become reality.  This does not need to be complicated or expensive.  The people working with a particular process often come up with great ideas to improve.

  • Focus on the right things

What core business systems enable you to earn more money or to find and keep customers?  Remove any obstacles or bottlenecks in these systems so you can achieve your objectives.

  • Provide training

Set performance standards for your business systems and continually improve these standards.  Empower your most important asset (your people)  by training them to do their jobs well.

  • Don’t stop improving

Stop immediately to fix quality or customer-related problems.  Implement systems to reflect on your progress weekly, get suggestions and train your people.

Other Be More Productive articles can be accessed here:

Be more productive:  Hit delete

Be more productive:  Leave your desk

Be more productive:  Avoid the tyranny of the urgent

Superior Customer Service System: Your Competitive Advantage

What gives a business the competitive advantage?

The secret is providing top-notch customer service.

When your service is better than the competition, profits keep rolling in.

Think of your experience as a customer.  Have you ever been frustrated with dysfunctional telephone technology that features such customer annoyances like voice mail systems with frustratingly lengthy menu options?  What about the caller-hold features with maddening distorted and loud elevator music punctuated by commercial messages?  And then to add insult to injury, when a real person eventually answers the call, they have little knowledge about the company’s products and no power to solve your problems or fix what is wrong.

How do you provide unfailing top-notch customer service?

You adhere to a system that provides consistent customer satisfaction.

When designing a system for customer service excellence, keep the following in mind.

Characteristics of a superior customer service system

The system focuses on your customer

Your goal should be to satisfy the needs of customers and potential customers.  Walk in your customer’s shoes.  What problems are your customers experiencing?  Which is the best system to address those problems?  What kind of service delivery system would please you?

Your products or services as accessible

Design a system that opens the way for customers to do business with you.  Analyze your existing system.  Remove obstacles that prevent  customers from easily and conveniently doing business with you.

You are responsive

Design a service delivery system that is based on your customers’ needs, desires and expectations.  Make an effort to know your customers as if they were family members.  Their loyalty to you is based on your ability to respond appropriately to their needs.

Provide customers with accurate information

Consistently providing accurate information is crucial. This is especially relevant when it comes to technical aspects of products and information about warrantees, price, delivery, billings, and so on.

Provide an integrated system

Customers should be able to obtain all of the information they need from one source within your company.  It is exasperating when customers have to approach several people in your organization to be able to get the service or products they want.

Design a user friendly system

The process that the customer follows to access your company’s services should be friendly, uncomplicated, and accessible.  Make it as easy as possible for them to make the right decision.

Speed is crucial

Customer service delivery systems should provide assistance to customers quickly.  Customers perceive speedy help as excellence.

A customer service system does not just belong to the customer service department.  It is everyone’s business.  In developing a customer service system, it is absolutely necessary to involve everyone in the company.

5 Steps to creating effective business systems

What is a system?

A system is a way of doing things that helps you achieve a specific result.

 

 

systems flowchart

The diagram above describes what goes into achieving the results you want.

The Input is the resources that are available to your employees.

The Process refers to how these resources are best utilized to achieve your result.

The Result is what is achieved when you combine the resources and the process.

If your goal is slash costs, you must find a way in which to utilize your input in such a way that your goal is achieved more effectively.

Systems have the power to breathe life into your business – or to cripple it.  The secret to designing effective systems is to accurately predict the outcome of using them.

How to set up effective systems in your organization

Identify the existing good systems

Look for what people do in your organization that get the results that you want.

Find hidden, unintentional systems

You may have areas where you are not achieving the results you intended, or the results are not what you had hoped.  Look for the cause of the undesirable results.  Either get rid of the system or modify it until you achieve the expected outcome.

Create procedures for the existing systems that are effective

Find out exactly how your employees are achieving the desired results, and document them.  This does not have to all be done at once.  Target 3 systems that work a week, until they are all documented.

Create new systems

If you have to do something more than once, create a system for doing it effectively.

Evaluate your systems

Are all your systems achieving your goals?

If you need help in evaluating, setting up, and documenting systems for your organization, please do not hesitate to contact Virtual Productivity Solutions.  We would love to assist you!

Can Your Business Run Without You? Create Freedom by Creating Systems

Most of us use some type of systems on a day-to-day basis. Whether we use our cell phones, daily planners, or email inbox, we have most of our time and day organized.

Have you ever thought how valuable systems could be for your business? What if you were away for a week or two? Would you be okay? Would your business continue to thrive and give you the freedom you need to tend to what’s on hand?

Having the right systems in place with automated or structured processes will allow your business to run for a while without much thought or attention.  You can even delegate some systems to others, so that your business can continue to flourish even when you are not present.

Where to Start and What to Systematize

In most businesses there are numerous repetitive tasks that could easily be systematized. Look at the systems you have in place, or those you could put in place to make for a productive and powerful day. You can create systems for nearly everything in your business, whether it is automating your social media activities, scheduling appointments, e-zines, or marketing.  There is so much you can create systems for.

Having systems in place will truly liberate you and allow you to focus your energy on your business instead of feeling flustered and overwhelmed every time a repetitive task has to be done.  In addition, you can easily break away to tend to important family matters or a vacation knowing your business needs are taken care of.

Are you excited with what systems can do for you and your business? Are you feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Would you like some support in setting up easy systems that will allow your business to thrive, even in your absence? Email Virtual Productivity Solutions and we’ll have a look at your situation and how systematizing your business can help you be more productive.

How to Compile Standard Operating Procedures that Work

I often encounter business owners that complain that they have Standard Operating Procedures in their company, but that nobody adheres to them, despite the fact that it was cost-intensive and time-intensive to develop.

There are several myths regarding Standard Operating Procedures which lead to this problem.  Managers think that once a Standard Operating Procedure is developed, it is set in stone.  Employees can feel that these rigid standards can make their jobs boring or demeaning.  They can also feel threatened, thinking that once these standards are in place, they will be replaced by someone cheaper.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

The whole purpose of setting standards is to ensure that there is a consistent way of doing things, and that the business is not conducted in a haphazard way.  It can actually foster continuous improvement and client satisfaction.

Factors to consider when compiling Standard Operating Procedures include:

  • Ensure staff buy-in.

    If you involve the staff and really listen to their ideas, they will feel that they have had a say in the creation of the Standard Operating Procedures, and will be more likely to follow them.

  • Keep it simple.

    Write simple, concise guidelines that are easy to read and understand.  Avoid superfluous language, and just include enough information to get the job done quickly and accurately.  Flowcharts, diagrams, and graphs also enhance quick understanding.

  • Focus on best practices.

    Create systems based on best practices and how to achieve them.  If people know exactly what is expected of them, they are likely to deliver what is expected.  If you give people the information and tools they need to accomplish their job, they are very likely to perform to the best of their ability.

  •  Avoid too much standardization.

    You want to create systems to avoid disorganized and irregular behaviour.  However, you can overdo this.  It is better to build a system that allows for flexibility and customization according to people’s skill level.  This allows them to be creative within the system and creates the desire to continuously improve.

  • Make sure that people understand why there are systems.

    The systems are there to help them control their work better, not to control them.  They must understand their role and functions in order to perform better.

When compiling Standard Operating Procedures, the challenge is to develop a learning organization that will continuously find ways to reduce waste and improve productivity.  Are you ready to meet this challenge?

If you need help in compiling Standard Operating Procedures for your small business, please contact Virtual Productivity Solutions.

Boost your business by creating effective systems

 

Any business owner will be able to tell you that a business built on effective systems is far more successful than one that is not.

The Business Directory defines a business system as a methodical procedure or process that is used as a delivery mechanism for providing specific goods or services to customers.

Creating effective business systems can be challenging for small business owners.  You may not have the time or inclination to develop systems.  However, if you are serious about business growth, you could consider outsourcing this function to someone that is knowledgeable in this area.  Alternatively, if you have enough in-house staff, you can delegate it to someone that is detail oriented, analytical, persistent and creative, and who does not have a full-time work load.

What would outsourcing your systems management entail?

  • Your key performance indicators will be identified
  • Areas of reduced productivity will be identified
  • Opportunities for improvement will be suggested
  • Your process documentation will be created (checklists, flowcharts, etc) to support the opportunities for improvement
  • You as business owner will approve all processes before they are released
  • Your staff will have an opportunity to contribute to these systems, and also be trained on how to use these systems once they are approved
  • Data will be collected data to monitor your key performance indicators
  • You will receive a reporting scorecard each month on how your business measures up to these key performance indicators.

How to keep on top of your systems development and implementation once you outsource it

  • There needs to be open communication and trust between you and the person working on your system
  • While a lot of the development and detail of creating systems is outsourced, as the business owner you are still responsible and accountable for what happens with regard to systems and processes.
  • A weekly status meeting will go a long way in helping you to catch up with what has been achieved, what has gone well, or areas where challenges or issues have developed.

The results of outsourcing systems development and implementation

  • You will have more time
  • You will increase your competitiveness
  • You will reap the financial rewards of the working systems and procedures
  • Your staff will be happier because they know what they are supposed to be doing
  • Your customers will be more satisfied at your consistent service and output
  • Your business continuity is ensured, because anyone can do the urgent tasks according to the set out procedures if a key staff member is ill or on leave.
  • You will be able to take your business to the next level because your systems and procedures are working.

Next steps

If you would like to find out more about how to improve your business systems, or if you are interested in outsourcing this function, please contact Virtual Productivity Solutions.  We will gladly assist you in this regard.

Identifying Gaps in Productivity – A Case Study

A certain new subdivision of a company managing a 5-year project approached me recently.  They had been formed 6 months previously, and were in the process of setting up administrative and operational systems in order to support the implementation of the project.  This involved establishing all office systems including administration, filing, communication and logistics.  They needed me to provide guidance and support to the project staff in setting up the required administrative systems.

Their brief was to

  1. Review the current project administrative systems
  2. Work with their headquarters to compile Standard Operating Procedures
  3. Assess the administrative staff capabilities and needs against job functions/responsibilities
  4. Recommend changes and additions to current systems and staff functions
  5. Provide on-the-job training in establishing the project administrative systems.

What was clear to me from this brief was that they had identified both systems and training as areas of reduced productivity, which needed to be addressed.

After reviewing the company documentation to find out what the goals of the organization were, my first step was to consult with the administrative staff to find out exactly where they stood regarding their systems and training.

What emerged during the interviews was very interesting.  Although there were areas of reduced productivity in their current systems which I identified and addressed, it seemed that there was a much larger problem:  the management.

The problems experienced were the following:

  • The manager of the subdivision was the typical example of a micromanager.  Although a very intelligent and competent individual, he could not trust his staff to do their work without his continual interference.  His frustrated staff, instead of supporting him and the goals of the organization, did everything they could to undermine him.
  • There was confusion among the staff as who to report to, as the existing reporting structure was not adhered to.
  • The administrative staff had no job autonomy.  They were constantly interrupted as line staff had “emergencies.”  Some of these “emergencies”  had nothing to do with the goals of the organization, but were of a personal nature.  The administrative staff had been reduced to running personal errands for fickle staff, and the core administration was not being attended to in a timely and efficient manner.
  • There was no means to evaluate the job performance of staff, resulting in some staff being overworked while others had nothing to do.  The staff had no motivation to perform well.

To remedy the management problem, I suggested that a team building exercise be held.  Each staff member could give a short presentation of what they do, as well as what they don’t do, what a typical day looks like, what is working/not working, what admin support they required, etc.  My idea was that this could lead to greater understanding and respect for each other’s roles in the workplace, and clarification as to who to go to when certain matters need addressing.

With excellent team building facilitators, the results of the team building was fascinating.  The managers realized what they were doing to their staff, and a process of forgiving each other and finding ways to work together more productively resulted.  It emerged that there was also conflict between the various managers, which impacted the staff, who were in turn forced to take sides.  To address this, a management platform was created, where the managers could get together and support each other on a regular basis.  They also had guest speakers on occasion, to help train them informally on how to manage their staff more effectively.

Examining the management was not part of my scope of work.  I examined the management because if there is insufficient management, no matter how well the systems work and how good the training and implementation thereof are, there will still be areas of reduced productivity.  It was clear that the productivity of the admin staff was directly impacted by the insufficient management.

My evaluation of the systems, training and management were not done in isolation to the real people who worked within the subdivision.  The subdivision was very fortunate to have staff who were highly qualified, loyal, dedicated, and goal-directed, and who, despite the problems they experienced, tried to make the best of the situation.

Once the management improved, overall productivity improved and the project could finally take off.

5 Key Benefits of a Standard Operating Procedures Manual

One of the most useful systems to streamline your business is having a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual.  This manual lists the all the tasks that are essential for your business success, how to do these tasks, and who is responsible for the tasks listed.

This sounds useful, but are there specific measurable outcomes if you have a SOP manual in place?  The answer is a very definite YES.

Your productivity improves, and as a small business owner, you need to be highly productive to succeed.  Five benefits are listed below.

Reduced learning curve/training time for new employees

When someone is new on the job, your well-written and researched SOP can be a lifeline to them to be able to know how things work.  For instance, you can ask your new employee to make all the arrangements for you to organize and attend a workshop in another city.  By referring to the SOP, your new employee will know exactly which travel agency you use with their contact details, which type of car to hire/service to use, how many quotes to get regarding the venue, how to communicate with the workshop delegates, etc. without having to ask you about it all.  It’s a great time-saver and confidence booster for the new employee.

Ensured business continuity

When a key staff member is on leave or not in the office for some reason, work does not have to stand still.  By referring to the SOP someone else can take over the urgent tasks and do them correctly the first time.

Standardized processes

The SOP makes it easy to find out what policies and procedures are in place to handle repetitive situations/tasks.

Delegating tasks becomes a no-brainer

A good SOP will include the organogram of the business, as well as have a short job description and contact details for each staff member. If you need to delegate a certain task, you can see at a glance who will be able to help you or advise you.  You can stop micromanaging, as it is clear who is responsible for what.

Ensure that your clients are getting the best possible experience with you

Because there is a standard way of dealing with client queries, refunds, promotions, follow-up etc., you can make sure that each client is treated fairly and equally, enhancing their interactions with you.  You thus provide the best possible client service.

A SOP is a living document, which is subject to change.  (It is good to review it quarterly). It is therefore useful to have it in electronic format on a web-based collaborative system so that all employees have access to the latest version.

Do you need to put together a clear and straightforward SOP, compiled in simple language to convey practical information?  Please don’t hesitate to contact Virtual Productivity Solutions to help you put it together.  Your business will thank you for it.

5 Ways to Determine your Productivity Level

My definition of productivity is doing the right things right.  But how do you know whether you are doing the right things right?  Here are 5 basic steps to determine your productivity level:

Step 1

Are your activities aligned with your goals?   Are you aware of the goals of your organization, and how are you measuring up?  Have you set personal goals that are measurable and clear?

Step 2

Examine your work processes.  Are there systems in place to streamline the workflow, and are these systems effective?  Are routine tasks being automated as far as possible?  Are there policies and guidelines in place to help staff know what to do when?  Are you using the most effective method of getting each task done?

Step 3

Do you and your staff know how to do the best quality work?  Are you adequately trained to excel at your tasks? How do you measure the quality of your work?

Step 4

Do you have a workflow continuity plan in place?  Do you and your staff know what to do in case of emergency?  Do you have adequate backups, etc. in place in case disaster strikes?  Do you and your staff know what to do when key personnel are not at work so that the workflow remains constant?

Step 5

Do you spend time each week looking back at what has been accomplished, where you currently stand, and where you are heading?

Managing a small business is challenging.  It is so easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do.  There are so many distractions.  It is difficult to stay focused.  However, being productive leads to being successful and reaching your goals.  In fact, being optimally productive will give you the opportunity to take a break from your daily work and to relax.  Don’t you think it is time to focus on your productivity, in order to get the rest you need?

5 Ways to Determine your Productivity Level

My definition of productivity is doing the right things right.  But how do you know whether you are doing the right things right?  Here are 5 basic steps to determine your productivity level:

Step 1

Are your activities aligned with your goals?   Are you aware of the goals of your organization, and how are you measuring up?  Have you set personal goals that are measurable and clear?

Step 2

Examine your work processes.  Are there systems in place to streamline the workflow, and are these systems effective?  Are routine tasks being automated as far as possible?  Are there policies and guidelines in place to help staff know what to do when?  Are you using the most effective method of getting each task done?

Step 3

Do you and your staff know how to do the best quality work?  Are you adequately trained to excel at your tasks? How do you measure the quality of your work?

Step 4

Do you have a workflow continuity plan in place?  Do you and your staff know what to do in case of emergency?  Do you have adequate backups, etc. in place in case disaster strikes?  Do you and your staff know what to do when key personnel are not at work so that the workflow remains constant?

Step 5

Do you spend time each week looking back at what has been accomplished, where you currently stand, and where you are heading?

Managing a small business is challenging.  It is so easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do.  There are so many distractions.  It is difficult to stay focused.  However, being productive leads to being successful and reaching your goals.  In fact, being optimally productive will give you the opportunity to take a break from your daily work and to relax.  Don’t you think it is time to focus on your productivity, in order to get the rest you need?