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The Easy Way to Increase Productivity and Cut Costs

Methodologies for business efficiency such as Lean and Balanced Scorecard can create real, lasting efficiency improvements in your organization, and you should try one (or all!) of them on your own efficiency journey. But many people are impatient and don’t want to take the time to learn an entire system or track metrics before they can start to improve their organization.

Also, frankly, when you’re looking at big picture ideas like customer retention over the next five years, the number of defects per million times you touch something, or a warehouse of excess inventory, it’s very hard to miss smaller forces that are significant drains on time and productivity. You can usually pick out some low-hanging, easy-to-fix “fruit” just by getting a tour of an office.

Pick an employee — theoretically at random, but the best choice is someone who interacts with other divisions throughout the day — and ask to shadow them for an hour or part of a day.

In order for this to work, you’ve got to emphasize that you’re on a positive hunt for ways you can improve their experience at work — and that you are not there to check up on them or try to catch them using Facebook.

If you don’t have a strong rapport with this employee and the shadowing may spook them, instead have them walk you through their daily responsibilities in “fast-forward.”

Play reporter and ask tons of questions. Why is she using that program? What is that button for? Where does this form end up? How did he used to do this? What tasks take the longest? What tasks feel like they take the longest? This one-on-one method can reveal a laundry list of inefficiencies that, once remedied, will improve morale and the bottom line in big ways.

Just because an issue seems like low-hanging fruit doesn’t mean you should attempt to address it right away. There may be farther-reaching consequences of which you aren’t aware. Instead, take note of the issues that surface during your shadowing experiments, and then focus on finding the right solutions.

A few small wins can go a very long way toward getting employee buy-in. Identifying and remedying some immediate pain points is a far better motivator for getting people on the efficiency-enhancing bandwagon than a seminar or positive case studies. Invite an employee to shadow you for a while, too — another great way to get workers on board.

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