Power Through a Plateau by Boosting Your Efficiency

  By Tom Sarach  |    Thursday February 1, 2013

Category: Expert Advice


Once your business has survived the start-up phase and made it through its growth pains, you’ve probably got a thriving business with dozens of employees. You’ve accomplished a lot, and have reaped the rewards of growth. 

But you might fear that you’ve reached a plateau, that much of the profit you make is being eaten up by high overhead costs. So now is a great time to examine your operations to see if you can reduce your costs by improving efficiency. Here are some ideas for how to do just that.

Review your processes. If you’ve been in business for a while, chances are that your processes are an amalgamation of procedures with instructions, habits that have “always been done that way,” personal idiosyncracies from employees who may no longer be with the company and general randomness. 

The best way to do this is to ask all your employees to write down what they do in their jobs and how they do it—and for you to do it, too. It need not be a time-intensive project; simply taking a few minutes after each task to note how it was done should do the trick.

Not only is reviewing the processes and procedures for every job a great way to find spots for efficiency improvements, it’s a great way to make sure everyone in your company understands how their job correlates to your company’s mission and strategy. It’s also a great way to make sure everyone understands exactly what their job is—and that you understand their jobs, too.

Intensify what’s working, discard what isn’t. Once you’ve conducted a process review and have an accurate idea of the tactics your company is using to accomplish its strategy, it’s time to look at which tactics are working and which aren’t. To determine whether or not a tactic is working, just examine how profitable it is. 

Remember that profit isn’t just a reflection of revenue coming in, but the resulting number when the costs of a tactic are subtracted from that revenue. If a tactic is profitable in the long or short term, or is a crucial component of a larger activity that’s profitable, then it’s working. If you’re losing money on a tactic that isn’t necessary, let your people know that activity won’t be part of their jobs anymore.

If you’re breaking even on the tactic, review it further and ask some of your trusted advisors to see if they can find a way to make it more profitable or less costly. This will probably require some major objectivity on your part, especially if a tactic you really loved is having no positive effect on your business. Trust in your problem-solving ability and that of your advisors, and let unprofitable tactics go.

Automate whatever processes you can. Yes, we’re in one of the most human businesses in the world, but you can still take advantage of automation. Let your people use the higher-level thinking that you hired them for, and automate the more tedious aspects of business as much as possible.

“Human capital management” is the term for the integration of human resources and information technology, and it’s a great target for automation. A quality human capital management platform will encompass payroll, time and attendance, benefits, learning management, scheduling, recruiting, skills management and performance appraisals. Each of those categories has tasks, such as timekeeping, invoicing, contact management and report generation, that can easily be handled by software.

Ideally, discovering efficiency improvements will not only allow you to reduce costs, it will free up your time and your employees’ time to pursue profitable activities. Then that plateau will become a thing of the past.

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