Business has always been hectic, making multiple and often simultaneous demands upon our time. The great promise of digitization enabling us to do things faster and more accurately didn’t relieve the pressure, but added to it with a generous helping of distraction to further fracture our focus. The communication devices to which so many of us are attached also contribute to the deterioration of focused productivity. These distractions leads us to wasted time, missed deadlines, and the feeling that you didn’t accomplish much today.
The culprit for our split attention doesn’t rest upon the many demands upon our time or the devices we use: it rests squarely upon our own shoulders. In his HuffPost article “How to Do Work: 8 Strategies to Stop Wasting Time and Get Things Done,” Nate Green lays out his personal strategy for productivity. Taking a realistic approach to human nature, he acknowledges that “Some days you just want to be active on social media and throw some jabs on Facebook or Twitter.” The primary starter to the work day entails remembering you’re an adult and acting like it.
That means establishing boundaries. The consequence of flexible work arrangements that allow people to work from home and across multiple devices are an inability to stop working. Impose discipline upon yourself to check email during specific times; to plan out what you’re going to do for the day, week, or month; to decide on a quitting time and then stick to it. The body and mind both need time away from the job to relax and recharge.
If you work in an office where you can shut the door, use that door to indicate to coworkers those time when you are not to be disturbed. Socialization adds another level of distraction that reduces productivity when it prevents you from actually doing your work. If you can’t close an office door, it’s perfectly all right to inform a colleague that you’re busy and don’t have time to talk right now and that you’d be happy to speak with them later.
Bustle offers complementary advice regarding tips to keep focused and productive so that you actually accomplish something. This entails taking notice of your bodily rhythms. For instance, if you find yourself fighting off postprandial naps early in the afternoon, then note when you’re more alert and on-task. Prioritize your work so that those important, must-do-now tasks fall into your hands during those times when your energy is at its peak. Use other methods to keep you on track, whether that’s a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage or listening to music that energizes you. Making lists also helps to arrange and prioritize the day; however, be sure to keep the daily list simple and short so it won’t overwhelm you.
Finally–and you knew this was coming–develop guidelines to follow. Guidelines are the routines or processes that keep you, your team, and your projects on track. These processes set expectations and benchmarks for achievement. They assign responsibilities and establish accountabilities. In that way, the processes that manage your daily work help you and the rest of your staff know who does what and when it must be done. Other tasks and breaks–or distractions–can then be scheduled around those benchmarks. Processes help us use our time wisely and avoid distractions.
The objective of every business, besides making a healthy profit, is growth. Almost every business owner or executive entertains ambitions of world domination, admitted or not. Some leaders find themselves positions for beautiful serendipity: the world discovers their product or service and demand for it explodes. The business, perforce, grows because it must. That’s all very well and good, but most business growth doesn’t happen that way. Most business growth occurs through deliberate intention and effort.
Growth itself can cause problems. Rapid growth that outstrips management’s ability to… er… manage it can cause a business to crash and burn. Likewise, failure to intentionally grow the business can starve it of needed revenue, especially if income relies heavily upon one or two clients and one of those all-important clients transfers it business elsewhere or discontinues operation. Rather than bumble around or fall victim to unprecedented good fortune, business leaders must learn to manage growth.
And that means developing processes.
The beauty of process is that it affords your business the capability and infrastructure to grow with the increase in work and all the administrative hassles that attend increased income and personnel management. Writing on the subject, William Bakhos notes that some businesses are inherently more difficult to scale up than others: for instance, a sole practitioner. For such a business, “You are your product, brand and service all rolled into one. If you are your business, then there is a point where you run out of scalable options since you cannot create more hours in the day.”
Business growth requires planning, which poses its own problem. As Bakhos notes, “small business owners typically don’t have the luxury of sitting back and planning a thorough expansion strategy with members of the board. Most are working 12 hour days, multi-tasking and trying to keep costs low while also wanting to grow their business in a sustainable way.”
Developing a process for scaling business growth in a manner that can be managed and sustained requires identifying what you (and your team) spend most of your time doing. What are you working on? How much time do you spend on administrative tasks? Sales tasks? Marketing? Human resources management? Are you actually doing the work your business exists to do, or do you have a different, more indirect role? An analysis of time spent doing what will help you understand what needs more attention and what needs to be streamlined so you have the time to do what you should be doing.
If you find yourself spending too much time performing tasks that don’t align with your role in the company, then offloading the misaligned workload onto a colleague so you can focus on what you’re supposed to be doing isn’t necessarily the correct answer. That colleague may already be devoting the “proper” amount of time (and effort) to his or her assigned role and not have the capacity to undertake the added workload. Even a basic analysis such as that will identify whether more personnel should be hired to accommodate the workload in any particular area of the company. Just as important, shifting your misaligned workload to someone unprepared or unsuited to the work will also fail.
Once analysis of who’s doing what and why and whether they should be doing it is complete, be sure to identify those areas of the business that actually exist. This differs from merely defining titles and roles and expecting those roles to fit the actual jobs. Be clear and honest. For instance, don’t assign “receptionist” to an employee if everyone is responsible for answering the phone. This analysis of service will help you define the core operations of your business, which could be campaign management, reporting, marketing, client relationships, production, project management, etc. You may find that some projects require work that overlaps sectors, which then requires that multiple people from those various sectors–not a single person–be pulled into completing those projects. Further process development will then codify and streamline which person from which department does what and when to keep the progress rolling in an efficient and timely manner that also maintains the desired standard of quality.
Finally, determine the action needed. This may entail automation of routine tasks or the exploitation of software to manage activity or enable personnel perform their work more accurately and with less drudgery. Adoption of a robust process will help to ensure the appropriate assignment of resources to the correct people.
The development of feasible processes differs for every business; but no business sustains growth without them.
Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Organization and management consultants keep abreast of quality management systems theories to employ where needed to help their clients operate efficiently and maintain a high standard of quality of service and/or product. The catch is that, although techniques and technology are critical to this effort, they do not in themselves effect the necessary changes. Those changes must be executed by a coordinated management effort. Fragmented management, which reveals itself in silos, excessive specialization, and other isolated operations within a company. contributes to the failure of processes and technology to work their miracles.
The effort needed to work better, oftentimes with less, depends upon organizational learning, opines Daniel Kim, writing for The Systems Thinker. He notes that, regarding quality control, the USA “will never catch up with the Japanese because they have a permanent head start on us. In other words, we can’t expect to win the quality race by simply imitating the Japanese; we must innovate and improve upon Total Quality Control.”
Organization learning, Kim says, “must advance on both the operation and conceptual level.” It “means improving behaviors or ways of doing things.” In order to effect such improvement, management and labor must work as a team, as a whole with aligned objectives and mutual respect for each person’s contribution. In doing so, the team performs as an organized system, gathering data, analyzing challenges, and resolving problems. That system performs best when guided–not confined–by a process that identifies benchmarks for success and assigns tasks and deadlines in logical progression.
In any business, especially one with more than two employees, multiple systems will run simultaneously and multiple people will be involved within more than one system each. “Organizations … are interconnected and have interrelated and interdependent parts that make up the whole,” states CPS HR Consulting in their white paper titled “Using Systems Thinking to Achieve Results in Organizational Development.” In an increasingly complex environment, people find themselves needing to increase their capabilities to understand, communicate, and address that complexity to make effective decisions and organize their work for best performance and results. That can get confusing, which invites managers and bureaucrats to devise processes to manage processes, which gets even more confusing and aggravating.
The trick is to set priorities and establish realistic expectations. Not every project can be the first priority with each person on the team. If a team member is expected to attend to several tasks first thing in the morning because each is “priority one,” then prepare for disappointment. If several team members are working on multiple projects and are expected to attend to their tasks on each one first thing in the morning, prepare for disaster and disgruntled employees. The result won’t be good quality and execution certainly won’t be efficient.
Contrary to bureaucratic instinct, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method usually works best to guide the systems and those who must execute the tasks that comprise those systems. Successful business operation requires the development and execution of processes to ensure consistent results; however, no one ever said that those processes should be overly complicated or stultifying.
The Heggen Group specializes in assisting organizations to manage and align their systems for the management of operations and the performance of tasks through commonsense, feasible processes. Experience matters.