Unexpected Issues Can Impact Workplace Efficiency

silhouettesI’m surprised at how often business owners and managers see workplace efficiency and personnel management as separate questions.

Clearly, there are workflow designs or equipment questions that can make or break any organization and are not directly related to personnel. But the efficiency of most work sites is usually a reflection of the location’s people and how they interact. Here are three very different areas where simple and seemingly unrelated issues can have a big impact.

Meetings

Meetings can be great and are a necessary means of communication for any organization. They can also be life-sucking vampires. Some people are just good at meetings, but even if you’re not, there are some steps you should follow to run the best meetings possible.

Planning is the first thing. You’ve no doubt heard that every meeting should have an agenda. Equally important, the agenda should be written and distributed in advance. Participants should have time to prepare if they’re expected to answer a question or give a report. Items not on the agenda should usually be scheduled for future meetings. Otherwise, you risk a meeting that devolves into an open forum.

Unless there’s an emergency, your agenda’s length should be reasonable. If you need to tackle a major issue that is likely to consume large blocks of time, consider scheduling it for a separate session or break it into smaller components. If you still have a big agenda, don’t put the most important issue at the end when everyone’s attention span is likely to be wearing thin.

Layoffs and Terminations

With competition, regulation and other pressures, there’s always a temptation to look at “belt tightening,” and nothing saves money like eliminating personnel. Unfortunately, this can start a downward spiral that is often disastrous. Morale will suffer and increased workplace stress may negate any savings you gain. This is especially true if staff has reason to believe other economies that don’t target individuals have not been pursued first. It may be unfair, but this is one of those areas where perceptions are important.

If you feel forced to examine personnel cuts, look first at any “weak links” you have on staff. I often note that typical workplaces have employees who are coasting, and a small percentage who are actually disengaged, even working against the organization. If staff reductions must be made, looking for these possibilities can justify layoffs or terminations in the eyes of other staff members and result in a more efficient workplace.

Crummy Offices

I hate to bring this up because individual workplaces vary so much, but there are few that could not benefit from a few easy improvements. In some cases, there may even be inexcusable problems that should be fixed.

What am I talking about? Everything from a fax machine that is located a long walk from the person who uses it the most, to worn out chairs or poorly lit hallways.

These possibilities are almost limitless, but the common denominator is that these problems often cause long-term morale issues as well as immediate inefficiency. In some cases, they may be tolerated because the location is in an older building and a solution seems almost impossible. In other cases, it might be due to the fact that the person affected the most doesn’t have a strong voice in the organization.

Several years ago, there was a management program called “Total Quality Management.” It had one concept I especially liked: the internal customer. The idea was that primary customers—those who buy your goods or services—are obvious. But organizations also have internal customers who deliver services to end customers. If the internal customers don’t have what they need to do their jobs, they won’t be able to adequately serve end customers. That inconveniently located fax machine isn’t just inconvenient; it might result in a missed payment because it can’t easily be monitored. You get the idea.

There are other aspects to this “people/office” perspective, but this gives you a few examples to begin looking for issues where seemingly simple or one-dimensional issues might have more impact than expected. When people are involved, it usually pays to look for unintended consequences!

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