Distractions from Adding Value
Front line supervisors and sales people in recent workshops have been grumbling more than usual about oppressive workloads, the resulting stress and the inability to focus on important, but less urgent tasks. Now before you allow yourself to say, “Suck it up buttercup, just get it done,” think a little deeper. Each person in your organization from the front line staff to the executive boardroom is supposed to create value: produce something that the customer pays for and values. If these people have their time occupied by non-value tasks it will negatively impact customer service and profitability.
Excess administration can take people away from the prime purpose of their positions. Some administration is needed in every organization but it should be streamlined, automated and minimized to ensure value is maximized.
Given that each department or function within an organization has its own goals, priorities and initiatives, they can place demands on the front line of the organization, which if left unchecked can slowly take people away from their prime job functions.
Social-technical engineering examines the tasks that employees are responsible for versus the time available for those tasks. In many organizations, tasks are added and few are removed. Over time, the residue of this will show in reduced productivity and effectiveness.
A few examples:
Sales people complain about the CRM information and sales forecasting time when they really should be directing their efforts towards selling. A recent sales-training group shared their frustration with CRM (a common complaint with sales people) because the data entered didn’t really help the sales person, and because the data was suspect, managers couldn’t rely on it and so typically added more reporting to give them the info they needed. This left the sales force scratching their heads, wondering why management would want them to spend less time with customers.
Front Line Supervisors and Employees
Front line leaders and employees complain about endless checklists and reporting which takes them away from more face time. It’s not that these meetings, checklists and documentation aren’t important, its just that it might not be value-added enough or there might be a better way.
When one client examined the amount of time that plant managers spent each day on conference calls, they discovered that on some days up to five hours was spent on the telephone. This is time that would be better spent interacting with people and dealing with issues in the facility.
It Costs How Much?
One participant in a staff training session complained that because executives liked to be able to see a daily snap shot of production in an email on their smartphone, he had to spend 45 every day, taking the production numbers from the regular system and then re-enter them in a spreadsheet and then take the resulting numbers and put them in an email. To the executives it was value-added – they wanted the numbers. But if they knew that the cost was 45 minutes every day x 6 employees producing the similar summary x 315 production days in a year x $20/hour in direct wages – the cost is $28,350.
Studies show that most administrative staff and managers spend two hours per day on average processing email. Pause for a moment and realize that in an eight-hour workday, 25% of people’s time is processing email. That means that a quarter of your headcount is spent processing email. It’s not that email isn’t helpful. It is the opportunity cost of what could be done in the time that email is being processed. Research from Dr. Linda Duxbury at the University of Ottawa on effective people managers shows that a great people leader will spend 30% of their day interacting with staff. That becomes more difficult when those same leaders are spending 25% of their day processing email. And if you look at the time spent in meetings, the available time available to add value drops off dramatically.
Another interesting tidbit about email – in the days before email you could only send a letter or fax to a small number of people. Now with the touch of a button you can send a message to dozens or hundreds of people; interrupting their work and productivity. Think about the number of unnecessary messages you need to read and file and the number of unnecessary replies and replies-to-all you observe. That’s all wasted time and energy. Interestingly enough, the most senior manager or executive sets the email expectations and behaviors of the workgroup.
Today’s Action Tips
- Automate and re-engineer non-value added tasks. One client who wanted to measure a significant amount of production data but not burden team leaders with the paperwork, made an investment in automated data collection systems.
- Ask what frustrates your front line leaders and consumes their time and see if it makes sense to stop doing those things.
- Think twice (or three times) before adding extra reporting requirements, meetings and other activities that are non-value added without simultaneously removing a task.
- Re-engineer the expectations – What are you asking your people to do? Look at where their time is being spent. Determine the purpose of those tasks versus what the priority should be for that individual. Is there a match?
- Start a Stop-Doing List – What should your people stop doing? It might include having meetings, or doing away with a report. A cheer might break out when you remove a task that staff see as onerous.