The past few years have seen businesses of all sizes under pressure. It always seems the focus is on ‘efficiency’: What people really mean is that they’re looking to drive down costs. It’s understandable, as we’re all under pressure from a variety of sources.
With the focus on being leaner, faster, and more agile, how can business leaders focus on delivering ‘more with less’? Well, for mine, it’s not necessarily a conversation around ‘squeezing the lemon’ harder. I’ve found that taking a different approach can help you focus on getting more out of the resources you have without the pain of ‘doing more with less’. We focus on a three-stage strategy: Eliminate, Automate, and Outsource.
Eliminate areas that are not adding value
The best and easiest way is to look at each area of your business and examine who does what, when, and how they do it. Think of it as a business wide review of your processes.
We’ve often found that this approach brings to the surface processes that were once adding value to the business, but no longer do so today. It helps you focus on the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ challenge and forces you to think about whether tasks and processes are actually adding value. It’s not uncommon to see, in many businesses, a situation where you get two departments together to discuss a process and they both give a different answer on how it is ‘officially’ done. Just through discussing this internally, you can find these areas of duplication and easily remove them.
The Eliminate stage can also improve areas that still add value but, with a little attention, can be made simpler. Reducing the amount of time and effort to deliver a task or process can lead to a massive saving. By bringing in simplicity you can give your business more time for other tasks. You’ll probably get some push back initially where people might feel that you’re eliminating a task they’ve always done, however, if you focus on the people aspects and communicate this well, then you’ll find it’s easier to deliver than you think.
Then end result is always that you eliminate the tasks or processes that are costing you time and not adding value.
Automate manual tasks and processes
Once you’ve eliminated the areas of redundancy in your business, you can then focus on automation. With the digital era upon us, this is more crucial than you might think.
The technology is now available to help you drive automation across your business. Therefore, the important step is to make sure you’re ready for it. To truly automate a task or process, you really need to understand it and that means having it documented in detail.
The examples of industries using automation are there for us all to see: Look at how robotics has revolutionised manufacturing, for example. The great thing is that there’s now no area of a business that can’t benefit from automation, regardless of what industry you’re in. The biggest example I see is in office administration tasks.
This topic is a big one: I’ll write more on it another time.
Outsource to an expert
The final stage is to focus on outsourcing. Within this stage I believe there are actually two areas you can look at: Resourcing and outsourcing.
If you’ve nailed the Eliminate and Automate stages, then you’ve created more resources within your business as you’ve removed wasted time and effort burden from your people. This means they can now focus on tasks that really add value to your organisation and customers. Those tasks that were pushed to the side as they were either too difficult or you didn’t have the resources can now be appropriately resourced as you’ve freed your people up to give them the attention they need.
For the remainder of tasks that aren’t core to what you do: outsource them. It can be as simple as pushing delivery responsibilities to a local carrier or can go as far as outsourcing entire functions such as IT, marketing, administration, etc.
The key to outsourcing is to find a partner you truly trust, someone that shares similar business values. They’re representing your organisation, so you want them to do so in a manner that you find appropriate. Be clear on what expectations and deliverables you want; it’s far easier to set this out upfront and build your relationship on a strong foundation around what you want to achieve.
The challenge for a business leader
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is in the reaction from your team. Often what your team will hear is “less people means I’ve got to do more” or “do more with less means my job is in danger” when it really isn’t what you’re trying to achieve.
That’s why it’s incredibly important, if you adopt our Eliminate, Automate, Outsource strategy, that you communicate to your team the goals you’re trying to achieve, not just the tactics you’re using to get there. Keeping your team on-board and engaged is crucial to making this successful. It’s not about removing people; it’s about giving the time to be truly efficient. Ultimately, remember that you’re talking to people, so be clear and concise on what the benefit is to them. If you give them the opportunity to understand what you’re doing, I bet you’ll find that they support you and adopt your changes.
While it can be a difficult area to tackle, as we move forward in a competitive and changing world, this strategy of Eliminate, Automate, and Outsource will not only be imperative for growth, it will even contribute to your long-term survival.