Small Business Operations – Don’t let people become bottlenecks
Whether you’re a small business owner or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, managing an organization can be intricate. Small business operations and processes that keep the business running are complex and interdependent on multiple people. One of the most common killers of growth and productivity in a company is communication and information flow. Talk to most business owners and you will hear at least one of the following:
“Nothing is written down. All of the information on my business is in the employees’ heads.”
“I have one key employee who is so critical to me that I can’t promote him/her, and I don’t know what I’ll do if he/she leaves.”
“We are operating in silos, and it costs me money. The right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
“We discussed it at the meeting two weeks ago, why isn’t everyone following the new process?”
“We have no formal processes and procedures. We keep reinventing the wheel.”
Creating a culture of communication and information sharing in a growing company can be difficult. You are often moving so fast that you feel there is no time to stop and get things in order. The reality is that it costs you more by not slowing down and doing it right. Here are a few key places to start:
Small Business Operations – Put your processes into writing
Processes should be written down so clearly that employees can follow them with little to no support. It saves a lot of time for both managers and their employees. Certain tasks which require frequent training for new recruits can be taught using a step-by-step video using PowerPoint and a vocal recording that is native to the program.
Whatever the format, getting it written down is a good step but making sure it is easily understood is even better. Keeping the language simple and clear is a great way for employees to understand procedures.
A well-respected operations executives I work with, Marc, builds everything around pictures and symbols. When he works with companies to come up with a vision, mission and core values he has the company vote on symbols or pictures to represent them. This is especially critical in bi-lingual companies. When’s the last time you walked into a company and a random employee could communicate the vision, let alone the other guiding principles of the organization? You can in any company withwhich Marc has worked.
Another great example is one of our clients who was tasked with training a production staff, who only spoke Spanish, on one of the most boring – yet most important – subjects in business: Safety. A couple of staff members put their minds together and came up with one of the most memorable PowerPoints I have ever seen. They enlisted the production staff, put together costumes and overly exaggerated the do’s and “do nots” of safety. The employees were engaged as part of the training, and an incoming employee got what was probably the best safety training they’d ever had. A picture says a thousand words. When given the option – go with the picture!
Small Business Operations – Don’t let people become bottlenecks
When one employee takes on more responsibility than most of the staff, it restricts everybody else’s support, creativity and growth, creating a bottleneck in the company. You can picture these in most organizations. Where does the work in the process slow down? There are likely areas in your business that seem as though four lanes are trying to merge into one during rush hour. This is usually one of the easiest places to start when addressing information flow and operational inefficiencies in your company.
An optimized company does not allow specific processes to be dependent on only one person. It creates an unhealthy employee-management relationship where the organization is too dependent on a select few individuals.
This creates a number of issues. Employees end up trapped in their current role, as they are the only one who can do it. If the employee is then out for a period of time or leaves, managers, have to spend a lot of time learning and training things they previously didn’t know to a replacement.
No employee should be too valuable or hold too much information to move or let go. One quick trick is cross training. Assign various individuals to shadow the employee for a couple of days for different periods of time. The employee should talk out loud, explain and train. The shadow employee’s responsibility is to document. You end up with written information, cross training and more flexibility with regards to that employee.
Small Business Operations – Encourage self-responsibility
The best and easiest way to organize your team is into process teams, where each is responsible for their outcomes. It creates a positive company culture where everyone must actively participate to achieve something. The process team keep communication between the first person to the last person in the process. It eliminates the opportunity for some to simply be order takers and encourages people to become a potential leader and do more than what is minimal required.
A pro-active environment creates more permanent fixes for employee and customer satisfaction. It spreads the energy and helps speed growth. You will notice daily improvements in processes you oversee daily. Your job is regulated to that of a mentor who monitors them and gives them guidance and support where required, allowing you to focus on the ‘big picture’. Management software can also be helpful in managing your process teams.
Small Business Operations – Get feedback
Let the best ideas come from your employees – Stop and listen! Granted, they don’t have all of the information you do to do an initial validity test of the idea so give them a template of things to check their idea against. You are teaching them not just to speak up, but more about business process relationships and how one decision they impacts things throughout the company.
A continuous employee-driven improvement cycle is set in motion where if they see something, they’ll say something. This gets rid of negativity behind closed doors, as everything is said publicly, and gives you new ideas that save money, boost productivity, and increase efficiency, quality and loyalty. Process optimization relates to everyone, no matter how small and unnoticed they are in the organization.