Experts say assessment of productivity essential
By Joyce M. Rosenberg
NEW YORK If you're looking for ways to make your small business more productive, the answer isn't just to buy new computers or outsource tasks like bookkeeping.
People who advise small businesses say assessing and improving productivity is an integral, ongoing part of running a company, one that should be done regularly, just as you should continually monitor your cash flow. Technology and outsourcing can help your business be more productive, but they're tools, not end results.
The whole point of productivity is to ensure that employees' time as well as your own is put to the best possible use.
Consultant Ed Paulson, president of Chicago-based Technology and Communications Inc., said business owners who regularly spend just a few hours looking at the bigger picture of their companies "can open up possibilities for eliminating things you don't need to do and streamlining making more efficient the things that are ongoing regular activities."
For consultant Jason Jennings, assessing a company's productivity should start with a look at the firm's reason for being. He and a group of researchers studied thousands of companies to learn what made them productive; the research led to his book, "Less is More."
"The No. 1 thing we discovered about the most productive companies is that they all have a very simple big objective that they stay focused on," Jennings said.
That's the approach taken by many big companies when they decide to sell off or shut down operations that fall outside their core business. The sideline companies distract from running the major business, and that means a drop-off in a company's productivity.
Jennings also said a company cannot become more productive until it makes all its operations systematic, with no deviations. He said of the most productive companies he studied, "they turned everything they do into a system the way they answer the phone, greet customers, diagnose customers' needs, present a solution to customers."
Another facet of improving productivity is ensuring that employees are doing work they are well-suited for.
"Do you have the right people in the right positions?" asked Lisa Aldisert, president of the New York-based consultancy Pharos Alliance. "One of the biggest mistakes companies across the board make is they hire incorrectly."
That doesn't mean you've got a bad worker. Aldisert noted, for example, that a company might have an information technology employee who really knows computers, but who is a poor mentor or communicator and therefore the wrong person to be teaching co-workers how to use a PC or new software. That cuts down on productivity.
It's common in a small, growing company for the firm's small staff to increasingly take on new tasks. Aldisert said that might also work against productivity.
That's where solutions such as outsourcing or a greater use of technology come in.