Words: Corey Adams
I have a love/hate relationship with the word efficiency. I assume it is because many so-called experts throw the word around like it is a panacea for all the problems a small business could face. Maybe it is leftover animosity from the way society views “efficiency experts.” You know the ones I am talking about. The outside guys that come in, interview everyone, then fire 20% of the staff in an effort to make the workplace more efficient. Yeah, that is dumb as well. Simply cutting the workforce will not make your company more efficient.
Many business owners spend thousands of dollars chasing the white rabbit of efficiency, buying elaborate systems, hiring high-dollar consultants, or just blowing money on trial and error. There is some to learn from these things, but most of a company’s problem with efficiency will not be solved.
Most of the business owners that I work with do not have an efficiency problem. When they get on a task, they complete it on time, and with outstanding focus. What most business owners have is a procrastination and prioritization problem.
I have written articles before about the fine line between patience and procrastination. Most struggling business owners blur the lines to the point of self-destruction. We were always taught that good things come to those who wait and have patience. This was a lie. Patience has taught most of us how to procrastinate. Mixing the subconscious desire to procrastinate with a non-functional way to prioritize is a quick way to sink your entire ship.
Now I believe that prioritization is a learned skill. It can be taught, and it can be mastered. The problem with most efficiency training or systems is that they do neither. As the old adage says, they give you a fish, but not teach you how to fish.
So how do we achieve true efficiency? Well, to me efficiency is the result of a couple of things. Mainly, efficiency comes from doing a task repeatedly in the same way, but there is more. To be truly efficient, we need to have the right tools, people, script, plan, and so much more. At its core, I love efficiency, but as it is sold to us from the “gurus” it is something I hate.
Imagine you are bidding on a $5 million project. It has multiple stages, and multiple tasks that need to be broken down to bid properly. Would you trust someone that says they could bid the job accurately in 30 minutes? This is the way we need to look at efficiency. True efficiency cannot be achieved without breaking down our company into manageable tasks and making each task efficient.
Once you understand that an efficient company is only efficient because of the cumulative effect of the efficiency of all the small tasks, you are really ready to begin. How does this work?
Always start with prioritization. At what step of the process is harming you the most? Second place? Which steps can you make efficiently the quickest? Make a couple of lists, then cross-reference them to find overlapping items. These will be the ones to start with. They may not make the biggest impact, but they will take less time, and therefore produce quicker.
As an example, years ago we found that if someone left a message, they were less likely to hire us on the project. After noting some of the trends, we changed our outgoing voicemail message and added one line, “We look forward to learning more about your project.” This upped our message rate by 20% and our closing of those messages by another 50%. We didn’t overhaul our entire sales process, we just added a quick change to see if we could gain results. Most of the time, this is the best way to up your efficiency.
If you really want to create an efficient company, you need to become efficient inefficiency. Finding the tasks that have the correct impact vs. time ratio and then addressing them immediately. Waiting around doesn’t help. Once that task is fixed, create new lists, cross reference again, and keep going. Picking off one task at a time is the way to true efficiency. The only thing worse than waiting is trying to change everything at once.