A huge number of businesses are still functioning with a distributed workforce, working from home and largely delivering what they have always delivered. Are they using the same processes though? I strongly suspect many businesses have reviewed what people do and eliminated many tasks that are expected when people are in work, but become impossible when they are at home. The question this creates is if these tasks are not essential when people work from home, are they needed at all?
This is a great opportunity to think carefully about the tasks we do each day and ask how much value they really add. There is much to learn from remote working, some of our time is taken up with tasks that are done because “we have always done it that way”. Two phrases that come to mind in this situation are
“Necessity is the mother of invention”
“When needs must, the devil drives”
Why are these important?
We have seen some incredible efforts to do new things, for example Formula 1 teams designing ventilators, engineering companies manufacturing ventilators, ordinary people using 3D printers to make facemasks, cosmetics companies manufacturing hand sanitiser.
When we have an overriding imperative we embrace our ability to be resourceful and inventive. Suddenly staff working from home is not a risk to productivity, it is a vital contribution to saving lives. Many managers and workers have found themselves working from home and needing to find new ways to communicate, new ways to manage their time, and are having to adjust their priorities to fit everything in. Inevitably some tasks are not a high priority in this situation. Now if those tasks are not significant in a crisis, how critical are they to the business overall? It is a question we should all ask, often we are too busy spinning the wheel to ask why we are doing it. This creates several wastes such as overprocessing (e.g. duplication of effort), waiting (sometimes for things that don’t really matter), motion (physical transfer of forms), defects (errors caused by rushing or distraction). We are also becoming more aware of pockets of overburden and unevenness in our organisations, as we observe people looking at new ways of working. As we decide some things are not important for now, perhaps we should consider if those tasks should be retired permanently.
Lacking access to meeting rooms and face to face meeting time has forced us to look at alternative meeting formats, for example Zoom, Google hangouts, Microsoft teams meetings. For many these technologies have been available for some time but have been shunned because they are new or “that’s not how we do it around here”. Needs must however, and now we find ourselves embracing new formats, new platforms and new behaviours. There is an opportunity in these new technologies; perhaps instead of everyone going to a specific room at a specific time for a meeting, we can use Teams to meet virtually at that time. If that saves five minutes at the start of the meeting and ten minutes at the end, for a daily meeting that is sixty hours a year per attendee. Five people in the meeting amounts to 300 hours per year. What could you do with that time? Another benefit of a virtual meeting might be a greater focus on the information that is being shared. Perhaps we can become more attentive to the business information, and in doing so think more carefully about how to present the required information in manner that is clear and accessible. Another example is accounting packs. Do we really need to prepare ten accounting packs, print them out and send them out to all attendees? Or do we need to prepare a single report in a teams folder and give everyone the same time to read the important information before the meeting. If you produce ten accounting packs a month, with let’s say 30 pages, that is a paper saving of over 7 reams of paper a year for one meeting. Not huge, but again why us eit if you don’t need to?
It is when you start multiplying all these benefits by the number of meetings and tasks across the whole business that your capacity problem becomes clearer. I often hear people say we don’t have time to improve, or e are already fully loaded. They also spend a considerable amount of time each day reworking tasks and replacing defects; do you not have enough time to fix your process? How much time and money could be saved by getting things right first time? Your investment in right first time will pay off.
If we reduce the demand for staff, what do we do with them?
This is a critical point and it is where many businesses kill their improvement programmes. They discover the tasks can be done with less staff and lay them off. They can do the same with less. Short term this is a cost saving, no doubt about it, but long term what is the impact on process improvement? Will your staff give their best efforts to improve the process if it endangers their livelihood? Would you? And what of the skills they take with them, they will undoubtedly use those skills in their next role, which could be with your competitor. Now think about this again. What happens if you use the time crated to increase capacity and grow the business. Redeploy them to relieve bottlenecks in other areas, retrain them to develop new capabilities, think more of their capabilities and potential than their cost. While the business is growing you can use all those staff who you have just trained in improvement techniques to find improvements in other areas. You will gain even more capacity, reduce costs and improve lead time. Exactly what you have been doing to cope in this time of crisis. A bonus is that you will also create a continuous improvement group from within your own staff.
When we go back to a more normal life, it will be tempting to resume all of the tasks we have been happily living without. Old meeting styles will be like an old favourite coat, comfortable and familiar. Consider this as you return to a business life after this crisis; you are able to choose what waste you reintroduce to your processes. Do you take the opportunity to adopt new ways of working and discard wasteful process steps, or do you limit the effectiveness of your operation? The organisations that let go of the activities that they have discovered were not necessary will thrive and grow in the wake of COVD19. We all need to thrive and grow, so I encourage you to create a new normal.
You have an opportunity to take the things you learn from coping in this crisis and use them to strengthen your business, create a continuous improvement culture and improve not only your immediate prospects, but also your long term future. Or not. I’ll leave you with this thought, W Edwards Deming said it best
“You do not need to change, survival is not mandatory.”
Every business has a set of values that they tell the world about, but do they live by these values?
All too often, the values are laminated, put on a wall and ignored. Managers are neither held to account nor do they hold their staff to account for deviating from the values. If asked intellectually what do their values mean, they can explain what they mean, however, if challenged when deviating from the values there is always an explanation, a set of special circumstances that mean the values don’t apply. The more money that is involved in following the values, the more pressure the employee feels to make an exception. The problem is increased if the mission and vision are inconsistent with the values, or the employees are not connected to the values. Here are some tips for ensuring that your values are lived not laminated.
- Select the right team to set values
Values are typically set by the management team. What happens when there is a conflict between the business practices and the new values? Will the management team even recognise the conflict? Involving staff at different levels creates an opportunity for assumptions and biases to be challenged. Management must listen to the issues raised and discuss the challenges that will be faced throughout the organisation arising from the values choices.
- Ensure there are not too many values
If you have more than four or five key values, they become hard to remember. If your employees can’t remember the values, how do you expect them to implement your values. Distilling your values to such a small list is difficult, you must decide what really matters.
- Create a red flag mechanism
For the values to have meaning there must be a mechanism to raise conflict between values and actions that is transparent to employees. It is inevitable that there will be challenges in upholding the values, times when the actions that seem obvious are in conflict with one or more of the values. The temptation is always to say that the circumstances are unique or unprecedented, you can’t expect the values to be upheld, or our competitors aren’t restricted in the same way. There are many excuses used to deviate from the values. Having a red flag mechanism enables everyone in the business to raise a concern and also allows the business to stop and choose a different action that is compatible with the values.
- Communicate the values
For the values to be meaningful they must be communicated to everyone in the organisation. Communication does not mean laminate the values and place them on every notice board, although this can be done. Communicate the values through briefing sessions and open discussions, give your teams the opportunity to explore what the values mean and how they will impact on their daily activities. Acknowledge the things that need to change and commit to the changes. Most importantly communicate that this is not a fad, it is the new normal. Your integrity will be judged on how well your future behaviour implements the declared values.
- Use the values to make decisions
Once the value set is agreed, they MUST be used. Ideally, the use of values will be overt and obvious. For example, at the start of a meeting, state the values and remind everyone that all actions must be consistent with the values. At the end of a meeting, review actions agreed against the values of the business. Ask if the actions are consistent with the values. If any action is inconsistent with the values revisit the issue and determine an alternative action. Include a review of values in non-conformance and complaint handling processes. Adhering to values is easy when there are no challenges, you will only know if the values are important when the business is under pressure.
- Hold everyone accountable for upholding the values
If the business believes in its values, everyone will adhere to them. From the chairman to the cleaner, everyone must uphold and implement the values, no-one is exempt from them. Values set the character of the business, and like a person, the business behaviours must be consistent with its expressed values. If the business does not adhere to its own values, the stakeholders will create their own set of values for the business based on its behaviours. Be warned that these values are unlikely to showcase your business favourably!
Values communicate the character of your business to all of the stakeholders, it is easy to write a set of values that looks good, but adhering to them is much harder. Laminating your values is worse than not documenting them IF you don’t uphold them.
My advice is to document your values after careful consideration then adhere to them with discipline and rigour.
I am delighted to share that I am a judge for the BIBA’s 2020. I can’t wait to hear all the positive stories of business growth and success from Lancashire.
Good luck to everyone entering the awards and I for one am really looking forward to talking to some of the individuals and businesses that make up our wonderful county!
Tamarind Tree Consulting Ltd have joined the BSI organisation. As a business committed to improving the ease and effectiveness of ISO9001:2015 certification for SME’s it is a proud moment to be accepted as a member of the BSI organisation.
I felt it was important to be part of the BSI organisation to help promote quality and process excellence.
I started my business, Tamarind Tree Consulting in June 2017.The last 16 months have been the most rewarding, and uncertain adventure of my life. Starting a new business as a sole trader is a huge change, particularly when you have worked for someone else for thirty years.
What have I learned in this time?
The first thing I have learned is that I can do far more than I would have believed. I have designed a website, written a business plan, worked on marketing plans, developed a social media presence, become familiar with finance requirements, the list goes on and on. I had believed that I was incapable of many of these things.
A trusted advisor is vital, in my case it quickly became clear this role would be filled by my accountant. Getting the right accountant will result in clear guidance, good advice and a solid grasp on the numbers. It is vital that you don’t confuse turnover with profit, and have a clear picture of what return you need to make it worthwhile to be your own boss.
You will be tempted to use spreadsheets for your accounts – I was! What I learned quickly is that a professional accounts package, such as Xero is a massive timesaver – other packages are available! It is critical to select the most suitable package for your business. It appears to be a cost you can do without, however it is worth the expense.
A clear brand image is really important. Understand your “why”and hone a pitch that can be delivered in under 30 seconds. It is easy to fill time, it is very hard to shorten your pitch. Clear branding with a clear value adding proposition will help you win business.
The most surprising thing I have learned is how easy it is to set up a limited company. I had a perception that it was a significant legal undertaking. In truth, it was almost trivial.
The most important thing I have learned is to enjoy what you have. When you are busy, enjoy your good fortune, and deliver quality products and services. When you are quiet, enjoy the free time and don’t feel guilty. Neither extreme is likely to be prolonged, so enjoy each time for its own merits.
If you are thinking of starting a business, I think the best advice comes in the form of a quote from Henry Ford;
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”