MANAGEMENT INSIGHTS

So you don't have enough skilled people?

Posted on 2014- 11- 12 /

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10 things you can do to help

In times when it's difficult to get sufficient staff with the right competencies, it's vital that we empower what workforce we have to be as effective and efficient as possible. Depending on the industry you are in, you could improve your efficiency by 10-30%. And that might just translate to a similar decrease in the number of vacancies you are trying to fill!

Here are some steps you can take to get started...


1. Eliminate redundant business processes

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." ~ Peter Drucker

Your business operates using business processes, which are operated by your people. By analysing these processes and eliminating redundant ones you will achieve significantly increased efficiencies. Start by mapping your organisation's business processes at a high level. Similar to a zero-based budget, challenge yourself with the question: "Do we really need to do this?" Once you have removed all redundant processes or if you cannot remove an entire business process, proceed to the next step.

Exceed your objectives through empowered people, lean business processes and innovative technology

2. Streamline existing business processes

Next, map and analyse your business processes one-by-one in more detail. By visualising the work, it is almost certain that you will find process steps, which, under sufficient scrutiny, can be eliminated, or at the very least improved. Tasks that no longer need to be completed will reduce the amount of labour required for the same output. Some examples of this may include unnecessary or overly complex approval processes, or generating reports, which nobody reads or gets value from. Our team tends to get excited when the answer to the question "Why do we do it this way?" is "Because we've always done it like that". More often than not, this leads to a treasure trove of opportunity. A word of caution: Please remember not to 'shoot any messengers' here, we are trying to get to the truth of the current state, so people need to feel safe from persecution.

3. Eliminate rework

Get it right the first time! Your business processes need to be capable, so that the result is right after the first pass every time. If this is not the case, the product or service requires more attention, which means consuming more of your precious resources: staff-time and potentially material also. Examples here might include having to redo an entire maintenance task due to a lack of skills, missed supervisor inspection, incorrect parts used, and so on. In another context it could be the number of engineering changes after a design was agreed upon, or delays waiting for upstream processes to complete. In some cases we only get one shot at an outcome, for instance if ore goes to the waste dump, or waste to the stockpile, or not obtaining that new sales account, etc.

4. Give your people a clear sphere of authority

People need to be clear where their authority starts and ends; when this is not the case it reduces efficiency by them having to seek clarification, when in fact they should have known all along. The key is to document this information in the job descriptions and ensure your staff are clear about it. If it is particularly complex try to simplify it, have 'cheat sheets' handy or train the staff as appropriate.

5. Make communication effective and efficient

All the points in this paper contribute to improving this one; but what else can you do? Information requirements can be mapped just like business processes. This can assist in deciding the best communications channels to use. Better still, is the communication required in the first place or can a simple if/then process assist?

6. Embed continual improvement as a business process and a cultural value

Much has been written about the learning organisation; a simple and effective way to embed continual learning and therefore continual improvement into an organisation is to follow Dr Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act method. In our experience most companies generate plans and execute them. The big opportunities lie in closing the Check and Act loop. A way to do this is to institutionalise the Check component by conducting routine review meetings monthly, weekly, and in fast moving environments (which applies to most modern businesses), a brief onedaily. Daily reviews ensure that the information is still fresh in everybody's mind. From this not only can corrective actions be taken, but, importantly, preventive ones as well. They may manifest themselves in form of improved (documented and communicated) processes, procedures or training materials/delivery.

7. Use appropriate enablers

Enablers are tool-like things that empower your business processes. This includes technology such as IT, assets (e.g. vehicles, buildings, offices etc), money, etc. A lack of adequate enablers can impede your business processes, which will slow down the business processes and in turn will make your staff less productive. For instance, by talking to the people who execute your processes you can often find that seemingly trivial issues, such having to wait for the access to the right tools, computers, programs, vehicles, and so on, which wastes their time. A commonly found problem is sloppy document/knowledge management, often forcing workers to lose time finding the right documents or worse, to re-invent existing ones already made available by other team members. Other examples include inappropriate tools, (e.g. physical tools that are not fit for purpose) which can have the same effect. Usually it is the goodwill of the staff that makes them 'put up' with it, instead of asking for a new, faster and more reliable solution (such as an erratic photocopier/printer or similar issue).
Another option is to automate, if and when it makes sense to do so; this could be done via Information Technology or some kind of mechanical solution.

8. Matching the resource to the workload

Running an operation well is a combination of applying technical excellence and psychological understanding of your workforce. A well-understood phenomenon called 'anchoring or focalism' is at play here. When work is assigned to us as individuals or work groups without any expectation of duration, we have a tendency to 'take as long as it takes'. On the other hand, if there is a clear expectation of the work duration, we will do our utmost to achieve this expectation. These work-to-time ratios need to be scientifically derived, so as to be fair, accurate and relevant to the task/activity and conditions. Once in place, scheduling becomes much more accurate. Knowing what size crew will be required gives us an improved ability to plan ahead, which results in a greater certainty of having the right people with the right skills at the right time and the right place.

9. Align your people with your leadership

Leaving the detailed discussion of developing a business strategy to another time, let's look at aligning your personnel to strive towards the same longer term goals. Once the strategy (with a time horizon longer than one year) has been formed and communicated, it is imperative that a tactical or business plan (with a time horizon shorter than 12 months) be developed by the group of people who are expected to deliver the strategy. It must be written in an unambiguous language, clearly defining the deliverables, deadlines and accountable roles or individuals. Once this translation from the long term strategy in place, the implementation of the tactical/business plan needs to be closely monitored on a monthly and sometimes even weekly basis. There are tools and processes available to help you do this and again, they will increase organisational efficiencies due to reduced rework.

10. Get expert help

We understand that running a business is a full-time job. Bringing its efficiency up to the next level requires additional resources. Most importantly, not just any resource, but people who have both the required technical skills as well as the people skills to facilitate change. The good news is that you do not need to hire them all on a full time basis. This is where consultants and contractors are very useful: they bring the skill and experience along with the expectation that their engagement has an end date. Overall the ROI on engaging a consultant is far superior than trying to do it alone and battle with day to day issues and problems at the same time!

In our experience every organisation has room to improve. We have often been told that certain departments or functions require more people, only to find that after improving its effectiveness and efficiency there were more people available than required!

In times when it's difficult to get sufficient staff with the right competencies, it's vital that we empower what workforce we have to be as effective and efficient as possible. Depending on the industry you are in, you could improve your efficiency by 10-30%. And that might just translate to a similar decrease in the number of vacancies you are trying to fill!

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