Weeding Out the Inefficiencies in Your Workplace Garden
“There can be economy only where there is efficiency.” — Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister.
All leaders wear multiple hats, with their roles as Coach, Overseer, Mentor, and Good Example fairly obvious to anyone willing to look. But another function often goes unnoticed: that of Caretaker. Leaders don’t just juggle projects and push people to work harder; they also protect their team from any factor that might jam the gears of productivity.
While no analogy can survive over-analysis, you can consider any organizational unit (whether team, department, or division) a kind of garden, where a good leader works to weed out the inefficiencies in the system. This holds true whether those inefficiencies take the form of unproductive employees, bureaucratic red tape, or poorly designed processes.
Both your superiors and subordinates depend on you to rapidly recognize such issues and to deal with them quickly. So keep these tips in mind as you work toward converting your managerial challenges into profitable opportunities.
1. Think lean. The “lean” philosophy has become a watchword in modern management circles. It seems logical enough: trimming away the fat inevitably increases efficiency and the bottom line. But we still haven’t entirely shaken off outmoded workplace philosophies that allow inefficiency to creep in unchallenged. Recognize this obstacle, then adopt a lean state of mind and apply it to every step of your workflow process. Develop a team-wide culture of efficiency and ruthlessly root out bloat.
2. Take advantage of technology. A scientific breakthrough may make what seemed impossible before suddenly easy, immediately rendering an existing process less efficient. Case in point: in the 1750s, no one could travel overland from Boston to New York (about 225 miles) in less than eight hours. Some said it was impossible to ever do better, since no form of transportation could travel faster than a horse’s sustainable top speed of about 30 mph. Then we invented planes, trains, and automobiles. Today we routinely make the trip in a few hours.
3. Evaluate changes carefully. You can improve almost anything, so you’ll no doubt upgrade every workflow process at some point. But take care here. If you think you’ve found something more efficient, don’t yank up the old method and discard it out of hand. Test the new option first to see if it pans out.
4. Make the tough decisions. True leadership means making decisions that benefit the group as a whole, not the individuals comprising it. Unfortunately, this may sometimes mean more work for everyone…or it may mean lay-offs. Your caretaking tasks require you to make such big decisions sometimes, and to do so as efficiently as possible. Take every factor you can into account but don’t dawdle if it comes down to letting someone go. Better yet, invest the time and resources overhauling a process that will improve overall productivity.
Stoop to Conquer
Just because you’re growing a good crop of profits doesn’t mean your garden patch lacks weeds. When you’re working fertile soil, any plant can thrive. And remember: weeds grow fast and relentlessly; if you let them, they’ll eventually strangle the growing crop. So even if you’ve done well so far, take a good, close look at your workplace. If you see any wasteful processes or strategies—any at all—pull on your gloves, kneel down, and start weeding.