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Maximizing Your Team’s Efficiency

Are your teams getting the results you want for your business? There are many paths to getting results, but having a focus on team efficiency is a great foundation for other efforts like team-based creativity.

Team efficiency work can have a bad reputation. Some managers avoid it based on (flawed) assumptions that efficiency efforts are dull, have a reputation for inflexibility, or take time away from preferred tasks.

Avoidance of efficiency efforts, particularly in the areas of policy and roles, will result in extra hours (and heartache) addressing employee and customer complaints, dealing with employee anger over perceived slights, or even a unionization attempt. People will be people, but much of this is avoidable and efficiency is created in your teams through:

o   People Policies
o   Roles and Responsibilities
o   Goals
o   Communication

Policies – Reducing Distractions

Small teams can function without binders full of policies, but some policies are necessary when you consider the number of hours an average retailer is open each week. Managers simply cannot always be present to help in each circumstance that arises every workday. Individual conversations and decisions cannot be effectively heard across multiple shifts of employees each week and without a basic policy framework. Thinking of policies as being part of your employee communications, you can eliminate perceived inequities and significantly reduce grumbling about fairness while increasing the consistency of both employee and customer experiences.

Policies will help employees understand the rules, but just as importantly, reduce their worries and uncertainties so they spend more time focused on your customers. Policies will also reduce the number of times you need to answer the same question and simplify your training and onboarding efforts.

Policies also start to clarify your employee value proposition.

Policies also start to clarify your employee value proposition, which is what makes your workplace unique and great. When it comes to selling people on your workplace, you can use policies as part of the building blocks to provide insight into what makes your organization unique and a fit for them.

While creating policies could be easy (“Don’t steal from us” is technically a policy) we recommend a blended approach.  With either a lawyer, a consultant, or with online/virtual services, we recommend finding the right mix of the vibe of your operation and having policies that are legally defensible. In either case, take the time to think about what you want in your policies and what will be meaningful to your employees.

Roles and Responsibilities – Fostering Clarity

Poorly defined roles create stress for your workers and your management team.  They will find themselves doing the same task (and fighting over the preferred tasks) or you’ll find that certain jobs are not getting done. Time will be wasted pointing fingers and laying blame.

An easy tool for helping create roles and responsibilities and ensure that nothing is missed is the RACI model. You can take all the important responsibilities and tasks and decide who is:

Responsible – The person or people who do the work.
Accountable – The person who signs off on the finished product.
Consulted: The people who provide needed advice and expertise needed to finish the product.
Informed: Those who need to be kept in the loop, but do not have a role in completing the finished product.

Following this model can work in most situations e.g., for something as simple as a cleaning log, the employee on shift who checks the public areas of your store every hour for spills is ‘responsible’, and a member of the management team is ‘accountable’. These can change but let your team members know when they do.

Goals – Creating Focus

Once people know what they are doing and the ‘rules of the game’, set clear goals! If the basics are in place, this may be the most important activity of creating efficiency in your teams. It enables your team members to work towards goals without day-to-day direction.

And for some it’s old news, but make your goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.  “Sell more product” is too vague to be motivating. “Sell 15% more edibles in November and December than we did in September and October” gives employees a clear picture of what they are trying to do. When you have measures in place, your employees can see how they are doing before the deadline arrives.

Communication – Creating Meaning & Perspective

Despite the distractions your employees face, employers usually have more communication bandwidth than they use. I have never heard an employee complain about too much communication from their leaders. Employees are eager to know about your business plans, new products, supply issues, organizational changes, and anything else that will impact their jobs. Often, more is better. For small and growing businesses, these are my favourite communication tips:

1.      Develop a communication habit.  Communication can be something you do when you have a bit of time or there is a crisis. If you communicate regularly e.g., once every two weeks, you will have credibility in times of stress.
2.      In addition to official channels, find opportunities to communicate in person. While official channels are efficient, employees prefer the personal options.  These might occur in the hallway, in the parking lot, or as townhalls, but periodically your standard communications should be supplemented by in-person conversation.
3.      When you ask for input, make sure you listen.  It doesn’t mean you have to act on everything you are told, but you should be open to the possibility.  Some organizations still have suggestion boxes or something similar. Leaders mean to create a way for employees to communicate with management, but it backfires because the employee never hears back from them. Then staff may start to question your sincerity. So, when you invite two-way communication, be prepared to truly listen.

Paying attention to team efficiency will help your organization grow. Fortunately, many of the tools to help you are time-tested and easy to do.  Do it sooner rather than later so you can focus more time on the activities of growth and value creation!

Andrea Adams is an HR Consultant at HR West Consulting.

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