As a business leader, the best way you can help your business survive a crisis is to take advantage of every opportunity to maximize your efficiency.
Research shows that highly efficient businesses are more likely to be more stable during severe macroeconomic events and achieve substantial growth gains post-recession.
Maximizing efficiency makes your business more resilient by:
- Giving your team the agility to pivot quickly as new market needs emerge.
- Ensuring you have the financial flexibility to weather some losses and invest in new opportunities.
- Letting your team focus solely on activities that are going to build your business.
As a result, highly efficient companies are better equipped to weather difficult situations and set themselves up for a successful recovery.
Here’s how to get started.
Consolidate and Optimize Your Systems
In most businesses, software is one of the largest sources of cost inefficiency. Not only are many tools poorly utilized, but many also have overlapping functionalities that create unnecessary redundancy.
Since consolidating your systems helps you cut costs and improve employee productivity, it’s one of the first steps you should take to maximize business efficiency.
Here are some of the most common system issues to look for:
- Teams throughout your organization are using different systems for similar purposes. Identify the tool that works best for everyone and cut the others.
- You pay for top-tier software even though your team only needs specific functionalities. Have each of your groups audit how they use their tools. If they only use a fraction of the features, downgrade to a simpler software.
- Your team doesn’t leverage their software effectively. Perhaps they’re not keeping it updated, forgetting to use the data it provides, or failing to use other functionalities that improve their performance. In this case, you need to provide training and accountability measures to ensure they’re getting maximum leverage from the tools available to them.
Auditing all of your systems and narrowing your suite of software to a set of critical, highly utilized tools will improve your cost and labor efficiency.
Redesign Underutilized Jobs
During a slowdown, some of your employees are inevitably going to become underutilized. Instead of immediately laying them off or letting them remain unproductive, you should redesign their jobs so they can help build your business during this difficult time.
To do that, you need to shift their responsibilities away from specific projects - many of which may be losing relevance - and instead assign them goals that they have a lot of flexibility to achieve.
For example, if you have product developers who are responsible for a single feature, give them the goal of increasing user engagement or decreasing customer service inquiries regarding a collection of connected features. Or, if your sales reps are assigned to pursue specific strategies, give them the flexibility to experiment with new approaches.
Expanding your employees’ roles may result in some overlap; however, it will improve business efficiency by encouraging collaboration and ensuring that everyone is focused on tangible results.
If your employees already have broad responsibilities and are still underutilized, redeploy them to areas of your company where they can use their talents. Here are some examples:
- Use recruiters’ excellent people skills to support your customer service and/or sales teams.
- Have salespeople work with your marketing team to increase lead flow.
- Use your account managers’ client knowledge to help your product/service team create an offer that better addresses your clients’ pain points.
Redeploying talent not only reduces labor inefficiencies, but it also provides new insights that can make long-lasting improvements that will set your business up for a successful recovery.
Identify and Resolve Bottlenecks
Most businesses have a few major bottlenecks that slow employees down. Though people may be aware they exist (IT backlogs, slow management, etc.), when things are going well, there often isn’t much pressure to resolve them. However, once a downturn hits, you need to eliminate them as quickly as possible, so your team can maximize their efficiency,
If you don’t know what your bottlenecks are, you need to track how long each step of your projects takes and figure out what’s causing the slower phases.
Here are some prevalent bottlenecks to watch out for:
- Bureaucracy. If employees have to get approval for every significant decision they make and/or follow unnecessarily strict processes, it’s going to slow them and their managers down.
- Slow team members. If you have employees who are slow to share their contributions either because they’re overworked or they don’t know how to manage their time effectively, it’s going to hurt your whole team’s efficiency.
- Lack of automation. If employees are manually doing tedious tasks like data entry and analysis, sending reminders, tracking results, and other easily automated tasks, they’ll have less time to spend on the strategic parts of their jobs.
Eliminating bottlenecks can require a significant upfront time investment. However, it will enable your team to work as efficiently as possible and resolve new issues before they become substantial productivity barriers.
Audit All of Your Standard Processes
Many of the most time-consuming inefficiencies are hidden in your team’s everyday processes. Without realizing it, your team wastes an excessive amount of time and resources on tasks that they should complete quickly.
- Your employees are required to follow step-by-step processes to do many aspects of their jobs. However, the methods are outdated, overly tedious, and slow your team down.
- You allow your team to create their own problems for standard tasks and never assess their productivity. Some employees work faster than others, indicating that there are more efficient ways to complete the work.
The easiest way to resolve these issues is to ask your top performers to create new processes that let them work as efficiently as possible. Allow them to eliminate steps, assign time frames, and do anything else that achieves the same outcome with less time and other resources.
To ensure process changes are practical, check if your top-performers’ approaches require specific skills that the rest of your team may not have. If it does, decide if the increased efficiency is enough to justify training the rest of your team. In most cases, the training will lead to other improvements; however, occasionally, a skill is too challenging and narrowly used to make training worthwhile.
Once you’ve gathered your top-performers and decided what training is necessary, you can roll out the process changes to your team.
Improving business efficiency requires a holistic approach that creates changes throughout your organization. Implementation is challenging and you may face some internal backlash, however, pushing forward will give your business the resilience it needs to survive.
Need help putting these steps into action? Our interactive recession guide will help you create an actionable plan to improve efficiency and pivot your team to thrive post-crisis.
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.