As an entrepreneur and business owner for the last 18 years, I remember well what the start-up phase is like; you wear every hat under the sun – from receptionist to doorbell-ringing salesman to production manager to accountant (if you call personally sending out homemade invoices every month being an accountant!).
Fast forward many years down the line, and I now have a large team spread across the country and my challenges are immensely different to when we were in start-up phase. For one, my team works remotely, and I need to know whether they are productive or not. The challenge of monitoring productivity while still running and growing the business, all the while constantly avoiding the trap of slipping into micro-management, has lead me to these findings.
Productivity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a deliberate process and a daily challenge.
Just because you, as the owner of the business, have a fire in your belly compelling you to work 14 hour days, including weekends, doesn’t necessarily mean that the team you’ve hired have the same zeal that you do. So the battle starts – do I still try do it all myself, with a bit of help from the team, or do I let go and empower my team so that I can start dreaming over my business again? The reality is that letting go is often more mind-numbingly terrifying for entrepreneurs than getting a root canal without anaesthetic. It takes tremendous courage.
Here’s a comforting thought: You don’t have to take a blind leap of faith to empower your team. There’s no Indiana Jones ‘invisible bridge’ across the chasm, because there is no chasm if you have the right business processes and systems in place. In fact, you can ‘let it go’, and simultaneously gain more control over your business than ever before.
1. First Things First – Hire Right
Your team is your most valuable asset in the business – they reflect who you are, what you’ve sweated blood to achieve and built, and what your business is about, more than the products or services.
By the same token, one bad apple in the team can do more damage to your brand than your strongest competitor. Employees who are skilled and have the right attitude are often more productive, responsible, communicate better and work faster with fewer mistakes.
If the target is improved productivity, this is your silver bullet. Culture-fit is more important than qualifications and skills on a page. Fight for this, it’s important.
Alternative Option: Virtual Staff (Outsourcing)
This is a viable option if you find you are too busy to handle your day to day activities, but cannot justify hiring a full-time employee to perform these tasks.
Virtual staff or outsourced resources become like a team member who just happens to work remotely, so it is important that you carefully consider who your supplier is, much as you would a permanent employee.
Virtual teams are strongly relational and require a fair amount of personal investment and guidance from you on the onset in order for them to understand your brand, product and needs accurately, especially if they are customer-facing.
Thankfully South Africa has a wide selection for us to choose from, with everything from PA, finances, marketing or call centres services at our disposal. The bonus is, you get the work done without the potential HR challenges.
2. Get a Goal, Stick to it, and Measure it
You know how demoralising it feels when you have too many things to do, and not enough hours in the day to do it. Stressed and burnt out employees are the opposite of productive, and is not something to brag about or a sign of being successful.
Busy is not the goal – productivity is.
Processes and policies give a team structure and a framework for efficiency and measurable productivity. It’s also easier to notice when something or someone is missing the mark or causing bottlenecks and unnecessary delays and quickly respond to that.
Here’s how we do it:
- Set your team targets and tasks that are realistic and achievable within a given period of time. Your team will feel more motivated to achieve these goals, and will enjoy a sense of accomplishment once achieved.
- Put procedures in place that follow best practice for your industry. If this is not something you feel you have time or the skill set for, involve your team and brainstorm this – it might surprise you how well they know your business and what ideas and insights they have. Alternatively, ask a systems analyst or business coach for assistance. Map these procedures and processes out in a document or more visual platform, like Visio, and circulate them throughout the business so that everyone knows the fastest, most accurate way of performing a task. This can also filter into the KPI and regular assessment and incentive processes.
- Get the right software to help your team track orders, projects, inventory and invoices. Try and avoid multiple data capturing points as this can increase errors and be an unnecessary burden on your admin staff. Look for a single system that incorporates the production process from start to finish. We like Slack and Skype for internal comms, and keeping our inboxes solely for client comms. This makes for faster turnaround on client email responses. For project management and time tracking we like Trello, Asana or BOS. BOS (Business Operating System) also includes functionality for quotation generation, stock management, accounts, resource management and reports, so that helps.
- Create a culture of excellence where efficiency is recognised, applauded and rewarded. If a team member has found a way of doing a task more efficiently than the norm, let them share it with the rest of the team, and consider including their personal process into the team’s process.
- Measure it: If you cannot measure the return on investment of your human capital (your team) and your infrastructure (machinery, software, etc) then you probably have very little insight into the profitability of your business and the productivity of your team. Knowing the productive hours of each member of staff will greatly influence your decisions on quoting accurately, resource allocation and team utilisation. Once again, BOS shines here.
3. Schedule a Daily Check-In
The worst thing you can do as a business owner is remove yourself from the business – even if it is under the guise of ‘business growth’ and important work.
Try and avoid being constantly out at client meetings, or chasing sales or being unapproachable when you are in the office. You don’t have to physically be in the space to touch base with your team, so schedule a check-in to see if they need your input and how they are progressing.
It can be a phone call, and email or on whatever system you use for internal comms. It can be five minutes a day, but it makes your team feel that they are part of something bigger, that they belong and that their work is important.
It also provides a platform for you to weigh in on decisions or give them support and helps you panic less about the status of work.
Look for software that has scheduled reminders and a calendar function. Alternatively, software that offers a dashboard view of work in progress will also give you more of a helicopter view of the business.
A bonus would be if it is cloud-based, so that you can check in on your team regardless of where you are – on site, at a client, on holiday or at home!
Now you have more clarity, more control, and more opportunity to run your business holistically and with freedom.
Finding the right balance between doing it all yourself, leaning on technology and efficiently allocating team resources is your productivity sweet spot. Take the time to invest in this, and you won’t look back.