Why is productivity an important issue for small businesses?
Productivity is a critical issue for small businesses. It can be the difference between failure and success. Margins are tight; markets are extremely competitive - there is no room to be unproductive.
Small businesses in particular need to ensure all staff maximise the time spent identifying and working on the important areas of their business and do not waste time on unproductive areas like unnecessary meetings or trying to manage an overflowing email inbox.
Measures to improve productivity have a number of benefits, both direct and indirect: improved performance related to key tasks; increased return on work effort connected to direct business outcomes related to their roles; increased capacity to respond to business demands; greater utilisation of electronic tools and systems; ensuring people remain in control of their priority tasks; and a more resilient and engaged workforce, which includes increased staff retention and less absenteeism. All of these factors have a direct influence on a business' bottom line.
What do you see as some of the barriers for small businesses when it comes to boosting productivity?
I think one of the biggest barriers is a lack of strategic direction and planning. Those at the executive level of a business need to set absolutely clear goals. They then need to be able to communicate these successfully to their staff so all the team is working together on the right issues, on a daily basis, towards a common goal.
Another stumbling block is that people often don't understand where to start when trying to improve productivity. A common mistake is to choose technology as a solution before focusing on people: if people are working inefficiently, the new technology will make no difference.
What do you think our small businesses could be doing better to become more productive?
First and foremost, provide people with the skills to succeed in each of their roles. Understand that motivation and empathy are essential ingredients and have to be applied continuously. Also ask yourself: what do you need to be doing more of? Customer facing time? Working on strategy? Block out time to achieve this. Meet regularly with your team and build clarity: keep the focus on the direction you want to take. Collaborate in decisions and people will own the solution.
On a basic, everyday level, there are several other ways to improve productivity, including acting on an item the first time you touch or read it; cleaning up clutter; setting clear guidelines for information retention and developing communication management systems.
Instituting planning routines, making time to finish the non-negotiable tasks in your job and creating back-up systems will also help boost productivity on a day-to-day level.
What advice would you have for small business owners looking to get more out of their business relative to what they're putting in?
Ask yourself: have you got the best of the best working for you? Are your people as motivated and committed to your business as you are? If not, how can you motivate them?
The people you have working for you are ultimately the most important factor in the success of your company. In a survey of New Zealand business it was determined that the greatest inhibitor to productivity was people, at 33% - the other factors were technology at 20%, innovation at 24% and structure at 23%.
It is critical that staff and executives understand exactly what their roles are, and this needs to be clarified regularly. Demonstrate their value to your business by supporting and encouraging them. Work on increasing their productivity as well as your own; greater control over their workload will make an enormous difference to their job satisfaction.
Implementing the basic strategies outlined above will help, but also consider investing in some productivity coaching. The benefits really are remarkable.
What are some of the things you do in your own business to boost productivity?
I make time every week for coaching and mentoring the team. I also ensure the team have clarity of purpose by sitting down every quarter and confirming the strategy and activity going forward. Sending out monthly e-news bulletins, responding to email requests in a timely manner and being open and honest to the team are also key.
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