Everyone knows the U.S Postal Service is on its last legs--but it isn't because of the advent of the Internet or because its competitors have better prices. Ask any of the 30 people waiting in line on a Saturday morning to retrieve a package, and although their complaints may vary from "My carrier did not leave a notice" to "I've been in line for the last hour," they boil down to one root problem: a lack of efficiency.
There are lots of mistakes you can make with your business, but none more deadly than this. Inefficiency eats up money, wastes resources, and pisses customers off, big time. Follow these five rules and head off inefficiency at the source.
1. Invest in the right tools--regardless of the cost--for every part of your business. Shoddy solutions always come back to haunt you--both financially and in terms of productivity. Even when you are in bootstrapping mode, spending right rather than doing things on the cheap is the most inexpensive solution in the long term.
The purchasing team at my company, Metal Mafia, recently chose to upgrade the computers of our design team to the best available, despite the high cost, because doing so meant that it would be able to increase the rate at which it designs by 30 percent. Keeping the same computers would have been possible, as would have upgrading to less-costly models, but the benefit would not have been the same.
2. Standardize organizational tools and require that all team members use them in the same way. There are lots of ways to get things done, and people love making their own "systems," but if you want your company to run well, you need to clearly define the tools that are the best for your mission. Eradicate duplicate processes, and ensure transparency at every level.
At Metal Mafia, for example, every staff member has one central place in which he is instructed to write everything--he cannot have sticky notes, nor his own organizational method. Every day, the employee starts a new entry with the date at the top. His daily to-do list is then written here, any short-term item that requires follow-up is noted here, and any ideas or project advances are recorded here as well.
This means that if any other person on staff needs to know where this employee stands on a task, which customers need further assistance, or what remains to be done on a project, he has only to look for the notebook and get the needed information.
3. Emphasize the importance of doing something now rather than later. Employees can get easily sidetracked or overwhelmed with their duties these days, because they have so much information to manage, so many responsibilities to handle, and so many distractions available to them. Ask each staff member to prioritize his duties in terms of how many other people will be able to work based on his providing his service.
For example, I know that if by answering an email, I will give three people the information needed to move on to their next steps that day, I will do so before looking at anything else in my inbox. I take the shot immediately so others can be set in motion while I then move on to the next thing on my priority list.
4. Outlaw "passing the buck." Inefficiency happens any time more than one employee has to look at the same issue. Give everyone on your team the parameters to successfully solve problems and the authority to do so. Every employee needs to know which tools are available to him when problems arise and how to reason through the issue confidently, and most important, he needs to feel safe that making a decision on his own will be lauded rather than punished.
At Metal Mafia, all sales reps are taught that a customer problem, regardless of its nature, can be solved by the person answering the call. There is no need to transfer the customer around or to enlist the help of a manager. The rep should simply listen to the problem, determine the solution that will be the best for the customer, and act on it. And he does so knowing that it is better to make a potentially "wrong" choice than to make no choice at all in the eyes of the management team.
5. Teach your staff that there is only one flag flown on company time--the flag of your company. This means that every team member, regardless of title, job description, or training, should be concerned with helping every customer as though the customer were his own.
When a new recruit joins our team, I make sure he understands that we all pledge allegiance to the same ideals when we choose to live under the Metal Mafia flag--and as such, we identify every opportunity, scrutinize every situation, and conduct ourselves at all times through that lens. When a customer has a problem, it is our problem. When the company advances, we all advance.
Designing your business to be efficient is relatively simple, and the rewards are great--not just in terms of making your business run well, but most important in making your customers' contact with your company a positive experience every time.