There's something in the air.
It's a phrase no one likes to hear.
"You have a serious operational efficiency problem" is like a slap in the face for most company founders. But how do you even know there's an issue? In my experience covering startups the past 15 years, there are a few key indicators that might seem subtle, but they reveal there is a crack in the foundation.
1. Your employees take a week to answer emails
If employees in a company regularly take a week or more to respond to emails, you have a serious problem. It's like spotting an oil leak in your car. And, it's not really a sign the employees are overloaded or don't know how to prioritize. It's both a communication problem and it's a technical problem. First, employees might need some training in basic communication, that it is important to at least acknowledge they've received the email--even if it is to say there will be a delay in the response. Second, the tool might be to blame. Use Slack or some other collaborative environment. Figure out how to use filters and labels in Gmail. Create an auto-responder. A week delay in response is a sign of a troubling ailment.
2. Employees are having "walking meetings"
Whenever I see someone doing a walking meeting, I think: This is someone who doesn't know how to prioritize and delegate. Strangely, a CIO at a very well-known organization once told me he does them almost every day. If you are walking and having a meeting, you are not being efficient. You are not fully engaged with the people who are walking with you because the human brain can't really focus on two topics at once. Let's say it's a product manager and you are the founder. She wants to talk about social media engagement. You are walking to your next next meeting to talk about financials. You can physically do both, not mentally. You're phubbing. Stop, sit down and focus. Then, walk to your next meeting.
3. You have too many cooks and no kitchen
Ah, the startup life. There are times when you will see many people running around doing things but not ever getting anything done. In those cases, I've seen a total meltdown in productivity. Multiple people doing the same task. No one leading. Who is to blame? Usually, it has something to do with having too many short-order cooks. Yet, there's no "kitchen" (or any real production). The commanders just like to command. Setting up a "kitchen" means defining what you are trying to accomplish, communicating about the plan, and coordinating the work effort. Many companies don't bother because they think commands equal productivity.