So you want to cook a steak. If you’ve cooked much, you know you need to structure your process. The order with which you prepare and cook is essential. A steak takes around 10 minutes. If you like sauteed onions with it, they take about an hour. You have to take the time to think through your approach. What will you cook first? What steps follow? Otherwise, half the food will be cold by the time you’re eating.
This strategic planning also applies to team management and building optimized operations. An optimized workload increases engagement, which can increase productivity by 20%. While you can handpick and optimize tasks through hands-on reviews, the real impact comes from building an optimization mindset throughout your company. Remove micromanagement and give everyone in the company the tools to optimize for success.
An Optimization Mindset
An optimization mindset simply means that each workflow is thoughtfully designed. This is done by considering potential workflows, analyzing the pieces involved and the various costs associated. Then you need to decide on the most efficient and effective workflow.
Optimizing is resource related. Be it money, time, talent, or something else. To optimize, one must invest time in critical thinking and strategic planning.
The most successful companies are those that have integrated this mindset across the entire organization. The only way to scale and stay optimized at a high level is to get all of the players and pieces along the way to optimize within their sphere. To effectively do this, without aggressive micromanagement, you must create an optimization mindset within your organization. This can be tough, but it is critical to increasing the overall team performance.
Building an Optimized Organization
First and foremost, it’s critical that optimization is part of everyday conversations, starting top down.
As a leader, you must start thinking about optimization yourself. If we’re being honest, there is always room for improvement. Take apart your Monday & Tuesday. Outline all the work you do, what goals they fall under, and the workflow to complete each task.
Play around, see what parts of your day could be changed to flow more efficiently. Are there areas that would be more effective if done at different times of the day? Or by different people? Find at least 5 examples.
- Step 1: Figure out how to apply this mindset in your life.
- Step 2: Start to openly communicate about it.
This should become a frequent topic and there needs to be a safe space to discuss these ideas. Your goal is to show that even the leaders have room to optimize and don’t always have the right answers. When phrasing how you have approached optimizing your tasks, be thorough and thoughtful. Every time you speak about optimization, you are giving your team a lesson and an example to follow.
Train for Optimization
Once you’ve started working on and sharing your personal optimizations, you must begin encouraging your team to mirror your example.
Start with the WHY. By optimizing you get to spend time on what is most impactful and reduce time spent on tedious, less value-added work. The time you save you can invest in other areas – or just be less stressed out! Employees with workload overload are up to 68% less productive (Cornerstone). Scary, right? Releasing that stress through optimization can create a significant spike in team performance.
Be sure to explain that optimizing is not negative. You aren’t approaching it from a place of failure. Shifting the conversation down the ladder can cause concern that teams are not performing well enough or that people need to be let go. You must ensure that this is not the case (even if it is). In order for this to be effective long-term, your team needs to fully accept optimizing in a positive manner. They will be owning their own journey of optimization. Make sure they approach it from the right mindset.
This is particularly critical with hourly and/or remote employees. You need to ensure that optimizing does not mean you want to cut back on hours. Rather, it means you want to free up time so they can do/learn more.
Next, get your team started. Use your own examples as a base for them to build on. You can also select team leaders who can offer examples.
Set up a program that requires consistent input about optimization. In regular meetings, ask each team member to step up and present one workflow that they are optimizing. They should talk about:
- how they found what they are optimizing
- why they chose it
- what route they are taking
- what changes they have made or are planning to make
- any results and blockers
Lastly, a reward system is always a good idea. There are tons of options for rewards. You will have to decide what works best for each team and individual. Some rewards could be a weekly or monthly shoutout for building a new process. Potential for a raise if they can redesign a key department process and show results. Monthly bonuses if the hourly time on certain tasks is reduced consistently. There are many more options. Pick at least one and pair it with your program.
How deep should this optimization training go?
To everyone. Everyone can benefit from this training, the more people who adhere to it, the better your organization will run. However, this can be done in stages. You can start with leadership and work your way down.
I maintain a bottom-up optimization philosophy. This means that I personally work with all new positions once they join the team. By doing so, I can ensure that on every level, there is a mindset of constant improvement. I cannot be everywhere, so training each team player to think about optimization means that it can exist without heavy micromanagement.
While it takes constant work, I am able to achieve this because I instil within each team player that they are the master of their own work. I cannot see what they see. I could not optimize what they do without aggressively micromanaging. So optimizing becomes a core responsibility for each team member. They think critically about all workflows and how things can be improved. I ask for direct feedback and reward it. This results in suggestions like re-organizing the workflow, using different tech solutions, splitting up or combining responsibilities, etc. The list goes on and on. By giving my team the power to manage their own tasks, they are more connected, engaged, and driving better solutions than in a strictly top-down management approach.
Real Impact at OpsTales
By getting all levels involved, I have a constant report on where little things can improve. Things I would only think of if I was doing the work everyday for weeks. The little changes add up to significant progress. In a recent example, we could drop the time needed to perform a weekly accounting variance tracking from 5 to 2 hours. An inventory management team was able to reduce their weekly hours by 10% each of the last two months. The results are tangible and I encourage the team to share these results in each meeting. In meetings, we discuss at least one way in which our team has optimized a workflow in the last two weeks.
This approach works. The whole team thinks critically about how they spend their time and how it connects with the team goals. They have the opportunity to get creative, make suggestions, and connect with leadership. It’s an opportunity for entry-level positions to have a voice and create an impact. You will be surprised by the ingenuity of your team if you provide them the luxury to think critically about their workflow.