How to improve business efficiency

March 20, 2019

By Kate Rabe

An owner’s most efficient days are ones where he/she does not need to be present on every jobsite[1]
An owner’s most efficient days are ones where he/she does not need to be present on every jobsite.

Communications and processes are two terms many business owners cringe at when asked how they would rate these in their organization. What is it about these words that make people so uncomfortable? Is it the idea of having to take the time to write it all out? Some even feel since their business has made it this far why do they need to make any changes now?

Do these topics have just as much importance as departments in a business such as accounting, purchasing, and marketing? When looking to grow or expand a business, these are typically the first places people look to make changes. If one knows what is working and what did not work the previous year, does it not become easier to set goals to visualize the desired growth for the year to come? Without goals, things may begin to fall short.

What if communication and processes were looked at in the sense of attempting to achieve operational greatness? This means taking a proactive approach to make continual improvements within the company to have an advantage over competitors, but many business owners do not take the time to do this. However, by being proactive, it will not only assist with clear and effective communication from the top down and across all lines, but also help develop systems that enable employees to fix problems as soon as they arise.

Where to begin?

A good place to start is by looking at the business’s day-to-day operations. For instance, employees are hired to take some of the workload off of the business owner. With this being the case, one of the last things one wants to become is a micro-manager. An owner’s most efficient days are ones where he/she does not need to be present on every jobsite to frame a pool or on every phone call to schedule a service visit for a pump that is not running.

Owners want employees who are able to properly test a customer’s water sample and assess what needs to be done to balance the pool. Having a process in place for each of these scenarios is important to not only ensure the business runs smoothly, but also allows the owner to concentrate on the higher ticket items that require more time and energy.

Before one can begin to write the process, they have to be sure they have the right employees in the appropriate roles. Even more important is ensuring each employee understands his/her role and responsibility within the company.

In a perfect world, this author can assume every company has a job description written for its employees. An up-to-date organizational chart should be shared with everyone, too. In reality, this is not typically what this author sees. Yet, this is such an important tool when it comes to operations and communication in the business. Without it, what guidelines are being followed to make sure everyone is on the same page?

When writing job descriptions, be sure to include specific job duties (e.g. what is expected from a particular employee on a daily basis), but avoid anything too general. From a communication standpoint, a detailed list should be compiled of what that job performance looks like so an employee can perform well or, if they need to, focus more on a certain area. The job description should also include what tasks are expected to be completed as well as milestones to be reached and what the timeframe looks like.

For instance, are service technicians expected to go through the course of becoming a Certified Pool Operator (CPO)? If so, how long do they have to achieve certification and what does their educational path look like once it is completed?

In a perfect world, businesses should have a job description written for every employee—including the owner(s).[2]
In a perfect world, businesses should have a job description written for every employee—including the owner(s).

Once the job descriptions have been written, it is important to relay how communication will take place. A clearly planned organizational chart works as a vital tool in an organization to implement structure. This is particularly important when looking to grow the business. Having a formal structure from the beginning helps a company achieve growth through efficiency while also providing a clearly outlined communication process that improves the overall management of the business.

Every business benefits from having a clear structure of how each employee’s role works towards achieving the business’s overall objectives and goals. Having the ability to look at a chart provides a visual means of communication. This is particularly important if a company has various departments that are all working towards a common goal as it helps to avoid duplicate efforts and can also prevent co-workers from becoming frustrated with one another.

On several occasions, this author has seen instances where various departments were all contributing to achieve one goal but the responsibilities were not clearly defined. As a result, productivity decreased as employees started to feel their contribution did not matter, so why put forth the energy? By clearly communicating how different individuals or departments are related to one another and how each will contribute helps achieve greater growth by avoiding unnecessary conflicts.

Organizational charts also help one to recognize gaps in the company’s structure. Having this visual helps to see where there might be a break in the lines of communication or where a clear outline of how each employee will help contribute to the big picture does not exist. This will also help managers write better job descriptions that include duties that crossover departments and quickly fill those needs. A good organizational chart will help evaluate performance and measure growth within the organization.

Why is internal communication so important?

A organizational chart is a vital tool for any business to implement structure.[3]
A organizational chart is a vital tool for any business to implement structure.

Today, as things continue to move forward with advances in technology, one can see the ability to expand their business further. However, with this comes the challenge of effective communication. That said, an increasing number of businesses are using real-time communication with their customers (e.g. mobile updates as services are performed at homes, work orders completed via tablet at the worksite and e-mailed to the owner). In fact, this author has started to see installers use videotelephony services on-site to layout a pool when the homeowner could not be there.

With all of these external changes, it is important to keep up with internal communications as well.  The goal remains the same; to provide effective and timely delivery of important information to those who need to be in the know within an organization. That said, one is confronted with many means to deliver this communication—between e-mail, text, group chats, and interactive group platforms that provide a visual overview of what is being worked on and who is working on it—it is easy to become overwhelmed when trying to choose the best method or bogged down when attempting to use them all. Employees should still be allowed to present their ideas and thoughts, not just trying to merely keep up on multiple means of communication.

The main focus on finding an internal communication tool that works for everyone should be based on what the company is looking to achieve. For example, what are the specific challenges that are currently being experienced and what would help relieve some of this stress? It was only a few years ago that this author would suggest weekly internal newsletters or e-mails as an effective method to deliver a message. Today, however, people expect everything in real-time and it is almost unimaginable for employees to wait an entire week to be updated on what is happening throughout the organization. Businesses want to be sure its internal communication method is immediate and can be measured to know it is working. Further, it is needed to be accessible on the go.

Depending on the age and longevity of employees, some businesses may see some resistance to change. Therefore, it is important to engage with those who are uncomfortable and ask for their feedback on what effective internal communication looks like to them. For example, if a company’s liner replacement installer has been completing jobs off of a work order for the past 35 years, handing them a smartphone and saying everything will now be relayed to them in an app may not be well-received. Instead, having a conversation with the installer on how these changes will help them perform their job more efficiently and getting their take on the best way to implement them will prove to be much more helpful to ensure a smooth transition.

Businesses want to be sure its internal communication method is immediate and can be measured to know it is working. It also needs to be accessible on the go.[4]
Businesses want to be sure its internal communication method is immediate and can be measured to know it is working. It also needs to be accessible on the go.

One of the most common mistakes some businesses make in regards to internal communication is relaying information from the top down. While the idea of hierarchies is an important one (remember the importance of organizational charts discussed earlier), using the ‘trickle-down’ approach can often lead to delays, limited feedback, and miscommunication. It can be likened to playing the ‘telephone’ game and how different the end player’s message was compared to what was said at the start of the game. While plenty of information may be going out, owners/managers need to be sure it is reaching the people who need it most—those who are actually doing the work.

By allowing each employee to be responsible for their part in internal communication will help strengthen the chain. This is not to suggest management and the role they play in an organization be ignored; rather, providing them with the right tools to gather feedback and the ability to provide one cohesive report per department proves to be much more efficient for a business. Having a platform that encourages two-way, open communication will provide valuable information to better understand employees at every level. This also helps each member of the organization realize what they say and do matters.

Employees welcome the idea of having clearly defined company and individual goals. Understanding the plans for attaining these goals helps with an employee’s overall confidence and the value they are contributing. This helps them feel what they are doing, day in and day out, plays a significant role in the overall function of the organization. That said, a company can use its internal communication as a way to recognize its employees. For instance, what has an employee done to go above and beyond? Is there a specific department that met its goal? Taking the time to establish a strong internal communication system can motivate employees and help them all work toward a common goal.

How companies can execute?

Having clearly defined processes in place is essential to efficiency and growth of any organization. It is what holds everything together. These processes should be laid out for every job, within every department, across the entire organization.

Having a platform that encourages two-way, open communication will provide valuable information to better understand employees at every level. Is there is process or check-list to be followed outlining all of the equipment and supplies that will be needed for that day or do installers just throw some tools on the truck and hope they will be able to get by with what they have?[5]
Having a platform that encourages two-way, open communication will provide valuable information to better understand employees at every level.
Is there is process or check-list to be followed outlining all of the equipment and supplies that will be needed for that day or do installers just throw some tools on the truck and hope they will be able to get by with what they have?

Imagine what the day would look like if there were no set guidelines for how things should be done. Even with each employee having their own job description of what they are looking to achieve, the chances are pretty slim everyone would follow the same way of achieving the tasks. Business operations rely on tasks that must be completed daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, or yearly to ensure it runs smoothly. If the processes are not standardized, a business can expect confusion, inefficiency, and even chaos.

It is important to consider the business’s core processes. Even the simplest tasks, if not defined, can become inconsistent. For example, is there a process in place of how the phones should be answered? When a customer calls, should they hear, “Thank you for calling ABC Pools, this is Kate speaking, how can
I help you?” or is “ABC Pools” enough?

Or, what about a larger task, such as loading a truck in the morning when building a pool that is 56 km
(35 miles) away? Is there a process or checklist to be followed outlining all of the equipment and supplies that will be needed for that day or do installers just throw some tools on the truck and hope they will be able to get by with what they have? It is likely the task can be accomplished either way; however, it is easy for one to see which method relays a higher sense of professionalism and customer service.

Is there is process or check-list to be followed outlining all of the equipment and supplies that will be needed fro that day or do installers just throw some tools on the truck and hope they will be able to get by with what they have?[6]
Is there is process or check-list to be followed outlining all of the equipment and supplies that will be needed for that day or do installers just throw some tools on the truck and hope they will be able to get by with what they have?

Every task, regardless of how often it is performed, should have set rules that define the capacity, quality, and system to be followed. If a business does not define these clearly, it becomes hard to track tasks and measure their efficiency. This can help cut down on guesswork, wasting time searching for the answer, and inconsistency. There is also an increase in productivity and overall morale when each employee can look at the process and know they have succeeded. Further, there is an increase in overall customer service. Each time the specific task is completed, it is uniform and to the level of performance that is set as the company’s standard.

Everyone wants to know if they are doing a good job. More importantly, they want to know how they can achieve that status of success. Think about an employee doing their work on a regular basis and not knowing if they are doing it correctly. Without having certain standards to work toward, it can become easy for one to make changes to the way a task is completed compared to the method that has been proven to be most efficient.

Writing business processes offers the opportunity to get employees involved no matter what position they hold. Allowing them to write out a task they perform will not only open up the conversation on how things are done (which may be different than what is actually being performed), but also gives employees a sense of ownership and pride in their work. It is, in a sense, recognizing an employee does a certain task well and having them outline their methods to share them as the common practice for the company as a whole. While there was a gap before to allow for uncertainty and inefficiency, there is now an outlined procedure to accomplish the tasks that is known to work.

Keep in mind, while these processes are being written they are not to be set in stone. Businesses should still promote its employees to think outside of the box and become creative in developing different ways of achieving tasks. While it is important to streamline operations to become more effective team members, businesses still want to offer the opportunity for investigation into improvements that can potentially be adopted.

[7]Kate Rabe is a communications and marketing consultant located in Beacon, NY. She has more than 10 years of marketing experience in the pool and spa industry. Rabe can be reached via e-mail at kate@katerabe.com.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/IMG_2851.jpg
  2. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Job-Description.jpg
  3. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Org_Chart.jpg
  4. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/IMG_2854.jpg
  5. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/IMG_2569.jpg
  6. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/IMG_5335.jpg
  7. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/xRabe_Headshot.jpg

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