Popularized by a 1948 biographical novel written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey called Cheaper by the Dozen, the concept of efficiency expertise is and remains an elusive desire for many business owners. Many business owners hire efficiency experts to make recommendations on what leaders and their employees can do to streamline business operations and increase productivity.

First and foremost, efficiency experts are skilled at doing more with their existing resources. As such, the following are the most common recommendations made by business efficiency experts to their clients who are looking for advice.

1. Put an End to Meetings

With technology, the need for meetings has essentially evaporated but many businesses still rely on them – to their detriment. Traditional meetings do not allow the thinkers to have an equal chance to respond. Workers need time to read, think, and digest information before being able to respond effectively – and thus can be at a great disadvantage.

While there is still a place for some face-to-face time – to foster community and camaraderie – technology is a far better environment in which to handle those tasks that are typically held at meetings instead.

2. Spend Enough Time Training Staff

Lots of small businesses are operating on speed and adrenaline, which is not an environment in which to adequately train staff. Even when the business spends the time necessary to hire competent candidates with the best qualifications for the position, they drop the ball when the employee walks in the door. Many even think that training is lost money.

It’s critical to understand this fact: staff costs money and you want to get the most bang for every buck you spend on every employee. An untrained employee can cost a company thousands of dollars every month and, very likely, potential customers as well. Here are some examples of how much an untrained or unqualified staff member can cost a business owner:

  • Recruiting fees – if you use a recruiter to find applicants, they may charge between 10 and 25% of the employee’s salary. (See 4 Ways to Save Thousands on HR and Recruiting Costs for more information.)

  • Advertising fees – websites charge business owners to post ads for new employees, some as much as a few hundred dollars.

  • Severance costs – if you do end up letting the employee go, you may offer several months’ worth of compensation.

On the other hand, depending on the type of job, training can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, but the year-over-year gain to your company’s bottom line as a result of that employee’s contributions will easily pay that back.

Training means devoting resources to making sure that the employee is appropriately up to speed on any new procedures or systems.

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3. Trim all the Overhead

Business owners who operate more than a few years or so get into a routine of expecting overhead expenses, but just because they once spent $100 on a particular product or service doesn’t mean that they should keep doing it forever. Take a hard look at all fixed costs and evaluate them carefully for return on investment.

As an example, look at the marketing budget and ask yourself – are each of the marketing efforts my staff are involved in bringing in a quantifiable return? If you outsource any responsibilities to another firm, make sure that you keep regular tabs on their progress and that they can report back exactly how their efforts are bringing you more customers and more money.

Anything that doesn’t have an associated quantifiable return should be considered for trimming unless it has other benefits. Keeping staff supplied with high-quality coffee beans may be an overhead expense, but if it keeps them in the office and happy then that is a different return altogether.

4. Get Organized and Insist Everyone Do the Same

If the business owner isn’t organized, then the business isn’t either. If employees aren’t organized, then work slows. It’s essential to establish some suggestions and let everyone work out their own level of comfort for disruption versus organization, but staying organized – as much as possible – has a range of benefits for the organization, no matter what size.

Efficiency experts recommend a few tips to get and stay organized:

  • Cut out digital noise for chunks of time to focus on the work at hand.

  • Make and keep lists up-to-date so you stay focused on priorities that need to be done first.

  • Assign specific tasks to the right time of day – if you’re most focused in mornings, do the hardest work then and save email for the afternoon.

  • Keep a clean desk, briefcase, and files – this can be done with a once-daily cleanup just before leaving for the evening. If you update the list at the same time, you’ll have a fresh start every day.

Companies can radically restructure how their organizations operate by focusing on their business processes as well as their personal habits. A business process is a set of logically related tasks designed to achieve a desired business outcome. By re-engineering the business process rather than simply pushing for full-scale speed improvements, the end result is a shaking up and improving of the process itself and greater efficiencies is the by-product.

About the author

Matt Faustman

Matt Faustman

Matt is the co-founder and CEO at UpCounsel. Matt believes in the power of online platforms to change antiquated ways of life and founded UpCounsel to make legal services efficiently accessible. He is responsible for our overall vision and growth of the UpCounsel platform. Before founding UpCounsel, Matt practiced as a startup and business attorney.

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