Getting More for Less

November 20, 2019

I’d love to be able to offer that but I can’t add anything more to my people’s plates.


Have you ever said or thought this?


I have had many leaders of organizations say this to me over the years. I applaud any leader who is concerned for the welfare of the people who work for them. Organizations are systems and in any system there is almost always a way to change processes in a way that makes room for achieving more. It often results in frontline workers actually doing less and producing more.


“How?” you ask?


It comes down to process efficiency.


When I was in middle school, I started working in my mom’s office doing the first generation of mass mailings. We were working for a computer rental company and the founder and owner was an IT guy. This was before being an IT guy was something you could find everywhere. Yes, I realize that dates me. What follows will make it all the more clear just how old I am.


His marketing plan was for me to use the white pages to look up mailing addresses for a list of potential prospects. I was to enter these addresses in an early version of a spreadsheet with a form entry process. Then I ran a program that printed out individually addressed marketing letters and then matching envelopes. I was then to correctly match each letter to the envelope, fold the letter in a very particular way so that the reader could see immediately on opening the envelope that the letter was addressed to them. I know this sounds very routine but at the time is was quite revolutionary as using computers for word processing was generally limited to sitting down to type each page individually (control C wasn’t even a thing yet) and then printing a long list of pages. Then I had to fill each envelope, seal it and when they were all sealed, sort them by zip code for the Post Office.


At first, I sat down and did it the way I had been shown but quickly realized it was an arduous process. (Although I wouldn’t have been able to express it that way at the time.) I quickly realized that I could start folding the letters as the envelopes were printing. Instead of taking each letter and folding it, I took a handful of maybe 10 letters at a time and folded the whole stack. If I ran the program correctly and kept them together as they printed, they would be in the same order. So then I just had to make sure nothing had gone awry in the printing process and check that they matched, rather than hunting for each letter and each envelope, a process that was made all the easier due to the folding strategy because the recipient’s name and address were in full view. I could then put the pre-folded letter in the envelope and put them aside in a staggered pile. Once I had about 10 envelopes filled, instead of using an envelope sealing thing filled with water with the moist sponge at the top, I slightly wet a piece of paper towel and swiped it across all 10 envelopes at once. Then I could simply push down the top one to seal it, move it down a bit to reveal the next one and repeat. I was then able to turn them all over and put them in piles in rising numerical order by zip code. This change in process shaved about 2/3 of the time off of the task (which, if I had been savvy enough to realize it, meant that I got paid that much less for doing it). It also meant that the owner was really impressed with me and not only asked me back to do more of the same but eventually asked me to do more and more sophisticated office work. That’s how I graduated from high school with enough computer and office skills to do an administrative assistant job and it all came from my ability to see the patterns and create processes that utilized them to make the work easier.


And that is the key to adding productivity to your work without adding work for your work force.


Here is an example from an educational institution.


Recently, a high level official of a public school system was complaining that one of her departments was providing a parent support group monthly that was very lightly attended. If parents would just come to these events, a lot of the problems they were encountering could be prevented and/or easily solved in the moment. I asked when the events were scheduled and she said they were one afternoon per month.


“There you go,” I said, “most parents are not available at that time of day as they are either working, have to be at home for nap time for a younger child, or are picking their student up from school. All you have to do is change the time of the meetings to an evening time, weekend or maybe even mornings and your engagement will go up.”


The executive got very upset and said, “ I cannot add anything more to my people’s schedules. I just can’t ask them to do anything more than they are already doing!”


Here is one potential solution to this executive’s problem.


First, look at the tasks the department is already doing.


 Next, sort them into categories. For example: “Routine Office Work”, “Firefighting”, “Event Production” and “Event Performance. 


Let’s say you have 4 people and each of them is doing some of all of these tasks. That is a very inefficient way of working. For one thing, they have to stop doing routine office work and event production every time they need to put out a fire or go to an event. For another thing, when they are at an event, they aren’t available to follow up on firefighting issues.


Then, create a schedule where each team member takes one month to perform nothing but the tasks in one category that rotates so that everyone stays in the loop on every front. 


For the month of January:


  • Team Member 1 primarily does “Routine Office Work”. That means this person files all of the routine forms, attends all of the routine meetings, reports on updates to the rest of the team etc. 


  • Team Member 2 primarily fights fires (obviously not literally). That means this person answers the phone and looks at an email box dedicated to responding to complaints and problems and then solves the problems. Because there is only one person working on this, there is less opportunity for duplicating effort, miscommunication, and confusion. Problems get solved more simply because one person from this department is interacting with each of the other departments involved in solving the problem and is following up with the complainant. If there is time when there are no fires to put out, which is rare in any school system, they assist Team Member 1 in filing routine forms.


  • Team Member 3 primarily performs tasks related to Event Production. This includes reserving the space, making sure all of the materials used in the events are in supply and in good condition, getting the word out to the target participants about the details of upcoming events, and answering questions about the events.


  • Team Member 4 only attends events. This frees them up to work “off hours” without having to juggle a 40 or 50 hour week full of other tasks as well. They do what they need to do for the events and are not expected to be in the office twiddling their thumbs during “office hours” because they are working other times of other days.


Every month the tasks shift so that each member of the team spends time doing each of the tasks. It is organized so that they have months if not weeks of advanced notice to make arrangements for child care and other personal scheduling issues.


It takes a little bit of reorganizing of technology to do this but the resulting benefits way outweigh the cost of doing so.


What process reorganizing can you do in your organization to make room for more production while actually reducing the work load of each person in your work force?


If you need help answering this question, contact me at I am here to help you.

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