Kimberly Zhang September 1st, 2021

5 Ways to Keep Your Operations Lean

Despite the roughest year in recent memory, employers and employees can pat themselves on the back. Most remained resilient in the face of minute-by-minute changes. 

In fact, figures from a 2020 study from online payroll provider OnPay reveal a general sense of optimism as the pandemic took hold. About three-quarters of workers and executives felt good about their initial handling of pandemic-related concerns. 

However, a substantial number of employers who completed OnPay’s survey said they received PPP or CARES Act dollars. Yet those federal funds were meant as a short-term bridge, not a long-term solution to revenue challenges. Consequently, businesses needed to look at ways to trim costs without trimming internal or external customer service. 

So if you haven’t moved toward more streamlined operational workflows, protocols, and tools, now is the ideal time. The more your company can trim the fat and scale up (or down) as business fluctuates, the easier it will be to run profitably and take advantage of new opportunities. Here are a few steps the most successful growing businesses are taking.

1. Let machines handle repeat tasks.

Just about every big task is made up of countless little tasks. But is it necessary for your people to do all those little tasks manually? Or could they be automated to save time, resources, and headaches?

According to a 2019 Fortune article, AI-focused researchers believe automation could streamline 30% of most workers’ daily tasks. For instance, the software could automatically populate spreadsheets. Or, chatbots could quickly lead customers to find their own answers without human intervention.

Once thought of as a “job killer,” automation has now risen as a way to free up human capacity. The less your top performers have to repeat mundane tasks, the more time they have to complete high-level assignments. 

2. Reevaluate your supply chains. 

Every organization deals with some kind of supply chain. Yours might be complex, as in the case of a manufacturer that buys everything from raw materials to finished widgets. Alternatively, your company’s procurement involvement might end with regular office supplies and furnishings.

Though you may be happy with the flow of your supply chain, take a look at the overall numbers. Are there places where you could save money? Could a different supply chain system shave off valuable time, allowing you to make and ship products faster?

Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions when it comes to your supply chain needs. Your vendors may be willing to give you discounts to keep your business. They may also have recommendations to bring down your overall costs, such as placing orders at different intervals. As the saying goes, every little bit helps.

3. Move your company partially or fully remote.

It costs a bundle to operate a brick-and-mortar office. In addition to a lease or mortgage, you’ll pay for utilities, upkeep, taxes, and myriad other things. You may be able to eliminate all those bills by transforming your team into a remote-only workplace.

This isn’t as radical as it sounds, especially if you spent a lot of time in 2020 operating as a WFH crew. A 2021 piece from the Washington Post indicates plenty of leading tech companies are embracing telework for their people. Take Microsoft, for instance. The giant software provider is allowing workers to go remote half the time. 

Even if you don’t want to pull the plug on renting traditional office space, you might be able to get by with less square footage. Let’s say your team members only come in three days a week. You could rely upon hot-desking to ensure everyone has a private workstation. At the same time, workers’ schedules could rotate, meaning you’ll always have fewer employees in-house.

4. Remove communication roadblocks.

The faster your employees can communicate with one another and customers, the better. Chances are strong, though, that you have some communication obstacles here and there. Those obstacles aren’t just eating away at efficiency, though; they’re eating away at morale, too.

Consider the case of a customer service employee who can only make minimal service concessions without approval. The time it takes to ask a manager for approval and get back to a customer can seem like ages. Wouldn’t it be better to give the service agent the authority to make decisions up to a certain dollar figure? That way, the agent could resolve customer issues faster and without communication delays.

Even if you think your organization has communication down to a science, conduct a thorough review. Find all the places where communication breaks down or goes into a stall. Then, brainstorm ways to move everything through the decision-making process quicker. 

5. Elicit feedback from employees.

Your workers already know exactly where the “fat” in your company lies. Unfortunately, most won’t bring up their concerns because they don’t want to rock the proverbial boat. Rather than waiting for them to give you their insights, ask for ideas.

For example, why not send out quarterly, bi-annual, or annual surveys to your team members? Ask them where their processes and tasks get gummed up. Then, request their solutions. You might be surprised at how innovative their answers may be.

Of course, you have to be willing to both listen to and follow up on any recommendations you receive. This helps keep an open line of dialogue between you and your colleagues. It also fosters a better sense of trust and transparency in your organization as you all “get lean” together.

The bottom line

You’ve made it through one of the most challenging social, economic, and political years on the record books. And you’re almost on the other side.  Chances are, you had to adapt and make operational improvements over the past year. Keep that spirit alive by looking for more ways to keep your operations lean. It will make you better prepared for whatever the future holds, and you’ll be well-positioned for more profitable growth.

Kimberly Zhang

Kimberly Zhang is the Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. She has a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *