Five questions to improve your business’s bottom line

Any small organisation needs to make the absolute most of its resources. Yet there are some sources of value within our organisations that are easily overlooked. These five questions will help you make the most of your people and your expertise.

1) How can we learn from our best performers?

Focused on preventing our worst performers from costing us money, we don’t always focus on really examining how our best performers make or save us money. Research into these examples of positive deviance has demonstrated that there are distinctions between the best and the rest; and that these distinctions can frequently be small and replicable by others. Take time to identify your best performers and to learn from them the small things they do that make a big difference. Then help others incorporate these success factors into their work.

2) How much is this saving costing us?

I recently read that the administration of the competitive tendering process in the NHS, is conservatively estimated at costing £10 billion every year. So we know how much the ‘saving’ is costing the NHS, but do we know how much it is saving in real terms? I recently worked with a small organisation that insisted staff, travelling all over the UK, use public transport in strange towns over the local taxis. Not only was it a false economy once the party was more than two, the time wasted complaining about the inconvenience also cost a lot in unmeasured performance loss! The obvious cost cutting measure isn’t always the most effective. Try to work with good ‘housekeeping’ principles rather than ‘one size fits all’ dictates.

3) What behaviour do we want and what behaviour are we rewarding?

Rewarding sales people on their individual sales is a time honoured effective motivational system for sales staff. However, often organisations introduce cross-product training and encourage people to try to sell other products without adjusting the bonus scheme. If the reward system hasn’t changed, cross-selling lessens the time available for selling the thing for which does get rewarded; to spend time doing so would be perverse. Guess what people spend their time doing?

4) How can we help people spend more time doing things they enjoy and less time doing things they don’t?

When people have little aptitude for a part of their job even the most conscientious will be drawn towards putting it off. On the other hand we know that people using their natural strengths, all other things being equal, are usually highly motivated, engaged and productive. Doing what we feel good doing is motivating, struggling with things about which we feel a hopeless inadequacy and dread is demotivating. Sometimes we would be better off asking not ‘Whose job is this?’ but ‘Who would be best suited to this task?’ Demotivated people are a cost to your business.

5) How can we make our workplace a great place to be?

To some extent sickness absence is a discretionary behaviour. Clearly at one extreme we are too ill to rise from the bed, while at the other we are bursting with health and vitality. But between these extremes is the grey zone: tired, hung-over, bit down, cold coming on, bit head-achy, it could be flu etc. Two factors affect whether that person decides to go into work or take a day off. One is the pull factor of the alternatives e.g. the first sunny day of the year, or Wimbledon! The other is the push factor of work, for instance being fed up with the work they’ve got at the moment, problems with colleagues or negative feelings towards their managers.

Conversely factors that pull people into work include loving the work, enjoying the company, feeling appreciated on a daily basis, believing their presence makes a real difference and feelings of mutuality and loyalty. Obviously you don’t want anyone coming in when they shouldn’t and spreading infectious diseases, but beyond that a great place to work is likely to have a positive effect on attendance rates.

Paying regular attention to these questions can save you from making many of the mistakes of larger organisations.