Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.
Six Sigma (the process perfection system), Total Quality Management (TQM), and many other efficiency processes are being employed by countless companies to find Shortcuts. The black belts of Six Sigma are the icons of this process improvement movement; but wise people don’t wait for one of these programs to be adopted by their companies. They keep the process going on a daily basis in their own jobs. They ask themselves how they can make every step of their job easier, faster, and more efficient.
Improve just one thing you do in your job every week, and you’ll be astounded at how much more efficient and effective you become. It could be anything from how you order supplies to how you organize your hundreds of daily emails. It could be finding a way to better communicate what your department needs to accomplish, or a more efficient process for amassing quarterly numbers for a budget meeting. You might dig into the whole world of one of the biggest perceived time-wasters — meetings. In doing so, you might develop a method that includes only the people who will have real input into the agenda of each meeting, while at the same time discovering a way to transmit the findings of meetings to those who are not present at them.
There are so many ways you can continually tinker with all of the tasks of your job, thereby freeing up more time to get at the really juicy stuff — like the priorities of the business.
I work with many physicians and their practices. One of the major complaints of doctors is the time they must spend doing things other than practicing medicine. One physician points out that if a medical staff professional were designated to call all the patients who have normal lab values, this would increase the face-to-face time the doctor would have with patients by up to 60 minutes a day. That’s substantial when you consider how much better you feel when you have even five more minutes with your doctor. Shortcuts look for ways to do more of what they do and, in doing so, help others do more of what they do.
Ask your fellow colleagues how much time they actually spend at work. You will typically hear 8 to 10 hours a day. But that’s not the point here. When you ask, “How much time do you spend doing the things that are a big payoff to the bottom line?” the answers are startlingly different. To this question you will hear, “two to three hours a day, maximum.” That means there are several things they are either not delegating nor finding a faster, easier, and more efficient way to get done; or several tasks they are doing that they should not be doing at all.
At the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, heavyweight CEO Jack Welch of GE introduced a process called “Work Out.” Its sole purpose was to have every employee look at what they do every day and ask, “Should I even be doing this? Is there a better way? Is this something that was valuable to do 10 years ago when it was introduced, but has outlived its usefulness?” Mr. Welch was getting at the very core of what it means to be an intelligent Shortcut on a continual basis. By doing so, GE became one of the most tightly managed, most often emulated, and most admired companies in the world.
I heard a supply chain management consultant talk about how the efficiency of the supply chain can save a company millions of dollars and create the professional image that those organizations want their consumers to instantly associate with them. He says that for a retailer like Best Buy or Circuit City, saving just 30 seconds per cash register transaction adds up to millions of dollars, and helps these companies process more transactions per day, which brings in millions more. The consultant’s job, along with other supply chain Shortcuts, is to become so intimate with the process — so expert at understanding how it works — that trimming needless movement and adding productive steps is a worldwide business worth billions, if not trillions.