NPI Editorial: Are we using Best Practices?

As we begin 2002, we look for new trends and new opportunities. Some of the people I've spoken with are considering international ventures and opportunities, hence the editorial a few weeks ago. Others are merely trying to ride out an industry flat period with limited new investment in sales, marketing or operations. Still others are shoring up those areas they feel will be mission critical in the years ahead, business process improvement, unit productivity analysis, economies of scale, effective technology deployment, branding exercises and more.

Others, operating in a more reactive mode, are digesting the impact of technology and trying to deal with information overload, lack of available time and crisis management. Although the term strategic planning is an accepted business principle, most executives admit how elusive the concept is as they are bombarded with operational priorities. And strategic planning has never been more complex and in some case uncertain, with so many variables.

Now throw in the emergency budget meeting, the critical new hire, the system and e-mail crash...and we can never get to that bigger picture. But we know that if only we could, we could get away from crisis management and take control of our jobs and our company direction.

Many of us face the same frustrations. How many times has six o’clock gone before we can really reach our own agenda, those strategic issues that will ultimately make or break the company? How often have we been involved in mission critical planning only to realize an hour later that we’ve been sidetracked by an intriguing e-mail message, or a crisis?

Whether it’s strategies for handling e-mail, projects and meetings or systems for paperwork, files, contact management, and other processes, there are improvements we can make to efficiency and effectiveness.

How many times have you heard of the overworked executive whose only problem was that they could not delegate? From time to time it’s reasonable, to ask questions including:

  • Is there a better way?
  • Why are we doing it this way?
  • Should I be doing this or can this be best done by someone else? (don’t just pass the buck though)
  • What’s the opportunity cost of doing this action/activity?
  • Do I really need to do this? What value is it providing?
  • Is there redundancy to eliminate?

At the same time, it is critical to capture information first pass, and to get information to actionable parties as quickly as possible. Many organization we’ve spoken with have numerous filters for incoming materials. While there is a lot of ‘spam’ and ‘propaganda’ out there, the real meaty pieces need to get to the right hands quickly. Your customer service and ultimately your reputation depend on it.

I have spoken with a number of executives, who, when asked why they’re doing something answer, “well, we always have.” These organizations have often lost sight of the value equation. In many cases they are victims of ‘operational layering’, where new requirements or processes are layered on top of existing ones to create inefficient systems with multiple points of double entry and complex, convoluted communication pathways.

I have also talked with busy professionals who frequently get caught up by what they like to do, not necessarily what they need to do. They then scramble when the crisis they could have avoided catches up to them. Or others, who have not developed processes for managing an increasing amount of e-mail or figured out how to deal with the impact of technology.

In no particular order, here are some areas that may bear investigating:

Periodically do a study of what you do for a couple day period, find out how you’re actually spending your time.

Perform work flow analysis, tracking paper and business processes through your organization.

Study related activities that can be gathered together and dealt with in one process.

Note what times of day you and your staff are the most productive and schedule key activities for these times including brainstorming and other meetings. Are you using all communication tools effectively to advance projects?

Designate four times per day to check e-mail in addition to first thing in the morning. If you’re expecting urgent correspondence, obviously the situation is different.

If you’re in a position to do so, develop a company e-mail and Internet policy.

Communicate as widely as possible your objectives so that individuals who come across information understand organizational priorities.

Set up rules to organize and filter e-mail and external communication.

Use descriptive e-mail subject lines to help recipients who use the subject line only to scan e-mails for importance.

When combining e-mail and call strategy, suggest dates and times to make it easier to schedule calls. Understand that the recipient of your call or correspondence is as busy or busier than you.

On a broader level, as more organizations focus on core competencies, you may find yourself evaluating whether certain jobs or functions are better outsourced. In general, wherever possible, despite operational priorities, try to take some time to draw back and think strategically if this is part of your responsibility. Formally allocate this time if possible.

Think best practice; look outside the company and if necessary, outside the industry for best practices of successful companies and organizations. Whether it’s Six Sigma, GMP, brand strategy or technology implementation, there are pieces which can dramatically impact your operation and activities. Keeping an open mind when these opportunities arise can increase your chances of mid-term and long term success.

There are numerous other ideas and practices which you probably know of and use to more effectively manage and operate in today’s business environment. Often too we know the theory, but the practice is lacking.

The fact remains that any tools you use personally and as a professional to increase your capabilities increase the likelihood of personal, professional and organizational success. Maybe these are a few such tools.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the NPIcenter Discussion Forum

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