Raise productivity by lowering cognitive load

Are you trying to figure out how to help your team become more productive? Traditional efforts to raise productivity will help, but are they enough? At some point, you’ll find that the law of diminishing returns will take over. Rather than give up, you & your team need to reassess the team’s workload and how it’s handled.

It’s important! It’s mandatory.

Traditional attempts at workload assessment usually include a re-prioritization of tasks. Regular priority assessment is a good thing, but not often a great thing. Sometimes it resembles “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”. What takes a re-prioritization from good to great is leaving your team open to not assigning a priority to EVERYTHING – i.e.: giving permission to not do a task. It’s OK to identify work as “work we don’t need to do”, or “work we don’t want to do”. However, your team still has to do this work because “It’s important!” and/or “It’s mandatory”.

There’s “mandatory because the law requires it”, but there’s a second form of mandatory that’s rarely talked about: “mandatory because I said so”. Some tasks legitimately fit this criteria, but many shouldn’t. The quote “Mandatory is one of the crutches we use when we can’t lead people.” speaks to these tasks. I’ll bet we’ve all seen this type of mandatory task in the workplace.

Mandatory doesn’t mean a person has to do it

Mandatory workloads tend to be administrative and clerical work placed on non-admin / non-clerical team members. Sometimes, it even includes administrative and/or clerical work placed on admin / clerical folks. Some of this work is necessary and important, like timekeeping for employees whose time is billed out to a customer. The rest should be subject to re-prioritization.

Your team has to stop doing unimportant work so that they can focus on what IS important. I’m sure you’ve heard and thought that before. Even so, we continue to put more “administrivia” work on our people. Sometimes this work is important, but if you look a little harder at it, you’ll find that much of it can be delegated. My favorite team member to delegate this kind of work to is “systems”.

Why do you want to either stop doing this work or delegate it to someone other than an employee? Cognitive load.

Every task you give a person increases their cognitive load. Take a high-value employee who does focused work for you. If in addition to that work, they also have five or more daily administrative / clerical tasks on their plate, those things have to be remembered.

Why does cognitive load matter?

Ever notice how you suddenly remember things at two am, or when on a walk, or while on an airplane? At two am, you’re usually sleeping. On a walk, your mind is free of all the things at your desk. On an airplane, the restrictive environment means your phone is useless and often, so is your computer. Those environments have a lower cognitive load, and suddenly, your brain remembers things again.

Extra tasks competing for brain power create “rush hour traffic” for the brain. Driving a car full of kids in heavy, urban traffic is more mentally draining than driving them on the open road. The complexity of heavy traffic and urban roads make driving more challenging. Add a bunch of kids in the car and.. well, you’re probably all over what cognitive load means. Add darkness, rain, and fog. Each layer increases the cognitive load your brain must manage in order to drive.

New administrative and/or clerical work increase the total cognitive load for employees who do focus work, decreasing the importance of their “real work”. Are these admin tasks more important than the number one task any random team member is expected to complete that week? My guess is that they aren’t.

Lowering cognitive load via systems

Work that requires deep thought is sabotaged by interruptions. We “clump” meetings together in order to reduce interruptions and increase available focus time. We clean our office to reduce clutter – and thus visual “noise” / distractions. Unnecessary tasks, office clutter and interruptions all add to cognitive load.

People under high cognitive load don’t need darkness, fog, or rain (interruptions / clerical work) added to their “drive” (workload). While these tasks can’t always be eliminated, they can often be automated. If someone is making a phone call or checking a website multiple times per day to determine if an action should be taken, is there a way to automate that determination? If you have systems tracking various aspects of your business, is someone manually tabulating that info? Is there a way to automate that tabulation? What can you eliminate or reduce? What can you automate?

Photo of Atlas by Simon Cope

A well-armed minutiae: Urgent, not important.

Yes, I said “minutiae”, not “militia”. The similarity and power of these two words struck me, so I thought I’d substitute one for the other. One of the most dangerous things in your (and your team’s) day to day productivity is the “crisis of the unimportant”. IE: tasks that seem important only because someone interrupted you with them. Minutiae are the little things that, left uncontrolled, will consume your day and leave it unfulfilling, perhaps annoying and almost certainly empty of substantive accomplishments. Stephen Covey spent his career preaching about preventing these tasks from consuming your day – categorizing them as “urgent, not important”.

Eliminate minutiae with systems

As the owner or a senior manager, it’s critical to get out of the “interrupt me early and often” mode as soon as you can – but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the needs of those who interrupt you. You simply need to find a way to deal with them and set boundaries for them. A system helps.

Back in the days of Photo One, photography studio owners asked me to solve this problem for them. To the studio shooter, the most valuable revenue-creation time was in the camera room – ie: behind the camera time with the client in a room full of props, lights and other tools of the studio photographer. When they’re in that room with a client, the value they’re creating can create revenue for years, so the last thing they want to happen once they have “warmed up” the subject is to have the rapport / groove interrupted by someone asking where the coffee filters are, or how to process a refund for a charge split across two cards, or similar.

One answer to this is a system that provides answers to “interruption questions”. A studio owner told me that they had an answer / procedures book to deal with this, but they didn’t like the maintenance headache that it caused. This book predated Google docs and wikis, so they edited everything in Microsoft Word (or similar) and then printed the answers / procedures and put them in a three-ring binder.

The process established in the studio was to consult the book if you didn’t know the answer, then ask your manager and only then could the shooter in the camera room be interrupted. That interruption was OK only if it couldn’t wait until the camera room appointment was over. Obviously, this becomes a training issue at first so that the proper habits are established. Beyond that point, the book should get updated with one-off requests quickly so that camera room interruptions fall off quickly.

Make sure your minutiae cure is scalable

The studio owner came to me because they had a big studio and one book wasn’t enough. They needed multiple copies, but managing all the changes was a chore. Since most of the users were lusing Photo One all day, it made perfect sense to include the equivalent of “the answer book” within our software. That allowed anyone to get to it, plus the answer book functionality in the software allowed them to print a copy of the book so there were always printed copies available.

Resources like this can provide answers to questions, as well as step by step checklists or processes that allow the owner and managers to get things done the way they want, even if they aren’t available. One memorable example was “How to arm the alarm at end of day”. Do this wrong and you have no security or incorrect security. Do it right and the owner / manager gets some slack and the employee builds confidence in their ability to close the shop for the day.

A wiki, a FAQ, anything

These days, a custom desktop software feature like that really isn’t necessary because it’s so easy to build something like this into the private side of your company’s website as an internal wiki or frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) page. These assets are valuable not only for managers and your subject matter experts (SME) who get interrupted by such questions, but also for new employees or temps who come into your shop and need a resource other than “Ask Jennifer” umpteen times per week.

The last time I started getting overwhelmed by these things, I started writing down the context of the interruptions. That allowed me to see trends, identify what needed to be documented and get out of interruptionville.

How fast can your business go?

Is your business ready to face a no-huddle offense?

In case you aren’t a football fan, here’s a quick summary of differences between “regular” and “no-huddle” offenses:

  • A regular offense has 25-30 seconds (depending on the league) to “read” signals (instructions) from coaches on the sideline, swap players in and out from the bench (if desired), huddle (have a brief meeting) and start the next play. In the huddle, the quarterback tells everyone what the play is, communicates the information necessary to run the play, and makes sure everyone knows what signal they’ll use to trigger the hiking of the ball to start the play. The read, swap, huddle process starts as players walk and/or jog back to their teammates at the end of the previous play.
  • A no-huddle offense handles the read signals, swap players and huddle steps as they run back to the line to setup for the next play. As soon as they are set, the ball is usually hiked to start the play. Instead of 25-30 seconds between plays, you might see 8 to 12 seconds (on average) on a well run no-huddle offense.

The big difference between these two setups is that the defense also has the same time to read, meet, swap and setup for the next offensive play – with the regular offense. With the no-huddle offense, the defense has to react much more quickly. While the offense has to move fast to keep the defense “unprepared”, they at least know what’s going to happen next – even if the quarterback makes last minute changes (audibles) before the play starts.

A no-huddle offense quickly exposes defenses that haven’t practiced against no-huddle offenses. More importantly, it exposes a team without a system in place to deal with playing a no-huddle team.

Ok, that was a long-winded setup, but I didn’t want to lose anyone unfamiliar with football in the U.S. The point of comparing the regular offense and the no-huddle offense is that there are parallels between how defenses handle the tempo of a no-huddle game and how your business deals with the increasing tempo of business, much less the pace of change.

Are you feeling the pressure to deliver faster than last year? Did you go faster last year than the year before? Do you expect this need to accelerate every year is going to continue, or do you think that things will go back to normal once you get past this next push?

I think you need to plan on need for speed sticking around for the duration.

Two ways to go fast

With that expectation on your back, the need to increase There are two ways to go fast – with haste, or with a system.

While those who start off with haste might get a lead, it’s pretty typical that they will find themselves assembling the plane while rolling down the runway. Some pull it off. Most don’t, because they aren’t designed for speed. Instead, they simply decided to go fast.

Deciding to go fast is OK. Deciding to do it without a system designed to keep the quality of everything at level your clients are used to (or better) is risky.

Systems are the key

A system of systems is what you’ll need to increase speed without losing the quality and other factors your clients already depend on. Each system can be simple, but you have to be able to replicate it, perhaps automate it and most of all – depend on it to perform a certain job. A system’s job might be to check the quality of one step of a process, or simply to verify its completion. 10 systems might check quality at 10 places, or might make sure you follow up properly, insure that you have the right data recorded, or confirm that you have the right materials and labor scheduled for a particular item. These processes become a system of systems when they work together to help your business work.

When this system of systems is designed to protect the moving parts of your business, then you’re designed for speed and can increase the speed of production and delivery without risking quality and reputation.

Once you have these things in place, you’ll be more difficult to compete with. Not only do competitors have to keep up with your quality, but now they also are forced to deal with the pace you maintain.

Filling cracks with automation and metrics

How many emails did you send last Tuesday? How many phone calls did you make last Thursday? How many things fell through the cracks last week or last month?

The first two are trivia until you start thinking about the time they consume compared to the return they produce.

The last one is the big one: tasks that fall in cracks, meaning you forgot to do something, or have someone else do something – like make a call to close a sale or follow up on a lead.

I’m guessing you have no idea how many things disappeared into cracks last week unless they’ve cost you business since that time. If they didn’t have a cost, does it matter? I think it does, but not for the reason you might think.

Metrics are lonely fellas

Metrics are great, until they aren’t. Their failing? Metrics tell you what happened and in some cases, what is happening, but they don’t tell you what to do next. By themselves, metrics can get lonely.

Automation can cure that by either telling you act on what’s happened (or is happening), or by doing it on your behalf with your advance permission.

You need to get metrics hitched up with automation, but not solely to get your metrics delivered regularly. While that’s certainly a very good idea, there’s more to the marriage of metrics and automation than prompt and consistent delivery.

There’s curing that crack problem.

Preventing cracks is better than fixing them

If you drive a diesel pickup, particularly one that’s chipped, tuned and so forth – you know what I mean. If you’re a tuner, you probably have an Edge or similar device monitoring exhaust temperatures and other engine information.

Those are metrics.

If you have an Edge or similar, you may even have it setup to tune your engine’s “brain” as engine metrics signal a need for something different.

The tuned diesel truck owner uses tools like this to prevent engine rebuilds while getting the best possible performance out of their truck. In a similar fashion, stock traders use automation to sell stocks when they hit stop loss points because they want to prevent portfolio rebuilds while getting the best possible performance from their investments.

Create a crack prevention system

Metric driven automation like that used by the stock trader and the tuned diesel owner can likewise keep our business fine tuned simply by making sure we’re aware of things that need to get done on a daily basis.

Simple but effective methods include making appointments for yourself and keeping reminder-enabled todo lists in your phone. Obvious? Sure, but they can be all but life saving when chaos finds its way into your week.

I use a few simple online tools to keep track of my work, but I’m always on a quest to find a way for them to nag me more intelligently. These tools help me remain responsible by making sure I get the right things done at the right time.

For example, after seven years, my Flathead Beacon editor knows he’s going to get this column from me every week, even if isn’t there on deadline day (five days before press day). When he gets to his desk on Monday (press day), he knows it’ll be there and it won’t require editing, except for rare occasions when my headline is a bit over the top.

Occasionally, 11pm Sunday arrives and the column isn’t finished. I have a reminder on my phone to tell me to get up 90 minutes early on Monday (ouch, right?) so I can get it published on time, allowing him to meet his commitments.

Here’s the crack prevention: Automation helps me meet my commitment, no matter how hectic life gets, no matter where I am. If the automation was fully data-driven, the reminder would only occur on Sundays when my column hasn’t yet been posted. Some situations will demand that level of data-driven automation. You don’t have to cut it as close as 11pm on the night before. Getting up 90 minutes early on Monday is my self-inflicted punishment / motivation not to let that happen.

Together, automation and metrics allow you to become more dependable as your business / volume grows, while still remaining independent. Don’t forget to show your team how to use automation to improve their performance.

How to build a follow up system

Last time, we discussed why it’s important to consistently follow up with your clients. Consistency requires a system to manage the process, track the follow ups and remind you when they need to be done. Without a system, daily challenges can take over your day. Result: follow ups are forgotten.

After I posted, @BeckyMcCray suggested that I show how to build a follow up system, so let’s do that.

Identify your touch points

When you build a house, you determine a list of requirements before starting construction. You need to know how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want and whether there will be a basement and/or a garage. From there, a set of plans will guide the construction process and provide the information needed to create the materials list. A follow up system does the same for your follow ups.

To get started, make a list of all the follow up actions (ie: touch points) that you want your follow up system to manage. A touch point is an opportunity to inform, educate, placate, calm, reinforce, remind, warn, notify or advise.

Identifying touch points should be easy because you know your business. I’ll use one of my favorite examples: the small engine repair shop that sells, rents (perhaps) and services outdoor power equipment, like mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers and garden tillers.

Here’s my list:

  • Repair started
  • Repair delayed, parts ordered
  • Repair resumed, parts received
  • Repair completed
  • Repair delivery schedule needed
  • Repair delivery date/time reminder
  • Order placed
  • Order delayed
  • Order shipped
  • Order received
  • Order delivery schedule needed
  • Order delivery date/time reminder
  • Payment plan schedule – upon creation of plan
  • Payment due reminder – 10 days out, to allow for banking online bill pay processing time
  • Payment due reminder
  • Payment overdue
  • Automated payment reminder (payment will be charged to card soon)
  • Automated payment confirmation (payment charged to card)
  • Automated payment failed
  • Automated payment card expiration warning
  • Automated payment card expired
  • Rental return reminder – at beginning of rental
  • Rental return reminder – return due soon
  • Spring tune up for warm weather equipment (eg: mowers, blowers, tillers)
  • Fall tune up for cold weather equipment (eg: snowblowers, ground thawing gear)
  • Oil change reminder
  • Winter storage service offer
  • Winter storage service pickup scheduling needed (ie: in the late fall/early winter, to pick up your equipment for storage)
  • Winter storage service pickup date/time reminder
  • Winter storage delivery scheduling needed (ie: in the spring, to return your equipment to your home/business)
  • Winter storage delivery date/time reminder

My list is intentionally long to give you ideas, but don’t let it distract or discourage you. Keep your list simple by starting with the most important touch points on your list. Build the system around those, then add more over time.

Let’s build a follow up system

Now that we’ve mapped out the touch points, let’s build a system.

Group the follow ups on your list by what drives their use. For example, do they occur when acquiring a new client, when processing an order, or when selling/delivering a service? The type of activity that drives them will be reflected in the system you setup for that follow up.

For example, a service order for a mower might produce a follow up list that looks like this:

  • Repair pickup schedule needed
  • Repair pickup date/time reminder
  • Repair – Equipment picked up
  • Repair started
  • Repair delayed, parts ordered
  • Repair resumed, parts received
  • Repair completed
  • Repair delivery schedule needed
  • Repair delivery date/time reminder
  • Repair – Equipment delivered
  • Repair – Equipment picked up

Each item would have a place to mark that it was done, that a call (or some other form of contact) was made, who did it and the date/time it was done. Want more info? Add space for notes at each step.

The medium used to work and record these steps doesn’t matter at first. What matters is that you perform the steps and refine your system. As it gets more difficult to manage a low-tech system, you should seek out a technology-based solution. By that time, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out what will work for you and what won’t.

To reiterate why a system is important, look at the list of steps and consider how it makes your business look and your customer feel if a step or two never happens or if it’s delayed by days or weeks because “it fell through a crack”.

A system can all but eliminate the cracks.

I love companies with slow computers

How much money do you waste by making your staff wait for computers?

For slow networks?

For slow internet?

For slow computers?

How hard do you make it for them to get their work done?

How many times has a hotel desk clerk apologized to you at check in time because their computer was not behaving, was slow, or was down? I don’t travel all that much, but I hear this fairly often.

How many times do you get similar messages from retail employees, or from customer service reps that you’re on the phone with?

Regularly, for me.

Is your staff’s productivity hamstrung like this? What impression does a recurring “I’m sorry, my computer is slow, thanks for your patience” message leave with your clients?

I love companies like this – when they’re competition for my clients. Don’t be one of them.

Focused on the holiday, now or the future?

It’s that time of year when business owners are pulled in many directions. The end of the calendar year has a way of doing that.

Some of us are focused on the year we’ve had, some on this month’s performance (which could make or break the year), and some on the future.

While all of those things are important, it’s a good time to remind you of the difference between “working on vs. working in the business” and how important ON vs IN is to getting your business out of what feels like survival mode.

Working IN the business

Almost all of us do this to some extent. What exactly does it mean?

Working IN the business is about taking care of today’s production and quite often, dealing with the crisis of the day – whatever that might be. It’s about making sure clients are happy, products and services are getting delivered – and in some cases, taking part in that creation/delivery.

In short – this is you, the owner/manager, working as an employee of the business. There are times when this is essential and in the smallest of businesses – the solo business owner – it’s how you generate revenue. The thing you need to be cognizant of is making sure working IN time doesn’t become a substantial majority of your work time month-in, month-out, even if you’re the only one there.

If you’re an employee reading this, I hope your employer’s owner and manager(s) spend more time working ON, than IN, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, everyone has to knuckle down and get work out the door.

If you’re an employee who thinks they’re doing this – see what you and your peers can do to take even one thing off their plate without being asked. Every little bit helps. If you’re worried about overstepping your bounds, ask.

If nothing else, asking the question should send the message that you have the best interests of the business on your mind.

Working ON the business

Working ON is what allows the business to worry less about what’s happening next month, much less next week or tomorrow.

Why worry less? Because you’re doing enough working ON to be pretty confident that things are booked for that day, week and/or month.

How does a business worry? When you wonder how you’ll make payroll next month, you worry – and it’s reflected in your comments and actions. When employees notice things that tell them money is tight (or really tight), they worry – and it’s reflected in their comments and actions.

These comments and actions reflect on your business. They send a message to your client, your banker, your family (and your staff’s families) and others.

Working ON includes planning and executing, but it’s also very much about communications. Making sure everyone understands what will happen next month and the month after, how those impact the rest of the year’s plans is critical to getting everyone on board.

Are you simply too buried in working IN to work ON this month? If so, take a minute to make an appointment with yourself in your calendar later this month or early next month. Spend that appointment time planning your year so that this time next year, you’re spending more time working ON more so than working IN.

Some examples would be worthwhile, eh?

Since I talk about this fairly often, some examples of “working ON” would be useful.

Spend time on asking yourself these things:

  • What can be systemized?
  • What should never be systemized?
  • What can you do to take the risk of purchase off of your client by providing them with a meaningful, no “but clause” guarantee that they’ll trust?
  • Who are our best clients, how do we keep them, sell more to them, and find more like them?
  • Who are our worst clients and how do we get rid of them? You know who the painful ones are.  Either fix what’s wrong or get rid of them. They can poison your business.
  • How can we avoid having letting the market and your customers beat down what we do into a commodity?
  • What upsells and follow up offers can we make at the time of purchase that make sense based on what the buyer bought. Remember, the hottest buyer in the world is one in front of you. Did you satisfy ALL of their needs and wants?

 

Busy business owners have no time for this

Last time, we spent a good bit of time talking about the need to help your staff perform their best work.

What about the stuff that no one would consider their best work, but is “work that must be done and since no one else is here to do it, I will.

Studies have been performed to determine what CEOs do during their work day – mostly to see what makes the great ones so special, productive and different from the average ones. One thing stands out: the average CEO says they only spend about 25% of their day doing what they feel is meaningful work.

Meaningful work did not include “pushing paper”, reading emails and attending meetings that they felt had no business attending.

Does that sound similar to your typical day as a business owner / manager? I believe business owners have no time for this.

Avoid strategic work

Management may unintentionally avoid strategic work by spending too much of their day doing low-value work – and often make it worse by doing it manually.

It starts by not seeking a better way to deal with tasks that we’ve always done a certain way because that’s the way we learned.

When business owners and managers make meeting arrangements or other appointments for themselves by playing phone or email tag with the other people involved vs. using a tool like Doodle that can resolve the “Sorry, I’m busy then but I can meet two hours later” problem automatically, rather than by repeatedly interrupting each person involved in the appointment.

You may also spend time opening mail, sweeping the shop and performing other low value tasks. No question, these tasks must be performed. However, are you the one who should be doing those things?

I don’t think so.

Business owners have no time

Is it not valuable to sweep the floor? To make sure the windows are clean? To open the mail? To drive to Costco to pickup a truckful of TP? To answer the phone professionally and be helpful to the caller?

Of course these things are valuable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the one to actually perform those tasks. Your job is to make sure your systems assure that this work happens and your training makes sure it gets done the way you would do it so you have the time to focus on the CEO work that you and only you can do.

Devaluing it by saying the work is below you sends a dangerous message to your staff. It isn’t that this work is below you. In fact, if you think that, you should rethink it. It’s very dangerous to believe this work is below you, because you will eventually communicate that belief to your staff, explicitly or otherwise.

Below you isn’t the point.  The real issue is that in smaller businesses, you’re often the only one who can perform the business’ most valuable work.

Me and only me?

Exactly.

One of the ways that you can identify this work is by breaking down the work you do into two lists:

  • $10 an hour work
  • $100 an hour work

Put the work you do in a typical day / week / month into those two categories.

There’s probably work done at your place that’s between those spots, but we’re talking about the work YOU do.

Now that you have your list – look at all that stuff on the $10 an hour list. My guess is that all of it can be delegated.

Now look at the $100 an hour list. How much on that list can ONLY be done by you and no one else?

Make a new list, call it what you like – say a $25 an hour list. Everything that’s on the $100 an hour list that someone else can do to your satisfaction, even if it takes training, systems, etc – put it on that list.

What’s left on the $100 hour list should be the things that only you can do. Here’s the kicker… there’s probably a $500 or $1000 an hour list of things you should be doing but never get around to. Dangerous to let that work slide.

Review the lists regularly. Business changes and so does your work.

Next Stop?

Have your managers and senior staff take a look at this process and see what they should be working on vs. what they can delegate.

Help them produce their best work

Ahhh, summer solstice. We revel in these long days of sunlight in part because we can enjoy our favorite summer pastimes after leaving work for the day.

For some companies, summer is a time to coast, or at least do little more than get by until September since so many staff member vacations are on the summer calendar. Because of this, it can feel like nothing big happens during the summer months.

For many tourist-based businesses, it’s go time.  All the marketing, prep, process / system building, cleanup and training are front and center. For others, it’s marketing / prep / analysis time.

For retail, it’s often prep time for fall & winter holidays, working on marketing calendars, orders, e-commerce updates, etc.

No matter what business you’re in and what summer does to your workload – summer is a great time to implement improvements that help your staff produce their best work. The return on investment is high and in most cases, the cost is fairly low.

Shedding TEERs

I use an acronym called TEER to describe the most common ways to improve staff performance and results.

TEER stands for Training, Equipment, Environment, Roadblocks.

Training is a fairly obvious one and includes not only skill, process and equipment training, but personal development as well.

Equipment is a great way to improve staff productivity. Have you entered a hotel and had the desk personnel ask you to pardon them for being so slow because they were waiting an interminable time for the check-in computers?

Such frustrations are reflected in their interaction with guests, and can produce mistakes because the check-in desk staff may hurry to make up for that slow computer when it does respond. If your budget is limited, update these machines first vs. that computer in the back office. The back office computer has a much lower daily impact on guest experience, despite being slow when running the nightly audit.

Environment is primarily about the space where your staff spend most of their day. It could be a desk, cubicle, home office, auto parts counter, warehouse or mechanic’s bay. Is their environment optimized for performance and quality?

An office environment can often be transformed by a second (or larger) computer monitor, regardless of the work being performed. Other spaces can be improved simply by reducing trips to retrieve tools and materials. Simple things add up. Staffers may have suggestions that they’ve been “afraid” to make. Ask.

Roadblocks are all about doing whatever you can to eliminate the things that impede progress or productivity.

Roadblocks are often connected to the other TEER components. More often than not, roadblocks tend to be situations, paperwork and processes created by management (present and former) that simply need to be reconsidered or made more efficient. Don’t be your own worst enemy.

Forgetting management

Often times, management tends to focus on personal development and related efficiency improvements and forgets to implement them beyond the management group. This can lead to an undesirable disconnect in culture. TEER can produce solid value for management just as it does for your staff.

Do your senior managers get training to improve their skills and productivity, but not middle managers? What about the reverse? While management may not need the same training as their staff, the need is still there at every level.

Likewise, the equipment that managers use may be different then that of their staff, but better (or additional) equipment that makes them more productive is just as valuable. I mentioned the benefits provided by a larger or additional monitor earlier, which can provide equally strong improvements for managers.

As with other areas, a focus on managers’ work environment may or may not match the environment concerns of the staff, but it’s just as important. Changes to reduce interruptions, lower noise levels, or provide standing desks and/or better chairs can make a serious difference in work quality and health.

Healthier people do better work because their health issues aren’t a distraction. This doesn’t mean getting rid of folks with health issues, it means helping them deal with them where possible – and it isn’t always about physical health.

For example, when someone whose work is repeatedly interrupted suddenly has that situation improved, the change is more than about productivity.

Finally, do managers have their own roadblocks? Absolutely.

What improvements can you make to help everyone work better?

Where does new business hide?

In every town, there’s a place where new business hides.

If you can’t find its hiding place, your business is likely to struggle.

Most of the time, that struggle is rooted in the inability to dependably produce predictable, month to month revenue.

Without predictable month to month revenue, businesses close, scale down or at the least, fail to reach their potential to support their owner, their family, their employees’ families and their community.

Revenue consistency problems influence a business owner’s decision making because their decisions end up being driven by cash flow. Decisions based on sales you made last week (much less yesterday) rarely fit into a long-term strategic plan.

Predicting revenue isn’t all that difficult. You simply have to check the Sales Thermometer.

What’s a Sales Thermometer?

Imagine that there’s a thermometer on the front door of businesses and homes that told you to pull in and sell something to someone because they had developed a need or a want that *had* to be fulfilled.

Armed with a town full of sales thermometers, you’d have all the new business you’ve ever wanted and wouldn’t waste a bit of time chasing around town after people who didn’t want or need what you sell.

Instead, you’d simply drive through town, check the thermometer and stop at the places where the temperature was the highest.

On days when you need a little extra revenue, you might get up a little earlier and drive around a little later so you could check more thermometers. 

Once you took care of the places with the hottest temperatures, you could retrace your steps, scan for the next highest set of temperatures and take care of those sales.

As the sales thermometer readings change on other homes and businesses, you’d see them during your travels so you could pick up on the newest opportunities for new business – simply by being observant.

Scaling

There is a downside to this sales thermometer thing. It has some scalability issues.

For example, you can only drive so far in a day and every customer who takes an hour of your time consumes an hour that you can’t use to check other thermometers. That will eventually force you (subconsciously at least) to stop and work with only the hottest thermometers.

If only there was a way to automatically check the hottest thermometers without spending all that time driving around.

Fortunately, there is.

Getting new business isn’t a joke

While talk of a sales thermometer seems like a bit of a fantasy or even a joke, your business’ inability to consistently produce new business from existing and new clients is no joke at all.

If your business struggles with that, the problem isn’t the lack of a thermometer. The problem is that you aren’t reading it. 

The sales thermometer in the information you should already have about your clients and prospects.  The thermometer’s temperature is driven by behavior and interaction, both yours and that of your prospects and clients.

Those behaviors are like a patient’s symptoms. Monitoring  and acting on them in a predictable, repeatable, systematic way is what gets your business to the point where you *can* produce consistent, predictable month to month revenue.

Random revenue from new business is an indication that you’re not watching and acting on these symptoms on a consistent basis. We all know we need to do these things, but sometimes we get sidetracked by the crisis-of-the-day.

While they should be acted on individually for each prospect or client, these symptoms should also be grouped together (aggregated) to help you monitor the health of your business and your market.

Things that drive up temperatures

What causes rising temperatures?

  • Interaction behavior changes.  You should know when someone is paying more attention than a typical prospect. Do you have a way to detect this?
  • Sales cycle behavior changes. You know how long it takes to close a sale. Is that timeline changing? Are certain prospects skipping steps in the process? Is their path-to-purchase pace is faster than normal? If so, does your internal behavior toward those prospects change to suit their timeline?
  • Purchasing behavior changes. For example, customers who are buying more (or less) often than they normally do. Even if you’re tracking sales on paper, you can monitor this .

Are you monitoring the sales thermometer?