Most of us who use computers in our work do so because they relieve us of tedious work or eliminate slow, inefficient, error-prone techniques for producing our work, even if we do have fuss with drivers and hardware failures once in a while.
In the newspaper business, I doubt anyone wants to return to the days of working with sheet film, X-Acto knives and the Gutenberg press.
While it would be fun to create something once in a while using the movable type of almost 600 years ago, do we really want to word wrap by hand, day in and day out?
The computers we sometimes love to hate help us keep track of financials and inventory, they help us communicate with customers, vendors and prospects and so on, but they could do so much more.
Look around the office. Is there someone doing a job on a computer that could be performed by someone with little or no training? Is their work repetitive? Do they have to have distinctive knowledge about your business, your market or your customers to do this work?
There might be something out there (free or otherwise) that could either replace that work or make it far more productive, freeing that person up to do more important value-creating work for your business.
It’s common sense, but we get so busy doing the everyday that we frequently miss the opportunity to ask ourselves how some of those processes could be improved – and it isn’t just about computers.
Your micro economy
The same is true of most repetitive work that doesn’t require knowledge of the market – and the work isn’t limited to “mindless” repetitive things. Some of these jobs simply must exist, but a fair number of them could be done by a system, machine, software or similar – and done at a lower cost with more consistency. Consistency and cost aren’t the only factor. When you have people doing these jobs, those jobs are at risk because they *can* be replaced by a system, machine or software at your competitor – who will then put pressure on you via improved speed, consistency and perhaps better pricing.
It isn’t just about your business being more efficient. It’s about the micro-economy that your business creates being stronger and more resilient. That economy involves you, your suppliers, your employees and/or contractors and their families, your landlord if you rent or lease space, and so on.
When you create a job, it’s a great day. It means many positive things. Yet we want to be careful to create jobs that deliver as much value as possible to our businesses and to our customers. Jobs that CANNOT be easily replaced by the aforementioned system, machine or software.
The easiest way to afford that is to replace the ones that can be replaced. When we do that, we create opportunities for our businesses and our staff. The other thing this does is create jobs that are difficult to devalue. Devalued jobs are too easily discarded because they don’t create enough value. You can’t afford them. They’re “overhead”, not value creators.
Learn from Undercover
In the show “Undercover Boss“, the plot is always the same. The CEO of a large company leaves their office, dresses up like a line worker, does “real work” with their line staff for a week and realizes that their focus on their front line has been lacking.
They learn that the money they think they’re saving by not updating equipment, improving systems and training staff are costing them dearly because they’re impacting the quality of their products, services and/or experience their customers.
The now eyes-wide-open CEO then makes changes that usually involve training, equipment and systems. They see how much time a wasteful process or an outdated piece of equipment costs them as it is multiplied by every person who does that job. It reminds them of something they knew when they got into this business – and what might once have been the difference for them – that the effectiveness of their line employees are critical to their success.
Ask your line employees one question: What would help you do your work better, faster and with more consistency without losing quality?