Slow Down to Speed Up
The senior director of strategy stood at my desk waving printouts of the department’s latest results. He was smiling from ear to ear. In the past three months we had lowered expenses, increased the team's productivity and improved customer satisfaction. Our recent initiative was a win-win-win by every metric imaginable. The improvements we'd made would not only save millions of dollars this year but also save many millions more for years to come.
However, this happy story nearly had a different ending. When the leadership team first came to me, they already had a solution in mind. They knew that the department handled work more effectively in-house than when outsourced. Additionally, it cost less to handle the work internally. So, they planned to bring a significant portion of the work back in-house. Makes sense, right? At first glance, it was a no-brainer. Better quality and lower cost. What more could you want?
It was my job to project the impact of process changes. I asked a few questions about how the department was structured, what the process looked like today, how much time it took to make a widget in house versus review the quality of the widget completed by a vendor, etc. After gathering some information on historical volumes, I pulled together a quick forecasting model. Though the leadership team hadn't expected to make significant changes to staffing volumes, it turned out they would need at least nine more people to handle the influx of in-house work, a roughly 55% increase in staff. Additionally, there were a few uncontrollable factors that could drastically impact results and cause them to lose money rather than save it.
I discussed my findings with the leadership team, and we brainstormed other solutions. It turned out, there was another way to bring more of the work in-house. It was a hybrid approach whereby some of the work was performed by a vendor and the rest was completed by company employees. I adjusted the model. This time no adds to staff were needed. Further, we projected the hybrid approach could save the business a significant amount of money and the scalability of the new process meant we could minimize the impact of the uncontrollable factors. We piloted the new program in two states, made some minor adjustments to the process based on the pilot results, and then implemented the new process nationally. It was a huge success.
It's easy to see only the upsides of a plan, especially when it's your own idea. That's why it's so important to forecast, project and test out changes to your business before implementing them widely. If this advice just caused you to let out a deep sigh, I get it. Who has the time or energy for added work? The fact is, it's not that time consuming. It took me less than a day to pull together the scenario analysis I described above. Yes, that’s partly the result of having done it dozens upon dozens of times, but I promise, there was no advanced calculus or quadratic equation involved.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What steps occur before this process that could impact it?
What is the range of possible outcomes? If your employees can complete 7-10 widgets per hour, what would your results look like if it was consistently 7, or if it was 10? Will the new process slow employees down for a time while they are learning? How long could that slowdown last? How will it impact your business?
How will this change impact people? Are they ready? What training do they need? How much do they need to change their mindset to accept and support the change? How can you help them get there?
As business owners and key leaders, time is always at a premium. What’s the point of hustling if you’re going in the wrong direction? Slowing down can provide you the ability to:
See more clearly – evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.
Harness the power of emotion – slowing down can help you channel emotions into actions that serve you well and lead to success.
You’ll make better decisions.
A former boss shared these words of wisdom: “Slow down to speed up.” When you’re busy and feel the pressure to “fix” something fast, the prospect of slowing down a little can be frustrating. Just remind yourself that a few extra steps will often save you time and money in the long run.
Written by Michelle Duncan, SSBB, CSM