Thursday, 17 January 2013

Does Social media harm your productivity?

Many large companies invest money in IT programmes that block certain websites from use, pretty much any website you have to log in to will be blocked. This seems like a sensible approach at first glance to ensure employees don't just update facebook all day and tweet what their having for lunch but social media is evolving and many high tech and more technology savvy businesses actively encourage the use of social media.

For many types of work there are professional groups on most social media sites which can help the productivity of business. For example often when doing a presentation, creating a spreadsheet or even just trying to figure out how to change something in a word processor it is quicker to be able to access a group and tap into the knowledge of thousands of other industry professionals for advice and support. Whilst Google is great for guides and a simple search query can often eventually find an answer to your particular problem, the time lost trawling through the thousands of entries to find your exact example can be time consuming.

So here are some best practice to allow access to social media whilst ensuring misuse is not promoted:

- Be clear with your employees; explain social media should be used for helping them with any issues they come across to improve both their skills and the efficiency of the tasks they are undertaking.
- Do your homework and find out which sites you may want to grant access to, twitter may not be the best for a programmer but LinkedIn could be ideal to provide them with access to a technical community.
- Empower employees to be responsible; remember by putting in place strict rules and regulations this can harm the overall engagement of the office and make employees feel alienated from your company.
- Begin an internal social network; this can be a place to share best practice and provide cross team collaboration and development which is free and often more useful than scripted external training providers.

And remember if misuse happens then you can deal with that through the appropriate disciplinary procedures. The time taken to address misuse will certainly be less than the time saved by allowing employees to gain useful information to assist them with their job.

Written by
Steven Hill

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Manpower planning during a recession

During the recent reccession that is so publicly discussed on news websites, radio and in pubs up and down the land there has been a decline in turnover of staff in most companies. This has meant that the manpower planning undertaken could lead to a higher provision for recruitment and training costs than previously planned. There are both advantage and disadvantages to this for many companies:

- Lower turnover means quality of output should improve as more experienced staff are in situ
- A reduction in time gap between leaver and joiner with any checks and training required
- Reduction in complaints when client has to deal with a different employee each time.

- If there is a headcount reduction required this means that redundancy may need to be considered
- Cost of employees that have been with the company will be higher than new entrants meaning overall wage bill may offset any savings on recruitment process

Unforseen Disadvantages
- If employees are forced to stay due to poor local job market they may infect the rest of your team with negativity. This drives down engagement of the staff and can harm productivity
- More time may be spent dealing with absence and disciplinary issues with staff that do not want to be in the job anymore but have no option.
- Talent pools can stagnate with no fresh new ideas and enthusiasm coming in from external environments sharing best practices

Potential solutions:
- Invest time in engagement, staff get togethers and social activities.
- Have team building days which foster a feeling of teamwork, collaboration and creative thinking.
- Provide an open forum to address any employee concerns and address issues before they escalate.
- Look out for the signs of poor engagement and negativity and stop them before they affect other staff.

Unfortunately during difficult economic times the first thing to be cut back on is staff engagement and team building which often leads to an ever downward spiral until the economy recovers and jobs begin to move freely again.

Written by
Steven Hill

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Surveys, why and how?

In the context of Resource Planning it is often good to regularly check up the activity of your workforce and when it is on a non captured platform then a survey is a great way of doing this.

Surveys are simple and one common example would be to format an excel document to list the times on the left hand column and ask them to enter in the activity they were doing over at least a one week period so you can analyse any intra day and daily fluctuations. If you have a small workforce then free formatted text is ok as you can spend the time manually configuring the information however to save time and also for larger groups you can specifically set the paramters of the entry by using an index key. The index key will list usually in categories the general types of activity you wish your workforce to be doing and one other category with a free format text box at the bottom to explain. This will mean you can simply copy and paste the data into a database and quickly get stats around the activity undertaken in your business.

Step 1:
Set up excel template with times (usual working times with some leeway either side e.g. 9 to 5 you should allow entry between 8.00am and 6.00pm)

Step 2:
Set up an index key for the types of work you wish to capture, you can list as many categories as you want but do not over complicate as it will then be counter productive to fill in and give you less meaningful results.

Once you have the template you can then send to employees and await the responses. There are further ways to automate this process:

- Use conditional formatting to highlight any areas not completed
- Use VBA to automate a return to a specified inbox at the click of a button
- Use VBA to collate all your responses into one database.

Please contact author for information on these further steps or any information around personalising this template

Written by
Google Steven Hill

Monday, 14 January 2013

Organisational Structure and Spans of Control

When a business begins the management structure is simple, one person does everything. As it expands it becomes more complex as you layer employees then your time spend managing those employees grows, with payroll queries, issues, reviews, etc. Then if you continue to grow you delegate this to middle manager who acts as a span breaker, and once it becomes so large you may even divide the work into departments. This is when companies usually go wrong.

If you follow a management principle from the start of say 1 manager manages 6 people this should be carried forward and in fact it is actually easier to manage managers as generally you can be more relaxed that they are doing a fine job so your spans could increase. Most companies work counter intuitive to this and have less spans the higher up the organisation you go and a lot of Multi Nationals end up with spans that shrink during a recession. The problem is that often during any kind of project to reduce your workforce and improve your capacity it is so easy to forget the additional benefits this efficiency will save you. I will illustrate below in a case study example:

Company 1

This company has 100 retail stores around the UK and currently employees managers on spans of 1:5 in most of it stored having 3 managers and one overall manager. They introduce a new stock management system meaning that they no longer require any time to do a stock check in the evenings, saving them 6fte per store (fte = full time equivalent). The original 6 saving is accompanied by the reduction of 1 manager and the total saving is then calculated on the basis of these 7 staff. Perhaps there is a selection process where staff are pooled to identify those at risk or the turnover is high enough to manage down the staffing number over time.

The lost opportunity here is the saving you have made on 1 of the other managers only now managing 4 people and the overall manager now managing 2 managers. This would be an additional saving that most companies would say is not realisable due to the fact you cannot get rid of part of a person. Wrong, if you are going to the effort of implementing a new system then surely its little effort to also do analysis of the roles and adjust them accordingl;
- Could the overall manager take on some more senior direct employees thus saving you a new manager
- Could you look at other time saving methods to reduce the management time required?

However, if you do remove another of the managers you end up with a strange structure or different levels reporting into the same person, but in practice this is not an issue as long as you have the correct people in the job. You still have the same career path as before.

Too often there are efficiencies made during a recession that affect the 'front line' of a business with little affect on the middle or senior management, when in fact this is your biggest cost. I can't say i have ever been into any company and thought, wow i wish there was more managers around, but i often think I wish there was more front line staff to serve or help me.

Written by
Google Steven Hill

Friday, 11 January 2013

Idle time: Why should we pay for it?

One of the main complaints of any employer is the productivity of their employees. Some of the largest companies spend thousands of hours and huge sums of money to try and understand their employees and what motivates them best. Even the most intense interview process will not always ensure the right candidate is in the job. Being an employer means that you have to accept that everyone is and individual, the larger the company the more difficult this becomes so you have to create general rules and guidance to staff and their managers to say what is and is not deemed acceptable for performance.

Sales targets are one way that companies ensure they get their bang for the buck but what if you dont work in a sales driven environment how can you measure productivity. What if the output is not determined by quantity of words written or emails sent? Well productivity can usually be measured backwards by setting an expectation of what amount of time is acceptable to be away from your work, Idle time.

The main component of idle time is Lunch breaks, the standard given is an hour which for many employees is too much at one time and prefer shorter 15 minute breaks in morning and afternoon with only half hour break at lunch time. There are many ways to divide this up. There is then toilet breaks and you cannot begin to track that as its both distasteful but can also be deemed as discriminatory to those with specific toilet requirements. Here are some example ways companies can track idle time:

Clock in - Clock out

In telephony units when the agents telephone is set to idle this tracks total time spent on that selection. On most basic aspect and other brand telephony equipment you can set specific keys to determine if employee is on call, idle, break etc. This is the most accurate and can be targetted to say 10% average over a week and any excess to that will highlight as a potential problem and can be addressed.
For non telephony based employers you can also have a clock in and out system, whether it be a computer, till or hole punch on the wall. This is all a way to determine where your staff are and what they are doing right now.

Manager Observation

This is unfortunately the most difficult to manage and costly as you need to spend time observing your staff. Certain things are true about human nature, when being observed you are always more likely to do things correctly than if you are left to your own devices when shortcuts can become appealing. Also when you are not busy you make the work stretch to fit the time you wish it to. Have you ever been into a bank on a busy day, the teller works quickly to serve and move to next customer, however if queue is only small and they don't want to have to move onto other non teller activity they may provoke more conversation from customers to avoid having to move away from the front of house thus making the work fit the time. The other element to managerial observation is very difficult to approach a member of staff and say i think you could go faster without damaging their confidence and potentially having a reverse effect.

Self Assessment

By far the best solution is to have a system with allows the employee to enter in their own shift pattern throughout the day. this means that the employee is giving an accurate reflection of what activity they have been doing throughout the day, this can be done using a simple excel sheet and can be capture using drop down boxes at 30 minute or even 15 minute intervals. With engagement of staff being critical to the smooth running of a business allowing this manual keying means you are empowering staff to take the initiative and often you will find the results remarkably honest. When an employee can see they have not been perhaps as productive as they can be they will often approach you for extra duties and tasks to ensure they can successfully fill their day. By putting their activity down in writing it often bring to life just how long they are perhaps spending on activity that should be quicker, it can also help you identify efficiency savings in your business practices.

For more details on this solution please contact the author

Written by
Steven Hill


The Principles of Resource Planning

Resource Planning sounds like a simple concept. To ensure that you have the right people in the right place at the right time. But if it was that simple your entire workforce would have 100% productivity and engagement. Even in a small business, retail unit, call centre or manufacturer there are so many variables that you need to predict. Now you may be considering paying a company thousands to help you with this, or you just rely on everyone trying their best, but you do need to consider this and you don't need to spend huge sums of money doing it.

Some simple basics for Resource Planning:

Know your workflow

Retail - spend a week capturing the number of customers coming into your shop, doesnt have to be exact. Also if you have a till roll with time stamp this will show when customers purchased things so just enter into a spreadsheet.
Call centre - use your call log sheet to show the arrival rate of calls, ensuring it is when they called and not when you answered, if you have call waiting technology.
Manufacturer - log when each item is produced ideally both start and end times.

When are your staff available

This is the amount of employees you have in your business at any one time.

e.g. of datasheet now created

With this information you can do a quick analysis to determine what wastage there is and then amend your shift patterns or workflow accordingly. Now one thing to remember is that in a customer driven business you cannot amend the arrival rate as that is determined by other peoples decision making of when they wish to use your service, however you can encourage them to a more suitable time. e.g. A coffee shop is busy between lunch hours of 12 till 2pm. There is a customer who comes in everyday at 12.30 and waits to order 3 sandwiches for the hairdressers along the road. This customer could, call ahead and you could do the making of the sandwiches prior to 12 saving both you and the customer time.

The best way to determine the fit of your plan is to graph your customers/workflow against your available staff
You can see there is some disconnect between arrival patterns and available employees. This would highlight when certain tasks like stock check, cleaning, reviews, back office activity, etc could be completed during less busy times. Alternatively it could show you when you are overstaffed and allow you to reduce your wage bill by removing some hours.

This is a quick excercise to determine how well your current Resource Planning is working.

Written by Steven Hill