Episode 52: Your productivity is an important business number too

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It doesn’t appear on your financial statements, but it has a big impact on them. Full transcript below…

Welcome to the Business Numbers Podcast. I’m your host, Ben McAdam. I’m a profits coach, virtual CFO, and entrepreneur. And I’ve created this podcast to help you grow your business profits and understand your business numbers without judgment. And without burying you in a whole bunch of jargon that you don’t need, just actionable tips and case studies to help you grow your business. For show notes, go to the website, businessnumberspodcast.com.

If you don’t have time and energy, you can’t work on improving your business. So your productivity, your time, is an important business number. We don’t just talk about the financial numbers here.

I just finished a roadmap call with a new client, for example, and one of the highest priority actions was to free them from a big time sink. While the big goals were to grow the business to be more profitable and to be more on top of the numbers- fairly common goals, most of my clients are interested in that- the immediate pain from his business was a feeling of overwhelm. And this was because, apart from a little time working on projects for the business, he basically spent his whole day in Slack, answering DMs from his team of 25 or so.

And this is fairly common when your business and your team grows fast from a small team of 3-5, to a 20+ team that are all in their separate little departments.

Initially you have a small team, in a business that’s in a rapid state of change. New situations keep coming up that haven’t been encountered before, or you iterate on offers, or you change what you’re doing with your marketing channels, you change your team structure, or reporting, or the project management software, etc. So you need to be answering questions regularly for your team because they really don’t know what you want to do and they want to make sure that they’re keeping up, and you also want to be involved in shaping your business and moving it forward faster.

But if you keep doing this too long, your team will stop thinking for themselves because it’s quicker to ask you. And there’s less risk that they’ll make a mistake if they ask you, rather than making the decision themselves and showing some initiative.

You can probably handle three people messaging you a couple of times per day, but 20+ is a bit overwhelming.

The fix for this has two main parts.

Part one, you want to stop them asking you the questions and then part two you also want to lower the volume of questions.

So for this new client, and this is similar to what I’ve done with other clients, the action steps were: have the team put their questions in the relevant Slack channel for their team instead of sending him a DM. 

Number two: only log into Slack two to three times per day instead of being logged in all day, and move that over time to one time a day, and then every other day.

Number three: have at least one other team member on that channel to try to answer the question. Don’t try to answer the question unless one of the other team members has tried.

Number four: step in occasionally, like in the beginning during the transition period, and if needed you might actually have a manager or supervisor for that group handle the questions and making decisions. If, for example, your team comes from a country that grooms students to follow instructions and regurgitate information exactly, rather than solving problems, making decisions, being creative. 

Number five: document the decisions, for reference the next time that situation comes up, so that there’s less need to ask a question because the answer can be looked up.

And then number six: you’ve got to review those decisions on a weekly meeting or a meeting every two weeks. If you’re going to let the team make the decisions, then it’s a good idea to have a way to review it. Especially in the beginning when they’re just starting to make the decisions themselves, it’s good to be able to shape the way that they make decisions, give them principles for making better decisions. So that’s six steps for this client. 

There’s going to be hiccups as these steps are implemented. It’s not a 1-2 week fix, though I have seen it work that fast. So you’re gonna need a bit of patience, but that time, that one to three months (or however long it takes), however big or recalcitrant your team is, that time’s gonna pass anyway… but wouldn’t you like that it passed with things getting easier and requiring less of your time? 

The other thing you need m, apart from patience, is you need to accept that small, bad things are going to happen by you not answering questions immediately. You need to accept it. It’s the thing that’s making you want to keep answering the questions, this fear of “what’s going to go wrong if I don’t?”

Okay, news flash: things will go wrong, but the key learning here is that it’s okay. It’ll only be small things. For example, another team member might suggest a bad answer or the delay getting an answer might cause a problem somehow, but the freed up time and brain space for the business owner is nearly priceless because, like I said in the beginning of the episode, because of the big impact of business improvement projects, like improving marketing return and lowering your delivery or fulfillment costs. They have a much bigger impact on the business than helping a customer service agent respond to a refund request five hours or 24 hours sooner. 

This particular plan, or various different versions of it, has saved previous clients five hours a day over their five day week, and I anticipate a similar result for this client over the coming month or two as well. It really depends on how quickly the team can adapt to the change and how good your boundaries are at sticking to the plan and accepting the small, bad things that are gonna come up. 

In this particular case, this client really wants it to change. He doesn’t like the feeling of overwhelm and there are some very interesting business improvement projects that he can be working on instead. So I think he’s actually going to do well with making this change in his business. 

So your productivity, your time, they’re important business numbers and I’ve talked you through this particular example of a client that was sucked into Slack, way too many hours a day, answering questions from the team.

We talked about the fix having two main parts:  stop them asking you the questions and then lower the volume of questions, and there were six action steps for this particular client. 

So if you are thinking about implementing something like this in your business, I hope this is helpful. It has worked for a lot of other people, it can work for you too as long as you are comfortable accepting that small, bad things are going to happen and that things aren’t going to be done exactly the way you would do them.

When you can get past that, you’ll find that you’ve got so much more time and brain space to really make a big impact on your business, so it’s worth putting up with the small, bad things. 

I hope this was helpful. As always, if you have any questions, you can reach out to me through social media or on my websites businessnumberspodcast.com or profitscollective.com.

Thanks for listening to the Business Numbers podcast. Subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or on our website, businessnumberspodcast.com. Also on the website is a free basic concept webinar and a contact form for submitting questions that you’d like me to answer on a future episode.

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