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Critical Success Factor

Managing Waste in the Workforce

One critical success factor for effective management is the way we deal with waste. As Peter Drucker once said:

“What is the first duty – and the continuing responsibility – of the business manager? To strive for the best possible economic results from the resources currently employed or available.”

Sustainable use of all resources is an important element of good management, but here we focus on waste of “human resources”. Whether time or talent, energy or enthusiasm, dealing with waste in the workforce is a critical success factor for all managers. This article suggests ways to manage waste in the workforce.

Critical Success Factor: The Problem of Waste

The Japanese word for waste is “muda”. Now well known to us from Toyota’s lean-thinking system, muda is defined: as “any activity which consumes resources but creates no value”.

One of the problems with waste is that it’s often overlooked or hidden. Sometimes success or abundance in some areas encourages us to hide or camouflage waste elsewhere. Another problem may be that we can see the waste, but tolerate it. Perhaps because we don’t prioritise well enough, or perhaps because it’s too difficult to implement changes.

critical success factor

This may be because of an embedded culture, or because it’s just not worth trying to change formal or informal processes which may have evolved to camouflage the waste. Maybe it seems that these processes belong – that they’re part of “the way things are done around here”.

What’s wrong with that? Well, waste can be compared to a chronic illness or a recurring injury. If these endure for too long, the body may gradually become acclimatized and find ways to compensate. However this compensation may lead to other injuries, or to strain on other parts of the body. At best, the result may be that the body works, but less effectively. At worst, it can cause serious damage or even total collapse.

As with personal illness or injury, we often see organisations suffering from but enduring waste. Workplaces where “buffers” have been built to hide the real consequences of waste. Our first critical success factor must be to uncover waste, ensuring that the organisation’s crucial human resource is employed productively and creatively.

Critical Success Factor: Uncovering Waste

Start uncovering waste by asking questions about the way in which your staff are working. What are they doing? How are they doing it? Why? When it comes to uncovering waste, there’s much to be gained from asking the right questions. The critical success factor in dealing with waste is to adopt a zero tolerance attitude. Then recognise it, expose it and take action to deal with it. To help you (along with some Peter Drucker quotes), here are 7 areas where you might consider waste in your workforce.

1 Total waste.

Is the work really necessary? Don’t forget to do what great managers do – start with the obvious! Ask yourself: “What would happen if this were not done at all?” Because: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

2 Partial waste.

Ideas to tackle waste by doing more with less

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If you’re happy that the work being performed is necessary, be sure it’s being done efficiently and effectively. One critical success factor is to analyse objectives, processes, inputs and outputs. Remember though, optimum performance is just as important as optimum process.“In what area would excellence really have an extraordinary impact on the economic results of our business, to the point where it might transform the economic performance of the entire business?”

The next two “wastes” provide insight into potential critical success factors associated with getting the balance right.

3 Waste through under-use.

Is there unused capacity in your workplace? Are processes, systems, cultures, attitudes conducive to productivity? Are you listening to your staff? Do you encourage personal and career development? What about experimentation and risk? Are you challenging them, or using their total range of talents and experience? Do you encourage creativity? See our lesson on goal setting for a “note-able” story on the value of free time or try some leadership exercises to help you “learn” from your people. “Any organisation develops people: it has no choice. It either helps them grow or stunts them.”

4 Waste through over-use.

Look for signs of stress or burn-out in your workplace. Make good use of stress management information if you suspect this is the case. Are you asking too much our your staff? Is yours a long hours culture or a productivity culture? How do you view time management at work? Do you mistake busyness for effectiveness, or allow your colleagues to do so? “Time is the scarcest resource: and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”

5 Waste through omission.

Is there avoidance in your workplace? Are there important tasks being left undone because they’re too hard, costly, risky or time consuming? Are you missing opportunities through lack of effort, research or will? Are these being missed because your staff are too busy doing things that needn’t be done, or are poorly done? Or because of negative thinking? Use the power of positive thinking to counter this. Recognise the importance of self motivation. Encourage it. This is another critical success factor. “The first – and usually the best – opportunity for successful change is to exploit one’s own successes and build on them. Problems cannot be ignored. And serious problems have to be taken care of. But to be change leaders, enterprises have to focus on opportunities. They have to starve problems and feed opportunities.”

6 Wasted enthusiasm.

Do your staff have specific interests in their work? Have you ever asked? Do you encourageenthusiasm and allow staff to do what they love, or to perform work which satisfies their passions? Do they feel valued as individuals or just small cogs in a large machine? However beware of the damage that can be done by unbridled, unmanaged or misplaced enthusiasm. There is also waste in over-performing, or in having correct things or do them twice. Nonetheless: “Performing organisations enjoy what they’re doing.”

7 Wasted strengths.

Are your best people engaged in the most productive areas of your work? Do you have the right people in the right jobs at the right time? Are they supported? Do you have people working to their strengths? If you want to excel as a manager, perhaps you should first break all the rules…. Why? Because: “It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”

Dealing with Waste is a critical success factor for most businesses

Have any of these ideas made you think? Consider your workplace and your workforce. Are there particular activities or individuals that come to mind? Ask yourself this: how much does waste in your organisation cost and how might it be quantified? In time, money, opportunity, energy, motivation, goodwill? Focus on removing waste so that you can invest time and resources on the activities that produce results.

What is our critical success factor? It’s that waste costs us all. Unless it’s properly managed, we do ourselves, our colleagues, our employers and our customers a disservice.

Where to go from here:

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