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By Nick Cleveland, Internal Product Owner

The Heartland Conference is an incredible experience. I’ve had the pleasure of attending this event twice since I started working at VGM Forbin. In these two years, the best part of Heartland is meeting the people we work so hard to serve at VGM, be part of their business discussions, and provide them with the resources that can help them improve their business.

The most frequent discussion I heard this year was the topic of growth through efficiency.  While one VGM member wanted to grow their business through creating capacity within their current structure, another wanted to adjust their operating costs to offset lower margins on specific goods.

This is where my inherent process nerd ears perk up.  I’m obsessed with operational strategy to the point where I spend most of my spare time reading about production management systems and strategizing on reducing costs and putting employees in positions to drive organizational success – I know, really exciting, Nick!

Whether it’s measuring KPIs, tracking results or reviewing spreadsheet after spreadsheet, it’s important to use data to drive your decisions. I’ve spoken with leaders at VGM about this, and was tasked with bringing this message to our members. So, I went to Heartland with the goal of making my passion relevant and actionable for our members.

With all that being said, here are the main points I’d like the Heartland attendees I spoke with to know:

  1.  It’s important to remember that everyone has to start somewhere.
  2. You don’t have to be an expert in Lean, Scrum, Six Sigma or TPS to make an impact.
  3. Use your knowledge of the work you’re already doing, and shift your thinking so you’re adaptable to a new framework of completing that work and tracking your progress.

Here are a few things to remember:

Every Organization Has Inefficiencies

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, here. There’s waste in every organization, but the best organizations are the ones that are constantly evaluating their processes in an effort to reduce it. The keys to identifying organizational inefficiency are:

  • Look at Your Numbers: If you see one of your KPIs is falling below expectations, that’s a great place to start examining your process. However, it’s important to remember that numbers aren’t the only source of data. They’re a great indicator for problem-solving, but should be used as a starting point to drive action.
  • Observe the Workspace: Years ago, I led a group of sales reps and discovered that while we had a great close rate, we were doing a poor job in discovery, which caused headaches for the rest of the team. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is see what’s happening under your own roof. Simply observing your current processes can be an eye-opening experience. Watch your sales staff as they work. Don’t interject, just observe. Take note of behaviors, physical steps, usage of tools, etc.
  • Talk to Your Employees: The greatest source of information is the people that are doing work for your company every day. Use your employees as a resource. They have ideas, many of which you haven’t thought of. One idea can lead to a simple change that may streamline your entire process.

Putting the Data to Work

Once you’ve identified inefficiencies in your organization, it’s time to develop a plan to make improvements. Start with your goals. It’s easier to make decisions if there’s a clearly-defined goal to work toward. Make a plan, prioritize which updates need to be made first and slowly start to make changes. Don’t change too much too soon, because then you won’t know which changes are leading to differences in your results. Remember, the goal of making these improvements is not only to improve your organization’s efficiency but to add value to your customers’ experience.

Finally, use technology to help streamline processes in your organization.  To talk about specific web-based programs or custom online portal solutions that can take your organization to the next level of efficiency, get in touch with me today through VGM Forbin!

3 comments

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  • Dan Duley | Jul 12th 2017 @ 8:45 AM

    Great topic. The tough part has been getting managers and other departments on board. The latest reimbursement struggles has gotten everyone's attention. Any good examples of other industries with similar struggles ? The changes themselves seem apparent, it's convincing the other stake holders. Thanks

  • Chuck Spiedel | Jul 12th 2017 @ 11:05 AM

    Excellent tips - great article Nick!

  • Nick Cleveland | Jul 13th 2017 @ 11:05 AM

    Dan, thanks for taking the time to add to the conversation. You bring up a great point. Many of the tools and techniques are simple. The tough part is always leading through change. Consider the principles of driving improvement, People, Process, and Profit, in that order. You have hit the nail on the head, it starts with your people. I plan to expand on this in future posts, until then think about this. Many times people struggle with improvement because they feel like it takes too much time. I hear this time and again. Typically I have found that it takes a solid win to stop people in their tracks and realize they need to be a part of the solution. I have found that sometimes you have to start at the grassroots level. You may have to drive some results in your department then tell the story of how you did it. You gain buy in real quick when people see results.

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