Improving Efficiency by Slowing Down

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In an effort to improve productivity, many facilities are risking morale. Because morale is “squishy,” and because employers still own the workforce leverage, morale has taken a back seat to efficiency.

The case in point is the client who recently said, “When I’m out of the office, they slack off.” In my best consultant’s tone, I told him that was probably true and told him that trying to eliminate the slacking was a waste of time. “Unless they are utterly swamped with deadlines,” I told him, “the best you can do is minimize slacking by increasing accountability. But it is true that when the cat is away the mice will play, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

He was surprised to hear this from the guy he’d hired to, among other things, help boost his staff’s productivity.

To help make my case for allowing some down time on the job, I cited three key statistics:

1. The notion that the typical staff is slacking is false. The average American worker is working more and making less than they did 20 years ago. In the last 20 years, productivity has risen almost 80% while wages have risen about 15%. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010)

2. Sixty-nine percent of employees report that work is a significant source of stress and 41% say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday (American Psychological Association, 2009). Which leads to:

3. Fifty-one percent of employees stating that they were less productive at work as a result of stress (American Psychological Association, 2009).

In other words, I told him, ease up. The key to reducing the amount of slacking in the office was not to install cameras in the office so that a spouse/partner could monitor the staff from home, as one client did, but to hire the right people and set the expectations of the position before their first day.

Too often, however, hiring decisions are left to people with little or no stake in the outcome. Resumes are screened by a human resources person who looks first to see that the job requirements are fulfilled. But what if they are not? What if the responsible adult you want did not complete college? You will never hire that person because your hiring manager and hiring policy is focused on the wrong things. If you want productive people, hire those with a track record of productivity, or interview them with questions about productivity.

If you want someone who is productive while working alone, hire someone who worked efficiently in a similar capacity.

And computer skills? Those can be taught. A good work ethic is innate.

I did not stop there. “This is a very busy facility,” I said, “and there are as many internal interruptions per employee per day as anywhere else – 50 to 60 on the average day.” Interruptions are one of the biggest impediments to improved productivity and it’s worse today thanks to all of the so-called time-saving devices we use to be more productive. E-mails, texts, tweets and phones have all combined with the countless drop-by interruptions to create a frenetic atmosphere of stopping and starting tasks and projects which, if allowed to be completed uninterrupted, would take one-third the time.

“I want you to institute a ‘quiet time’ policy each day,” I said. “This means that for a four hour block each day, there are to be no internal e-mails, texts or phone interruptions. If you send an e-mail or call someone during this time, do not expect an answer. Any urgent communication must be communicated by a visit to that person.”

Quiet time worked. In one week, the client reported a noticeable drop in scheduling errors, a problem that had plagued him for years.

Unfortunately, he did not draw a line from the improvement to the quiet time policy. That’s my next conversation.


Steve SmithWith over 25 years of marketing experience — nine years as a former Vice President of Marketing for a leading healthcare marketing company — Steve Smith has consistently developed effective strategies to help fuel the growth of countless healthcare enterprises. Since 2007, he has specialized as a marketing and business development consultant to medical imaging facilities nationwide. Mr. Smith has been a featured speaker at imaging conferences and is a former member of the marketing subcommittee of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA). He has contributed marketing articles to numerous healthcare publications, including Physician’s Money Digest, Radiology Business Journal and more. Mr. Smith is the