I'm going to tell you a secret that could save you the price of a mid-sized consulting project. Let's say $40 - 50 K at a minimum. In addition, you'll make your staff a lot happier, AND you'll reduce the cost of delivering your services. Ready? Here it is:
Move the work to the most junior person that can competently handle it.
That's it, that's the whole secret.
What got me thinking about it today was a very personal example of how I am managing my own time. But I meant what I said -- I've made some good money telling clients how to do just this. If you keep reading, you'll see the brilliant simplicity of what I'm saying. And might just be inspired to do a little workplace reengineering of your own.
Just because you can do the work doesn't mean you should
I am wrapping up a process of building a stronger support structure around my own work. Today I hired a new systems administrator that will give me on-the-phone fix-its, and ongoing behind the scenes maintenance for our PCs, both here and when we are on the road, worldwide. (YAY!) No more doing my own updates, configuring my own firewall, calling Microsoft support, etc. Now Charles will be doing it. He's not cheap, but guess what: he still costs less than half what I charge, and he's about five times as fast.
We also put in place a new bookeeper earlier this summer. Once again, not cheap. In fact, fairly expensive as bookeepers go, and overqualified for the complexities of a boutique firm like mine. But she finishes in a couple of hours what I would take most of a day to do, after procrastinating for weeks. (And of course, not get done at all if I'm too busy with client projects)
There is no such thing as spare time
Many of us are guilty of hanging on to work that's easy for us to do -- whatever your equivalent of my scenario is. Others might call it micro-managing, but you think of it as managing the details. Or worse -- like me -- you think you have the time to do these things yourself and thereby keep overheads under control.
My brother, who is a maxillofacial surgeon, once helped me wash dishes after a family dinner. He made some remark about how much his time was worth, doing these dishes. My response to him: "You're not worth that much when you're washing dishes". Cheeky, perhaps, but true.
Inside big organizations, the problem is much more insidious, and plastered over with a million rationalizations about why things must be the way they are. Nonsense.
Redesigning the Work
Here's a real example of what I'm talking about. We had a project where some bank staff who were responsible for lending arrangements also had to complete all the paperwork after they did a new deal. They hated the paperwork. They grumbled about it. But it also kept them from doing more deals.
We created a new position (by re-jigging some of the other roles) to shift the paperwork completion to more junior employees. The lending staff had a lot more time -- several more hours in a day, in fact. And they used this time to see more customers, and shorten wait times. Were they happy about this? YOU BET THEY WERE. Many of them told me this was the best thing that had ever happened to their job.
The people who took on the paperwork were happy too. They had much more interesting work, taking a single customer's file and ensuring that everything went along smooth as silk. Their roles were also enriched. Many of these people loved the sense of completion that comes from an empty in-basket every day. They didn't really care for the face-to-face sales oriented encounter, and the stresses of handling multiple customer needs. THEY WERE HAPPY TOO!
As a result of this project, the company had created new capacity without increasing staffing costs, and had also made employees happier at the same time. It doesn't get much better than that.
This works for managers too
This rule applies all the way to the top of the organization. It just can be harder to see as you get into bigger titles.
I used to work for an SVP that wanted to personally select the colors of new counters in new shops we opened. Here's the thing: head office had already specified a relatively small range of acceptable options. And we had a design staff. But he always mucked around in the final selections. It was probably fun. But it sure wasn't worth his hourly rate.
Levels of work
What you need to think about in any organization is what level of work you have. Is it SVP work? Is it Director work? Is it Senior Manager work? Manager work? Analyst work? CSR work?
And then you need to look in a really systematic way at what activities are assigned to what roles. When you clean up where the activities belong (using rule #1 above), you're on your way to having an efficient AND effective organization.
This is not just a process of guesswork, by the way. Although there is some art and judgment involved, there are also some fairly scientific methods for conducting this type of analysis.
When you are finished, people at every level will have challenging and interesting work.
On the other hand, your managers and executives won't be able to pretend they are adding value by picking out paint chips, at 5 times the hourly rate of an interior designer. And I'll have to spend time on clients, instead of software updates.