Three steps to optimising your COVID-modified business

Three steps to optimising your COVID-modified business

Some businesses are loving 2020 and others are cautiously relieved to see how well it has gone so far!

Of course, no-one wanted the health catastrophe, nor its financial disruption or the social stress of lockdown. However, these businesses have either sustained themselves or even grown during the course of the year.

As IT consultants and advisors, at Network Overdrive we see the wide range of strategies that Australian small and medium-sized businesses are using to adapt to our COVID-affected economy by being more present to their customers while REDUCING their costs.

Businesses optimising for today’s reality

These are the businesses doing optimisation. They enjoy high productivity and efficiency levels. Their staff either hit or exceed their KPIs. Their executives and owners have time to think – often enjoying less interruptions or distractions in their work.

In them, people mostly appreciate the extra time gained by the non-commute and the flexibility to work when and how they want!  Most importantly many have won business and kept their customers!

Where they did have losses, they are philosophical and pragmatic, considering that perhaps the staff that were made redundant were not really a good fit to the business or the customers that left were never going to become the raving fans their business needed to grow?

Which mode are you in?

Let’s take a moment to place this article in the context of the series that began with the three modes of business operation in 2020. The three modes are:

  1. Survival Mode: making the hard decisions about staying alive for the long term.
  2. Optimising Mode: keeping core operations working safely and productively in a whole new, distributed operating environment.
  3. Pivot and Transformation Mode: exploring, validating, and prototyping new ways and means.
    (Read the full article here)

If you see your business as still in Survival mode then there’s guidance in this article on The Survival Stage of Pandemic Adaptation – or call us now to discuss your situation. We’re keen to help!

If you’re out to Pivot or Transform your business, then watch this space – we’ll be unpacking the third mode in a later article. (Or call us now if you’re eager to level up!)

However, making the time to optimise and consolidate can create a strong foundation for your business – both as it delivers today and as it transforms to deliver new value.

Optimising businesses are asking ‘what now?’

How do we keep and embed all the lessons learnt during social distancing and add to them? How do we enhance our business now we have the freedom to work either together or apart?  They’re exploring:

“How can we deliver on the promises we made to our customers faster, more often, without error and safely?”

If you are one of these optimising businesses, this article is going to address ways to accelerate your process.

Are you optimising or actually transforming?

It is all too easy to start talking about optimising and end up discussing transformation without realising how they are different and why the difference is important.

It can be confusing, because often the same business improvement can be utilised in either an Optimising or Transformation mode. For example, is the implementation of a new phone system, website or finance package helping to optimise or transform the business?

What’s the big deal?

Why does it matter if your business mixes them together and fluidly talks about optimising and pivoting in the same breath?

Well the problem is that the two modes have a different “why”. They have a different purpose and if you are not clear on what that purpose is then you are more likely to fail in your attempt to reach it.

We’re living in a time of increased uncertainty and acting without clarity and strategy can confuse both your staff and your customers – the crucial people powering your business.

The purpose of optimising activities is to improve the existing business model.

For example, if the new “thing” is going to improve the communication between existing staff and customers even when the staff are working from home then it is an optimising activity. Why? Because the improvement is helping the business to fulfil the current promises it has with its customers.

Likewise, if your customers’ pre-2020 expectation is to get you on the phone and you implement a system to ensure that they still can get to the right person whether they are in the office or at home, then that implementation is also an optimising activity – whether it’s a chat bot or a cloud-based virtual phone system.

The purpose of pivoting and transformation activities is to develop a new business model.

If, however, your business wants to make new promises of value to their customers then that is a transformation activity. So, if your new phone system is to provide new value, then you’re in transformation mode (which we’ll be writing up soon in the final article of this series).

Three steps to accelerating your optimisation process

An optimising business is one that is maintaining their existing business model and wants to increase the frequency of successful fulfilment of the promises made to their customers.

In our experience, the most useful way to do this is to look at the three parts of the Golden Triangle which are:

  • People and their needs
  • Processes used to deliver on business goals
  • Technology platforms chosen carefully to meet both people needs and business goals

Optimising starts with PEOPLE

Well-optimised businesses report high employee engagement with KPIs maintained or exceeded. This is amazing given the fact that a Thrive Global Survey found that “75% of people feel that they are less productive at home”.

But what does high employee engagement actually mean?

I checked in with my own team and 75% of them felt like they were more productive at home (not surprising when you’re an IT managed services provider).

75% sounds OK (if you’re talking about marks at school) but when you turn it around it means that 25% of my smart, tech-enabled, innovative team felt like they are less productive at home! So even in my specialist world that was 1 in 4!

That’s still not great good news for my business.

What were the reasons in my business?

  • Some struggled for reasons outside work – like managing kids schooling at home.
  • Others found the absence of supervision and timely advice meant they wasted time trying to complete a task in the wrong way.

Our greatest “people” insight from lock down is an increased understanding what each staff member actually does – or doesn’t do – and the environment and support that each staff member needs to do their job well.

For all, collective brainstorming, mentor intervention, group insight and creativity stimulated by others was reduced. Hiring and onboarding was typically delayed as it was perceived to be too hard during lockdown.

How to improve your People?

Leaders need to build on the trust gained in delivering basic safety and security to their employees through the first stages of COVID.  The challenge now is to deliver for the long term – including trusting relations, social cohesion and individual purpose for employees. (McKinsey ).

Fundamentally humans are tribal creatures – we succeed by cooperating together in smallish groups. So, to fully optimise your business, the first step is to meet people’s social needs.

This requires using science, data and technology to provide individual and meaningful support and mentoring plans for staff, so that motivation and productivity are maintained over the long term.  According to PWC, while many staff love the flexibility of working from home, they worry that ‘invisibility’ will hamper their chances for career developments and opportunities.

Optimising your Processes

The Optimised businesses we work with at NOD already had well defined processes and used the lockdown to further define and refine them. We noticed an increase in the documentation of those processes.

Many optimised businesses simply stopped doing any inefficient activity during the lockdown. They identified either that the inefficient activity was not essential to their business OR they were able to delay and minimise the impact of the inefficiencies.

With necessity being the mother of invention, often entirely new ways were developed that were actually better. The attitude of “That’s the way we have always done things around here” was no long valid.

So, optimised businesses are now asking themselves: “Do we need to pick up the processes that were abandoned or can we make a permanent change to the way we operate?”

How to improve your Processes?

The first step is to identify your inefficient processes. The key ways to identify an inefficient process is to identify:

  • Is there double handling of the process?
  • Is there high business risk of error? Even if the chance of error is low, is the impact to the business high if there is an error?
  • Is the process stimulating or is it demotivating for staff to complete?

The second step is to rank the inefficient process in order of the greatest to the least impact on the business.

Finally, within those processes with the greatest impact, identify those that can be changed within three months. Then fix them.

Once you have fixed those processes, repeat these steps to further optimise your business processes.

You will most likely find that an improved process will require a change to your technology, which will be covered in the next section.

However, if you haven’t done the analysis work, you could spend a whole lot of energy and money on trying to make the wrong technology solve the wrong problem.

Technology to serve people and process

Once you have analysed and prioritised your people and process issues, then we can discuss the role of technology in your optimised business.

We have outlined above how to identify inefficient processes. The next step is to then review both the technology the business currently uses in the inefficient process AND then what technology could be used to support the efficient process.

At NOD, we have developed our Profit Stacks Framework to do this. You get a comprehensive inventory of your key IT tools, categorised by function and activity within Sales, People, Production, Finance and Structure – shining a light on where more value is hiding.

First, use technology to automate what’s inefficient and error prone

The clearest role technology is playing right now is in automating inefficient and error-prone processes. That’s why scanning technology is used everywhere from your supermarket to your chemist. So, seek new technologies that will automate anything that is slow, boring, or error-prone in your business.

This has multiplied benefits where flexible work arrangements are required.  Not only will it help your staff be more productive, it will also minimise the potential for cyber-criminals to trick your staff into providing money or sensitive information to them.

Then use technology to protect your business systems

With the explosion in remote working and global economic disruption, the threat to business from virus attacks, malware, ransomware and other nasties is massively increased.

This is driving a whole new level of IT security and compliance requirements around the globe.  It’s also causing big corporations to demand much more compliance from all their suppliers.

Then use technology to boost engagement and productivity

While it is not as obvious as automation, the most advanced optimising businesses are also exploring ways technology can improve staff engagement and productivity.

This is a field that’s currently exploding as technology suppliers respond to COVID-created safety demands for solutions. At NOD, we are researching and testing solutions such as WorkpulsOfficevibe  and Miro to find the best solutions to deliver individualised and timely support to employees – both ours and those of our customers.

Workpuls could be seen negatively as ’employee spying’. However, if it is deployed with clear communication it can be used as a timesheet automation tool. Most employees hate filling in timesheets and could see this as a real benefit to them if your trust levels are high.

Officevibe offers to improve the 1:1 communication and mentoring that many staff felt was lacking when working from home. Its integration into Microsoft Teams and Slack is an advantage.

Miro aims to assist in the brainstorming and creativity process, by providing collaboration through online whiteboard functionality.

We are also developing a customised well-being application for a client business that wants to facilitate the connection between their staff and specialised services like financial and mental counselling etc.

Technology is a tool – so the right tool for the task combined with the right training is a massive optimising aid – once you’ve worked through the people and process issues to find out what’s important to solve.

Optimisation – working smarter at what you already do

Optimisation is about using technology to enable today’s business model to deliver more value.  It’s not about pivoting. The focus is on existing core business activities that you need to maintain – collaboration, production, administration, communication – but doing them in ways that protect your customers, your employees and your brand.

It’s about delivering what you’ve always delivered – be it “timely communication” or “quality service”- using new tools and technology.

  • Could a chat function on your website replace a receptionist?
  • Would an investment in automating repetitive tasks improve your remote worker’s productivity?
  • Do you need cloud tools to enable document collaboration and proof reading?
  • Do you need better time management, collaboration or communications tools?

There is a whole range of technology that can help you do this better and smarter – technology I can just about guarantee that your toughest competitors are putting in.

Optimisation = resilience

If there’s one thing we know about the 21st century, it’s that change is happening faster than ever before. COVID came from an unexpected direction – but there are waves of technological, economic, political and social developments on the horizon.

When you’re optimised, you have strong foundations for the future. You can watch the horizon and be ready to shift – or even transform – as society and industry shifts around you.

If you’re not sure that your business is fully optimised to thrive in this new normal, call us today.

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Ready to talk to Network Overdrive about how to power profit with our Managed I.T Services? Drop your details below and we'll be in touch in the next 24hrs.