Clearing out the time wasters

A third of employees time is wasted because of poor organisation. Cleaning up the complexity is something every company can and should do.

Tom Bevington and Professor Danny Samson have researched 117 Australian organisations and discovered that small errors are wasting around one third of all employees' time.

It helps explain why our productivity has fallen so dramatically against the US.

Bevington and Samson have incorporated their research into a new book Implementing Strategic Change: Managing Processes and Interfaces to Develop a Highly Productive Organisation and have concluded that small errors are really biting into the productivity in enterprises across the spectrum.

In a reasonably well-organised enterprise transactions may get fouled in only one in ten or 20 events. But the time spent trying to fix that one in ten, or one in 20 mistake is often enormous.

In large organisations, customers may want to deal with two branches only to find that they have to start all over again on the second branch, wasting everyone’s time, particularly if the two events are linked. This is, of course, has been the problem with Telstra and other phone company call centres, although Telstra chief executive David Thodey is making considerable efforts to rectify it.

In the last few years, government organisations have introduced new rules and regulations that are often incredibly complex, and businesses spend vast amounts of time trying to understand and obey the requirements. Inside government organisations the interface between the various arms takes up enormous amounts of time.

Bevington and Samson say that when management consultants look at processes in large organisations, they rarely spend time looking at either the errors or the time consuming ways used to try to fix them. The problem simply goes under the counter. While these "interfacing difficulties” do not apply to a majority of dealings, when they do happen they can have a toxic effect, causing major obstructions. They distract staff from the job they are supposed to be doing and cause great frustration in the organisation. Interestingly, Ernst and Young did a survey of the staff of a great many organizations and concluded that about 20 per cent of the time in most businesses and government organizations are wasted (Productivity problems? Don't blame the workers May 30). Ernst and Young estimate that that wasted time costs $109 billion in wasted wages annually.

Although Bevington and Samson believe the time-wasted figure is higher, the basic message is the same. This represents an enormous opportunity for Australian enterprises to improve their productivity.

At the same time, Australia is discovering relations between small enterprises and government are deteriorating and my guess is that this interface problem is at the heart of why there is so much small enterprise frustration.

If a third of your time is wasted in a large organization it can be glossed over. But in a small business, there is no room to hide and frustrations boil over.

Large Australian enterprises try to improve productivity by complaining about government activities and investing heavily in capital equipment. Bevington and Samson say before large amounts of money are spent, big and small organizations need to look at their "interfaces” and the time wasting they are causing.

Bevington and Samson say fixing the "interface” problem is not difficult. They suggest that about 80 per cent of time wasting is concentrated in about 20 per cent of the problems. Enterprises should bring their staff together to prepare a map of all the different interfaces. This should not take more than three weeks. Consultants who suggest it should take longer usually don’t understand the game.

Then the solutions will nearly always come from the staff.

Danny Samson is professor of management at the University of Melbourne.
Tom Bevington is the Non Executive Chairman of the Bevington Group. He is former partner in international consultants AT Kearney and Boston Consulting.

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