Should You Bring In an Efficiency Expert?

Of course your company could be more efficient — we all can be. But is it a good idea to bring in an efficiency expert to help you make improvements? Recent research by the National Center for the Middle Market reveals that you can't simply hand over a check and assume that an efficiency expert will solve your problems. It turns out that in order for your company to truly benefit, you have to build employee buy-in and instill the kind of corporate culture that will welcome any recommendations. Here are three questions you should ask to ensure that, when you bring in an efficiency expert, your money will be well spent.

An efficiency expert could be extremely helpful for your midsized firm, but your employees must be willing to buy in

Do your employees want to be trusted? That may sound like a crazy question. Of course everyone wants to be trusted not to steal, misuse resources, or the like, but we're talking about a deeper level of trust. Do your employees want to be trusted with real responsibility, such as pointing out problems in your processes and offering their own solutions? Some corporate cultures encourage employees to sit back and only do what they're told to do. That kind of submissiveness — and frankly, disinterest — isn't going to help you if you want to bring true efficiency to the workplace. You need an empowered workforce that's eager to share their ideas and contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Do your leaders think of themselves as coaches? Just as your efficiency efforts won't succeed if you have sheeplike employees, they'll also fall short if you have dictatorial managers. No one understands your company's systems better than the front-line employees who implement them on a daily basis, but if they're cowed by domineering "do it my way" leaders, they won't have the courage or the incentive to speak up and contribute their best ideas. In fact, every change in routine will seem like an imposition: Why do we have to do it this way? Wasn't the old way good enough? If your leaders, however, think of themselves as coaches who are there to cultivate and develop the talents of your staff, the situation changes. Employees want to perform their best for people who believe in them and treat their ideas as useful and valuable. They'll be able to offer better insights because they understand the overall direction of your company and how their efforts fit in.

Does your corporate culture embrace change? In business circles, "change" often has the frightening ring of seismic disruption, as evidenced by the many books or courses on "managing change." But it's important to recognize that change isn't just a periodic reshuffling; it's an ongoing process that can lead to valuable improvements. Throughout your organization, is there a shared understanding that improvement is always possible, that problems can present major opportunities for growth, and that small, incremental improvements can be just as valuable as flashy, attention-getting breakthroughs? From the top down, you need to convey an appreciation for the value of change because you're far more likely to improve, as individuals and as a company, if you make it clear that growth should be sought out and embraced.

Almost all middle market companies could benefit from an efficiency tune-up. But before you shell out for an efficiency expert, make sure that your company is ready to listen and learn. When employees and managers are on the same page about the value of efficiency, the improvements can be dramatic.

How can you determine if a particular efficiency expert is the right fit for your midsized firm? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.


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