As a manager who is passionate about business improvement, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly seeking out the momentous new idea that changes everything.
It seems we’re wired to position our ambitions as high as possible and focus our energy on solving the big obvious problems. But as Jeremy Eden and Terri Long point out in their book Low-Hanging Fruit, there are thousands of hidden and ignored problems that frustrate workers and reduce profits.
These seemingly small and often veiled problems can too easily go unnoticed.
According to Eden and Long, the key to finding and fixing these problems is to engage the employees closest to the work and customer in new ways so they can contribute their ideas.
Here are five tips they offer in their book for uncovering the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in your workplace:
1. Put a price tag on everything
Eden and Long suggest that problem solving must start by following the money. This means literally putting a dollar figure to every process, report and project. You may be surprised to discover that “this is the way we’ve been doing it for years” isn’t the most efficient way and that it actually costs more than you realised.
2. Ask the people closest to the work for their ideas
Whether they are proactive about voicing it or not, staff can be a goldmine for great ideas. But don’t just rely on a ‘suggestion box’ – instead, it can be useful to personally invite employees to a problem-solving session and actively encourage them to bring up issues and suggest solutions.
3. Get out of the office and go see for yourself
It’s natural to rely on your team to present workplace issues and ideas, but it’s also useful to gain your own perspective. Visiting your office or worksite and connecting with the everyday experiences of your team can help you understand the environment and identify the challenges. But don’t just watch and observe – get involved in the work so you can truly understand areas for improvement.
4. Ask “why?” five times to see the real problem
According to Eden and Long, businesses spend too little time finding the right problems, and too much time solving the wrong ones. A useful strategy is to use the ‘5Y’ strategy – simply keep asking “Why?” and digging deeper into a particular process or issue. Not sure why you do something a certain way? Perhaps it’s time to streamline the process.
5. Ask your new hires!
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see the problem and recognise it for the opportunity it could be. Recent additions to your team could offer the fresh perspective you need. Ever noticed a new employee asking why you do something a certain way? Instead of replying with “It’s just the way we do it here”, consider the issue from their perspective and re-evaluate your reasoning behind it.
By including these simple problem-solving activities into your management routine, you can make a start on seeking out those hidden opportunities for business improvement.
In Low-Hanging Fruit, Eden and Long discuss this topic further and have outlined 77 ways that managers can improve productivity and profits. Jeremy Eden and Terri Long have worked with the CEOs of a wide range of companies in both size and industry to guide their teams through a galvanizing earnings growth process. They are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings Group headquartered in Chicago.