Monday, 17 November 2014

Better is the inescapable bridge to Best

       This morning, I had a 7 o’ clock meeting with a friend at my bus stop. I got there at 6.57 a.m. but he was nowhere to be found. I pulled out my earphones and slid them into my ears as I patiently waited for him. But, there was a ringing noise coming from elsewhere and disturbing the Coldplay song I was enjoying. I looked around and saw a driver shouting his bus-route to attract passengers. I shook my head. At 7.23 am, he left with ONLY TWO passengers in his 10-seater bus.

As I waited, I noticed an elderly woman sweeping the roadside; she had covered quite a stretch. I saw that she’s one of the sweepers employed by the Environmental Sanitation office. Bent over like the letter ‘n’, she was using the local broom with a short handle to do her work. I shook my head again.

I left the bus stop after my meeting and went to the cable TV office. They had sent a broadcast to several subscribers to come this morning and exchange their decoders for the new upgraded versions. I met a handful of people sitting outside the office and I joined them. A lady next to me advised the janitor to find a way of ensuring a first-come first-served basis but he dismissed her. Five minutes later, some boisterous clients arrived and headed straight for the office to swap their decoders. Some early arrivers protested, insults were traded, fists clenched and punches freely thrown. After four and a half hours, I finally got my new decoder. I shook my head one more time.

In this part of the world, we have a misconception that until an activity incorporates some form of chaos, drama, or stress it is not worthwhile. In other climes, they strive for greater efficiency in everything, but we search for more activity and end up bogged down with more motion and less movement. Will it kill the driver to place a signboard of his route on the bus? Will it annihilate the sweeper to get a long handle for her broom? Or will it exterminate the janitor to get a pen and paper for clients to write their names as they arrived? 

In secondary physics, they say efficiency

The trick to achieving greater efficiency is to input less work (or effort or time) to get a large output (or result or finished work). In your business, this is what you should always gun for. Every week, take baby steps to improve something about your business; be it operations, finances, customer relations or workers’ welfare. Never settle for what is! There is always a better way! Explore more efficient methods that will reduce stress, time and cost. I’ll leave you with a few tools for making your life and business better.   
  • Use lists. Check lists, price lists, menu lists, mailing lists etc. Lists save you the horror of forgetting important things, assist you in prioritizing people and activities and conserve your energy. Why would a canteen staff think that repeating the menu 100 times to 100 different customers trump writing it down on a sheet and having them read themselves? It beats me
  • Make signs. Price stickers and road signs, name plaques and identity cards have never caused a war; instead they have made life easier. Signs like these will make it possible for your customers to easily find their way round and easily identify your staff while expending the minutest of effort. A route sign will easily save the bus driver from migraine-inducing shouts and save the Earth from noise pollution.
  • Print manuals. Nothing is more frustrating than buying a product and then having to call customer care before you can use it. Most of the times you hear about non-user friendly appliances, I have found that poorly written manuals or the lack of it have often been the number 1 culprit.
  • Get a scheduler. I’m not going to flog this one. If time management is not a priority for you, you have no business with owning your own business.
  • Design job descriptions. All manner of jobs, be it public or private require well-defined job descriptions (JD) to maximize efficiency and minimize waste and rancor. It will interest you to note that most public institution workers have never seen a copy of their JDs. Could that be the source of the perennial beef between doctors and non-doctors in Nigerian tertiary hospitals today?
  •  Less paper. Stock paper, stock clutter. True, there are some deals with legal consequences that require the paper but we can still try and reduce the amount of paperwork. Legal paper or not, we can make customers tick a box in front of the letter M instead of filling out the words Male in the Sex section of our forms. What it will do is conserve paper and make our forms less cumbersome for clients to fill.
  • Embrace technology. It doesn’t have to be a mainframe computer. A broom with long handle is higher technology than a short broom; the woman can only bend for so long before she throws her back. Buy a calculator, use an accounting software, install a POS-machine and make your business accessible via the internet. The brick-and-mortar age is quickly being banished to ancient history by the smartphone and Wi-Fi.

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