23rd January, 2018

3 things a spreadsheet can’t tell you

When a business gets to a certain size there’s a lot of emphasis on crunching data in spreadsheets – but sometimes getting your hands dirty can lead to better insights.

Typically, a business will go from a small operation where key people are involved in every part of the work, to a bigger operation in which the same key people take a more strategic role.

While that has value – we know that we need to work on the business rather than in the business –pulling back from the day-to-day grind too much risks missing the small picture.

1. How your newest employees see your operation

Amie Lyone, Executive Leader of Operations at family-run office product supplier COS, says as the business has gotten bigger, so has the need to get into the warehouse with the company’s newest employees.

“As your business gets bigger you’re naturally less connected to the day-to-day operation. I also think that leaders see it as their personal mission to not have to involve you and seek your guidance,” Lyone told The Pulse.

“I used to know everything about the business, but these days it’s far less. I rely on my leaders a lot more.”

She started in the family business 13 years ago when the company had 200 staff and revenue of $60 million. It now has 400 staff and revenue of $140 million.

Lyone said she spends five to six hours per day talking to various team leaders and project teams, all funnelling information upward so she can make decisions and provide strategic thinking.

But there’s nothing she likes more than getting onto the floor and packing up orders. For one, it’s gratifying for structure-loving Lyone.

“The satisfaction of ticking boxes!” she said. “It’s instant gratification really…pick an order, tick, pack an order, tick. It’s also nice to move around and not be behind a desk.”

But it’s not just about breaking up the workday and doing something satisfying – it’s also about gathering insights.

READ: What is an ERP?

2. What can be done better

Lyone said her insistence on working on the floor has a lot to do with learning how the company could be doing things better.

“I work on the floor to add value,” said Lyone. “By doing what my team does and talking to them, I find better ways of doing things.”

It was all about observing what processes she and her team set up in the office were working on the floor, and what processes weren’t.

“I’m good at observing processes and saying, ‘we can do that better’ and tying it into the business processes.”

Lyone said by being out on the floor, she had picked up on processes which were redundant, or could be done better.

“For example, there was a daily process of doing a stock check that takes six clicks, multiple module screen checks. I got it down to one screen and three clicks,” she said.

READ: 10 commandments of a stress-free stocktake

That may not seem like a lot, but for a high-volume process the small stuff can make a big difference.

In Amie’s position, observations on business process would be mostly informed by productivity numbers coming via a computer screen, and by her direct reporting line.

But by being on the floor for even just a couple of hours a week, she gains insights that those two methods can’t provide as well.

3. Where to spend money

Another benefit to a hands-on approach was an increased understanding about where the business needed more equipment.

“I could see that staff were spending ten minutes walking around looking for a piece of equipment or have to wait for someone else to finish using it – so I bought more equipment,” Lyone said.

If she had stayed in the office, that observation would have taken a while to reach her.

“Most managers are afraid to spend money, or are using long-winded business case submissions for why they need it.”

Lyone also said that she had a good time just talking to staff, particularly those new to the team – and she gained valuable insight from it.

“Most of the time they’re pleasantly surprised when they figure out the person they’ve been working with is their boss,” she said.

“I’m still adjusting to being in the office, and probably always will be, which is why talking to staff – and not just the leaders – is important.

“Once you create a culture where it’s OK to speak up, it’s amazing what you can learn that you can use to benefit the organisation.”