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Think about automating tasks instead of replacing workers

(BUSINESS) Automation is great, unless you obsess over it and try to cut down on payroll – there’s a smarter approach that successful businesses take.

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automating tasks not people

The concept of automating your workflow is a tempting one — especially as payroll continues to be one of the evergreen highest costs of business. However, in contemplating how to streamline your workflow, you may do better to step back from the idea of “replacing workers” and instead think about you can optimize your existing employees by strategically tweaking their workflow.

As Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau write in The Harvard Business Review, if the goal of automating is to ensure that your company is operating at its most cost effective and efficient levels, then chances are you’d still need knowledgeable employees to help you scale and capitalize.

Where automation can truly help your business is by transforming the ability of your organization to focus on the tasks that truly require a human touch or deep knowledge. For example, automation will not help your employees perform complex, interactive, or creative work like collaborating with clients to come up with solutions or designs.

However, it can help the process of brainstorming or co-designing these solutions easier by replacing some of the mechanical tasks that aid this high-level workflow.

For example, it may be helpful to automate basic research tasks for your designers. If your designers must create a client profile to help them launch their projects — basic information must surely exist at some other point in the process before this point. Maybe your firm has an intake form or contracts where a basic description of the goal of the contracted service has been created. By automating the sharing of that data between departments, perhaps in a content management system, you’d be able to free up time that the designers might spend on basic data collection so that they could instead use it for their more complex, empathetic work.

Jesuthasan and Boudreau offer up other advice for thinking about which specific tasks within your company’s workflow are the best candidates for automation.

Is a task simple? Routine? Does it require collaboration?

These kinds of inquiry are not only useful when thinking about your organizational processes, but they are good refreshers for thinking about the individual value and skills that your organization and its workers offer clients.

So instead of looking at how to cut down on payroll, consider automation as an option to improve the value you’re getting from your team, and freeing them from mind-numbing tasks that have nothing to do with their expertise. Win-win!

AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

Business News

How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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overtime laws

Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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Business News

Confessions of a productive person: keeping a clean desk

Being a productive, clean person is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds – start with these simple steps focused on reduction in your life.

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minimalism productivity

We keep a clean office, there’s no secret about that, and the desks are usually clear of papers and clutter. Some call it minimalism, others call it clean, but mostly people just call it “wow” and ask how we keep such clean lives.

Studies show that your brain is hardwired to have cluttered thought patterns when you are surrounded by clutter, yes, even those of you that live in a pile of papers (which of course you have “a system” for). It can be intimidating to even get started when you have a messy office, but there are a few things that anyone can do to regain control and help your brain function at its optimal rate, improve productivity, and prove to clients and coworkers that you mind the details like no one else.

Friends and coworkers ask me constantly how I get so much done in the average day, and it isn’t because of my smartphone, no, it’s because I am a focused workhorse. A huge part of that is keeping a very clean environment. Let’s talk about why that’s important (and why you should ignore the “buut geniuses have messy desks” bullcrap editorials).

Perhaps you put to do items on post it notes or pieces of paper, or you pile up files that need to be dealt with – one of the most common reasons desks are messy. This method of task management is ineffective and tells your brain to panic because what you’re doing right now may or may not be as important as those 35 stickies, so you either pause frequently to reflect on the dozens of other unprioritized tasks, or your brain constantly churns in the background having been distracted with this mess that represents tasks, or you simply learn to tune the noise out, which defeats the purpose of your reminder system.

To change this, either implement tech tools to manage your tasks (search this site for “task management” and see dozens of tools) or keep one pad of paper or journal on your desktop.

minimalism

Another common item on desks is what? Envelopes. One of the tricks I’ve found is that no matter the envelope, it gets torn open and processed while I’m on hold or on a conference call I don’t have to speak on. Before you leave for the day, every bill should be torn open and either dealt with, filed, or if you must keep it on your desk, have a beautiful inbox or even a clipboard to keep them all in the same spot.

There are much more sophisticated methods, but let’s face it, you have to start small to ensure good habits. The same goes for files – be smart about processing paper in your down time.

My core confession that you may have picked up on so far is that I love to trash stuff.

I didn’t used to be this way, I used to hard paper, but it is how I began my journey toward being more productive – trashing. Remember that every time you throw just one envelope away, you’re making progress that is tangible, and you should learn to enjoy that progress and associate positive feelings with keeping things clean.

What else holds you back from keeping a clean work area and focusing on your tasks for the day? Often, books pile up or files start stacking themselves up magically. I’ve found that having aesthetically appealing storage systems (boxes, filing cabinets, files, pen holders, etc.) make you feel rewarded for using them. It’s a subtle trick, but if you invest in your desk accouterments, you feel compelled to use them, which inadvertently keeps you organized.

Look, these are simple things to do – ditch sticky notes, deal with mail and files before you leave for the day, and surround yourself with beautiful tools that keep you organized. This is where it begins – instead of being addicted to hoarding crap on your desk, work on rewiring your brain to enjoy reduction.

This editorial was originally published in November of 2013.

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Business News

You absolutely don’t need to be a 100% match for a job to apply

(CAREER) Most people believe they should only apply for their dream job if they’re a perfect match, but studies say that’s the wrong approach.

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apply for a job even if not 100% a match

You don’t need to be a 100 percent match for a job to apply. You just don’t.

We’ve all seen the crazy job postings:

-Must be fluent in Mandarin
-Must be be full-stack coder
-Must also have real estate license
-Must be a rockstar ninja (uuugh)

After seeing endless open positions with specific requirements, it’s no wonder that so many job seekers become discouraged. How can anyone fit 100 percent of the requirements on the job listing? And actually, most people don’t. According to a recent study, you only need to meet ~70 percent of the job requirements to be a good fit for a job.

So you’re telling me a requirement isn’t actually a requirement?!

The study analyzed job postings and resumes for over 6,000 positions across 118 industries, and they found that applicants are just as likely to get an interview whether you meet 50 percent or 90 percent of the requirements.

Crazy, I know. That law of diminishing returns will eff you up.

But what about women? I wondered the same thing. Surprisingly, the interview data was in favor of women that meet less of the requirements. In fact, the study shows that as a female, the likelihood of getting an interview increases if you simply meet 30 percent of the requirements. Also, female applicants are just as likely to get an interview if they meet 40 percent versus 90 percent of the job requirements.

Before you start complaining that women have it better in the job search process, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Interestingly enough, 64 percent of the female users rejected at least one job where they matched 50 – 60 percent of the requirements, while only 37 percent of male users did. This leads us to believe there more implicit factors to take into consideration, like imposter syndrome throughout the interview process.

If you’re a recruiter or employer, this may seem like more work. But in an increasingly competitive job market for both employers and applicants, this presents an opportunity to get to know people for who they actually are, not just on paper. And resumes often do a poor job of reflecting that — especially the ever-important soft skills.

Key takeaways:

As we’ve gone through this study, here are a few practical action items for job seekers:

1. Apply for a lot of jobs to increase your number of interviews.

The study shows that increased interviews are a direct result of increased applications, not just picking and choosing what you think you’re a good fit for. Which brings us to our next point:

2. Go for those “stretch” roles — you never know what may come of it!

Send in a lot of applications, but don’t let that stop you from approaching the process thoughtfully. Recruiters can tell if you’ve skimped on the cover letter or your resume, and a thoughtful approach to the application process will be noticed and appreciated by recruiters, especially for those reach roles.

3. Don’t second-guess yourself.

We’re always our own worst critics, and according to this, we don’t need to be — especially throughout the job application process. Job hunting is stressful enough, so put on your most upbeat playlist (or Beyonce), say your affirmations, and go on with your bad self and start applying!

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