3 Tips for Small Business Process Improvement

3 Tips for Small Business Process Improvement

Sometimes, as hard as you try you can’t get  improvements in the business to stick. Have you noticed that you try to bring in new changes or ways of working, but after a while, it all goes back to the way it was. Or maybe you have identified some process improvement areas, but no one in your business really seems interested in carrying them out?

Having the ideas and capability to improve your business processes is often not enough.

I am sure you have plenty of ideas on how to make improvements. And if not, you have maybe got an idea of what areas to look at. However, when these improvements are not taken up or your staff don’t seem to be able to get on and make the changes this can be frustrating and even exasperating!

I remember a business I worked with a few years ago. The MD looked at me and said, through heavy eyes,

“Why won’t they make the changes they need to speed up and just …do their jobs? Do you think it’s because I don’t pay them enough?”

It most cases I would say it has absolutely nothing to do with pay. In most cases its because the idea of process improvement has not been presented in a way that it has got the staff excited enough to want to do anything about it!

Here’s my 3 tips to help you get those changes or improvements to really work for your business.

tips-lightbulb 3 Tips for Small Business Process Improvement

1. Don't Make it Personal

I know. It just comes from frustration but blaming or finger pointing is certainly not going to help your staff get into the right frame of mind. What frame of mind do we want them in?  

That they are lazy, loosing you money and are not ‘proving’ themselves in their role?

Possibly not!

If there is going to be any sustainable change, it must come from those staff doing the job. So, avoiding blame will ensure that any time saving or error reducing initiative does not feel personal.

Think about the guy in Warehousing. He used to spend 50% of his role inputting the stock numbers into the stock system. We want to replace this task with a barcoding machine.

He needs to know what else there is for him.

 More importantly, that this has nothing to do with him personally. We need him to know that we want to use your skills elsewhere and here are all the things we aren’t doing yet. These things we feel you are perfectly capable of and we need you to help us bring them in.

We will need this member of staff to help us implement and maintain the system, we will want him to now spend more time on looking at the stock reports rather than spending time processing the data.

Sometimes we don’t have the answers. Our staff know, but creativity and the ability to see the solutions need the right environment to bloom. It won’t come easy when they feel stressed about their jobs. Removing this stress and presenting this as a challenge is more exciting.

"How do we release time for you to carry out more meaningful work?" . This is presented then as something very positive for them.And it is positive! The better the company performs, the more secure they can feel. In time sharing in the success of the business on some way.



2. Use The 3 Why's Technique


The 3 Why's is a technique I was taught when training in process improvement. It's such a simple tool yet can be used for all sorts of occasions. The key here is that it forces you to really listen to your staff and to get to the root cause of a problem. It stops you from jumping to solutions and making assumptions too quickly.

 When you ask your first “Why” you normally get an emotive response. I usually hear some mild expletive or some negative response that shows that the staff feel challenged or persecuted with the process.

The second "Why" gives them a chance to explain what they think (not just feel). Many times, I have looked at an area of a process which the staff have known is inefficient. However, the thinking to be able to resolve this, is just not apparent to them, especially when they are bogged down in the day to day.

Taking the time to just ask why can be so effective. It makes you stop and evaluate.

Here’s an example of a dialogue I had with a staff member I used to manage. It was very insightful!

Hayley: Why do we continue to let this happen?

Staff: I’m are too busy to look at this right now. I don’t have time to do the existing job, let alone any more!

Hayley: Why don’t you have time to work on specifically process improvement?

Staff: Why should I? You don’t recognise and appreciate wat I do, why should I do other things which are extra to what I already do?

Hayley: Why might I not appreciate what you do?


Maybe you don’t realise what I am doing, I should let you know. Maybe I am not working on the things you think are important. We should talk about this more. We should resume the monthly 1: 1s I stopped showing up for…



Involve Your Staff in finding the Process Improvements

When trying to improve your business processes, it is far easier to get your staff or team using the process to help with improving it. They will know far more about the usability of any solution. They will also know what are the specific areas which are failing. Furthermore, they will also have a better idea on where to look for improvements. Just recently I asked one of the bookkeepers working with my new client,

What is the task that’s takes you the most time?

She responded without hardly taking a breath.

“Inputting the invoices onto SAGE (Accounting software) manually. Its time consuming and usually takes at least 10 to 15-man hours per month. There must be a better way of doing it?

As you can imagine, one of the first improvements I brought in when I started working with this client was to speed up this task so that invoices could be automatically uploaded.

These 3 tips are probably best illustrated through an example I encountered in one of my previous roles.

Case Study Example

When working in the Pharmaceutical industry, I was tasked with improving the productivity of the Quality Department. We needed to improve our testing of products in terms of number of tests carried out. Many of the tests had to be repeated as they were either not documented well or carried out incorrectly.

Using the 3 Whys the dialogue went something like this:

HayleyWhy do we get our documentation wrong?

Staff: The Manager likes to fail it for the smallest of reasons, he’s inconsistent and we never know whether its correct or not

HayleyWhy does he fail the forms, what reasons does he give?

Staff: He says we don’t write in the correct number of decimal places, or we haven’t written the right annotations etc. It can be a different reason each time.

HayleyWhy do you think there are all these inconsistencies?


Staff: the forms are cr*p

Hayley: Ah, so could it be that the forms are the problem? (not the manager)

Staff: Yes! They don’t help us to see where we need to add 3 decimal places or 4, they don’t give us boxes to write in or show where extra information is required. We could use numbering sequences, so we can see better where we have missed out a section and the format could be improved…

I love the 3 whys techniques because it takes the emphasis away from the emotions and forces you to drill into the process. It also empowers your staff to get involved in process improvement because they have a chance to be part of the improvements.

I don’t know about you, but I would far rather have motivated, empowered staff helping me improve the processes. It sounds far more lean and more efficient and that’s what this is all about isn’t it?

If you need help with gaining visibility on where you need to make changes in your Small Business and how to improve your Business  Processes, give me a call today. 

or click the link above to find out about my services for Small Business

tips-lightbulb 3 Tips for Small Business Process Improvement

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