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Business Advice

Improving people, processes & productivity

Manage your resources well to get more out of less
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - March 29, 2011
By: Sheila Lim
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Improving people, processes & productivity

Businesses in Singapore, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), have been dealt a double whammy. Not only do they now face fiercer competition for workers in a tightening labour market, but a significant increase in foreign worker levies as well.

In such a highly competitive business environment, SMEs cannot afford to lose any sales opportunities simply because they lack staff to provide the required level of service to their customers and help them grow the business.

In modern economic growth theory, human capital (which classical economists refer to simply as workforce or labour) is an important growth factor. It can be defined thus: “the stock of competences, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value”. 

Limitations to growth due to inadequate human capital can be mitigated via a three-prong approach – hiring the right people, managing human capital more effectively, and improving work processes and productivity. 

Hire the right people

Don’t simply hire anyone you can find, particularly in a tight labour situation. What matters most isn’t how many people you have, but how well you manage your resources. For a start, think carefully about employing smarter recruitment strategies and tactics:

  • Be creative in your recruitment approach and consider what works best for the kind of business you are in. For instance, you could hire independent sales agents on a commission basis or outsource your accounting tasks instead of employing in-house staff. Or you could have an integrated sales team of part-time telemarketers, online sales personnel and independent sales agents.
  • Draw up comprehensive and clear job descriptions, including wage structures (fixed salary, commissions, other forms of incentives), and determine the skills, talents and other specific qualities you would like to have in your employees.
  • Define job scopes clearly – specify what tasks/duties each employee has to perform, how much time should be spent on specific tasks, and in what manner those tasks should be accomplished.
  • When interviewing candidates, find out their strengths and capabilities. Consider whether it is vital for them to be equipped with the necessary skills and experiences, or if they should learn on the job.
  • Select the right people. This will help save you, your new hires and other employees frustration and angst further down the road, as well as upkeep service standards and productivity levels.
  • Be prepared to pay a little more if you find a candidate who has what it takes to help your business succeed. Remember the famous adage – when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!
  • Continually evaluate the capabilities and performances of your workforce, and see if there is a need to hire more people. Don’t wait until your employees become overworked and disgruntled, and leave for greener pastures.

Manage human capital effectively

The more skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, motivated and driven your employees are, the less time, money and effort you need to spend training and cultivating them. That should translate to higher levels of productivity, service quality and profitability accrued by your business organisation.

But hiring people with the right aptitude and attitude is only an initial step towards building a thriving business. Improving your people management skills is just as vital to your quest because getting employees to come through for your business is what really counts.  

Here’s how you can get the best out of your staff and raise productivity:

  • Create a positive corporate culture, and devise schemes and incentives that will keep them motivated and happy. The disconnection that is usually found between management and workers is a major hindrance to working in unison towards the same goal. If you treat your employees well and establish effective communication links with them, they will be imbued with a greater sense of belonging to the company and more inclined to do their best. And they will be more assured that when the company succeeds, they will benefit as well.
  • Support, mentor, guide and coach staff, and provide whatever framework and resources can facilitate your employees in attaining and maintaining peak performance.
  • Invest in your employees via education, training and medical treatment – additional investment yields additional output. Provide training programmes to help them upgrade their skills, and improve their job knowledge and performance. Cross-training staff is another way of easing labour shortage problems – the more versatile each employee is, the more options you have for filling gaps in work efficiency.

Improve processes and productivity

A restaurant chain in Singapore has found that the standard of the food dished up by its new, automated cooking machine is comparable to that of a human chef’s. Another restaurant is considering replacing its menus with iPads to save money from not having to reprint the menu every time their wine list changes, and make the ordering system more efficient. A landscaping company has landed more lucrative projects because it has combined the deployment of high-tech equipment and skilled local labour instead of relying heavily on cheap foreign labour.

Those are but a few examples of how local companies are tapping technology and optimising resource allocation to improve their production and operation systems, and thus boost productivity levels. 

Nowadays, if you run an SME, you stand to benefit from the explosion of technological advancements, as well as a host of incentives and schemes to support automation and upgrading of IT systems, and other productivity management programmes that are mooted by the Government.

However, to enjoy the benefits, you have to take the initiative to stay abreast of developments in any technology applicable to your business, regularly review the processes and tasks that are involved in the running of your business, identify those that are repetitive, labour intensive, tedious and/or time-consuming, and assess what software and hardware you can implement to streamline tasks, reduce costs and upgrade performance.

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