When you think big, you tend to overlook little changes that can lead to astounding results.
For example, a 2009 study found that when hospitals followed a simple checklist before a surgical procedure, death rates decreased by 40 percent.
When Marriot implemented workplace flexibility, the company found that low-value work dropped from 11.7 hours per week to only 6.8 hours, and productivity increased even though the number of hours worked decreased.
When my company cut our sluggish Monday morning meeting down from 30 minutes to 15 minutes and asked all employees to stand, we got everyone’s week off to a better start and saved $520 of billable time every single week.
The most powerful innovation happens incrementally.
Often, optimizing your processes doesn’t require spending more money or making slow cultural changes. According to a survey by Ask.com, simply moving managers’ desks away from the people they supervised increased productivity.
One good place to start to identify areas ripe for small changes is to see how your company stacks up against others in your industry. Study your industry profits and overhead statistics. Use these as a benchmark to measure your own efficiency.
Also consider how many meetings you have each week, including impromptu group discussions. Ask yourself whether those staff meetings are really necessary or if an email update would suffice.
Whatever changes you want to implement, try this method for identifying, testing and optimizing:
1. Experiment. When asking why you do things a certain way, don’t ever let your response be, “This is how we’ve always done it.” While your current method may work, there’s almost always a more efficient way to do things. Don’t ever stop asking your team, mentors and customers how you can improve.
2. Do a trial run. Pick an area of your business or part of your process that is ripe for an update, and give the change a two-week trial period. Tie the results to something measurable (such as revenue per employee or billable hours saved) to determine success.
3. Track the results. For the first few years of my startup, I relied solely on my gut. But all decisions should be based on a combination of metrics, feedback and your gut. Track how things go during the two-week trial and compare your results to old data. For example, if you decide to tweak your email calls to action to convert more incoming leads, measure your click-through or conversion rates prior to the change so you can compare your results.
4. Review the change. When you discuss the trial, your team members may tell you the change worked great -- or they may say it actually caused problems. Accept their feedback and determine whether you should stick with the change.
5. Keep learning. An effective CEO knows that you’ve never got it all figured out. There’s always something you can learn to make your business more efficient. I set a goal to read two books per month, whether business-related, history or fiction. By seeking new ideas and approaches, you can find the keys to even better efficiency.
Too many people wait until something is wrong before they try to fix it. But optimization isn’t about fixing a problem -- it’s about making processes that already work work better. Change doesn’t have to be monumental to make a difference. Remember: It’s the little things that count.
Related: 6 Steps to Becoming Hyper-Efficient