How to Create Smart Operations

There is tremendous opportunity for greater profitability for agencies that implement best practices in their organizations. In fact, the top 25% of agencies with revenues of $5 million-$10 million that have created smart operations are 30-50% more productive than the average agency, with a spread per employee of $85,940 vs. $64,752. If you have 50 employees, that translates into $1 million more in profits annually.

Yet putting best practices “into practice” isn’t simply pulling a manual on the subject off the shelf. Those agencies that apply this method have a high rate of failure. To get best practices in your agency, there is a journey you need to take.

  • Align operations to strategy: Your strategy consists of your mission – define what you want to be the best at and why clients should choose your agency; critical success factors – what’s needed to accomplish your mission, such as financial resources, markets, differentiation, core capabilities and culture; and your vision – where do you want to be in 3 to 5 years.
  • Process: Align your process to your strategy to determine the best way to achieve your goals. This means engaging those who do the work to assess where changes have to be made and to implement standards that line up with your strategy.
  • Execution: Can you make your strategy happen? Do your employees have the right skill sets and training to fulfill their roles? Are there metrics in place so that each employee understands the contribution they are making and whether they are hitting their goals?

Employee buy-in for new standards to be adopted is imperative. This means getting input from those on the front line. Observe how people work – how workload arrives to their desks, how they prioritize their day, and the type of work that is handed off to other individuals. Follow the work through the office and look for any variation from one desk to the next to begin to glean best practices and standardize processes.

Another method we use when looking at an agency’s processes involves swim lane mapping. Here you can clearly see for each lane of operation, the person’s job title, and the major steps each individual executes as part of the process, including any decisions he or she makes when something occurs and needs adjustment. For example, if during the renewal process, additional information needs to be checked, who is responsible for this in the agency? Why wasn’t all the information included in the first place? How does this impact the workflow? Is there anything that can be streamlined or eliminated to minimize handoffs?

Make sure you have the right people in the right roles doing the work. Of course, gauging progress is imperative. This involves looking at the capacity of work being done (how much volume an individual is able to complete), the service level (turnaround times) you are providing, key ratios such as retention rates and new business written, and the quality of the product you are producing.

Once you have your standards in place, keep evaluating them so that you can continue to improve your operation.