Three things you need to do to improve workflow

By Dan Paulson, Invision Development International, LLC

Every business owner wants to improve their profitability. Challenges like labor costs and supply chain issues are some of the immediate concerns. There are also hidden costs that impact you and your team as well.

I recently attended ABC of Wisconsin’s SuperCon and had a chance to experience many of the courses offered through the two-day event. There were many great presenters and even though subjects changed, the underlying theme was the same. Owners want better performance from their teams. Herein lies the secret to better workflow. Software and systems may be important to efficiency, but that can only be achieved when these three things to improve workflow are first addressed: communication, mapping your course, and training and coaching.



When it comes to improving productivity, Communication is THE most important element. As you may know, it is also one of the most difficult elements to develop successfully. We interpret information differently, even though we may speak the same language. Focus on understanding.

Have you ever played the game Telephone in school? The object is to start with a statement or phrase and whisper it to the person next to you. Repeating is not allowed. The next person must take what you shared with them and pass it on to the next. Once the last person is reached, they must state out loud what they thought they heard. In almost every case, the end result is nowhere near what they started.

Leaders seem to forget this. Owners told me more times than I can count that they communicated instructions, and employees just don’t listen. Why? It goes back again to understanding.

When communicating, here are some simple actions you need to take to help:

  1. Your actions communicate more than you know. One of the biggest reasons your team doesn’t follow instructions is because they see that the owner plays by a different set of rules. You’ve heard the phrase, “Do as I say. Not as I do.” Someone is always watching. Owners also rarely hold accountability for themselves and everyone else. Do you want better results? Then act on higher standards than you expect from your staff. If you want them to do something, you better be first in line to follow through yourself.
  2. Change your style. There are three basic learning styles, and they vary from person to person: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and kinesthetic (doing). When someone says they send everything via email, this may leave some out. What about the people whose preferred style is hearing? Adapting your communication to match someone else’s makes a greater impact. That is why changing, updating a process, or whatever you are trying to get across, should employ all three learning styles at the same time.
  3. Rinse. Repeat. Frequency matters. One and done rarely works. Expect to communicate often. That spaced repetition helps with retention.
  4. Repeat it back to me. Create a feedback loop. Have the person who you are messaging repeat back what they understand for mutual understanding. This simple step provides clarity of expectations and can reduce mistakes or bottlenecks.


Map Your Course

Have you ever mapped out your processes? Most procedures in a company are not documented. When the business started, a process had to be created for everything. Over time, as issues come up, those procedures are adjusted to fix the problem. Adding here and taking away there can cause disruptions to workflow. When you ask employees why they do something a certain way, they often state, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Loops and bottlenecks are common as the years go by. Optimizing your workflow starts with visualizing your process. That’s where mapping comes in. This is simple, but can be time-consuming and tedious. It takes your team looking at every step and decision to accurately record the actions that take place. The more complicated the process, the more detailed the map.

Guiding you through the mapping process:

  1. Form a team. Ask yourself, who is impacted by this procedure? These are the people who should be involved as they are most familiar with what is done.
  2. The Post-It trick. When mapping, I prefer using Post-It notes for documenting each step. This is much like brainstorming, which means as you write information down, your team may come up with other data that should be included. By placing steps on Post-It notes, it allows you to easily move the sticky notes around and change the order as needed. Bonus recommendation: buy the extra sticky notes and have a large area such as a window or smooth wall for putting the notes up on.
  3. Flowchart it. Creating a flowchart involves putting together a diagram of the sequence of activities from your notes. Various symbols represent different actions or decisions. This step allows you to visualize how work moves through your business. Now it is easier to see how work bogs down.
  4. Question everything. Look for loops where the same work is being performed multiple times in a row. Also watch for slowdowns in production. What or who is creating this block? After that, have your team review asking, “Is this needed?” with each step. Look for ways to reduce complicated steps as much as possible.


Train and Coach

Time is the most expensive asset you have. Once it is spent, it can never be recovered. Many leaders fail to optimize their time for what I consider their most important role as a coach and teacher.

Too many leaders spend their time doing instead of delegating. The reason I hear: It’s quicker and easier for me to do it than teach someone else. This activity alone is creating most of your time loss and stress. Getting more productivity means having the right people doing the right actions at the right time. That means you cannot do it all.

Where to start:

  1. Give it all away. Build a list of tasks and make the assumption that someone else now has to do that job. From that list, determine which tasks are leadership from those that are operations.
  2. Focus on development. Meeting with each member of your team regularly can help you understand their ambitions. Getting to know your people will guide you in finding the right fit for taking on responsibilities.
  3. Who needs to know? Now that you have your list, you need to determine who should learn the tasks. Choose jobs based on who has the right skills to do the job well and who is motivated to learn.
  4. Lay out a training path. Nobody can learn everything overnight. Getting proficient takes time. Set up a timeline for success where you can lay out the steps for taking over the job. Apply a liberal amount of coaching and mentoring. Allow for mistakes and put in stopgaps to prevent anything too costly from happening. Most important: DO NOT take the job back until all corrective action has been taken. People learn at different rates. If you have a good fit and have done your job up front, your candidate should be able to eventually perform the task almost as well as you can.

There are many ways people will pitch you to improve workflow. Technology can address a lot of issues with communication, and you still need to have your systems figured out. The challenge you will run into is that every company is different, and processes need to be adjusted as your organization adjusts as well. No one right way exists.

Expensive software solutions will make an even bigger impact when you have all your ducks in a row. Start with improving your communication. Then know your processes and eliminate bottlenecks. Finally, become the leader you were meant to be and be a coach to your team. This will provide you with the added benefit of understanding what is going on in your company and getting a better handle on its productivity.

Dan Paulson is CEO of InVision Development International. For the past 18 years, he has worked with owners and executives to address the statement, “I don’t feel like I know what’s going on in my company,” and help improve workplace culture, operations, and profitability. His approach helps you implement best practices quickly and efficiently for greater success. Learn more at

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