Many people think of improving service and improving productivity as diametrically opposing objectives. Increasing productivity means doing more with less, which means reducing service levels. Meanwhile, upgrading service means doing more than before, which causes productivity declines.
These views may be common sense, but they are also incorrect. Improving service and productivity go hand in hand and are easy to accomplish when you have the right understanding of what service really means.
Here’s our definition: Service is taking action to create value for someone else.
With this definition, any action taken inside a company that does not create value for someone else is unnecessary, it’s not productive, and should be classified as “waste”. Yet there is a tremendous amount of wasted activity inside large organizations. This occurs as a result of ignorance (“I’m just doing what I’m told to do”), or legacy processes (“Because we have always done it that way”), or misaligned metrics of performance (“I’ll do whatever is needed to hit my KPIs”). And in many companies these behaviors persist year after year, because no one asks the right questions about who and how we serve.
Improving Service means working with questions like these:
1. Who do we serve externally and internally?
2. What results are most important to them?
3. What outcomes do they truly value?
4. What else will they want, need, or value in the future?
5. Which actions will be essential to deliver this value?
6. What other actions could we take to create even more value?
Increasing Efficiency means working with questions like these:
1. Which actions can we eliminate and still deliver value?
2. Where can we find wasted effort in our work?
3. How can we shorten processes, streamline procedures, or reduce requirements?
Improving service means creating more value for others. Improving efficiency means not doing what does not create value. Eliminating waste liberates time and resources. And you can use that energy to take new actions that do create value.
The conclusion is clear to see. Improving efficiency is a natural ally of improving service – as long as you start with the right definition: Service is taking action to create value for someone else.
Where do you see wasted effort in your organization? What actions do not create value? What new actions would create more value?