Conducting internal audits with paper and pencil or electronic spreadsheets is old school. Take a new approach toward operational efficiency.

By Marty Tidwell

Your business success is in the details, and the details can be overwhelming — especially if your business has multiple locations.As a brand expands and adds more stores, it becomes more difficult to ensure that brand standards and a unique customerexperience remain consistent.

A large portion of business profitability relies on the ability to consistently deliver something that’s unique to your customer. The key is to get your customers saying, “Wow, that was impressive customer service. I’d like to experience that again.” But how do you get your business’ dream, or vision, to remain consistent across your brand and all your delivery? How do you keep track of your operations so that you can have consistent quality and continuous improvement?

I suggest there are five steps your executive team must do if you want to optimize your operational efficiency and maximize your profitability:

1. Monitor the performance of your business in real time.

2. Improve the way you communicate.

3. Foster greater accountability.

4. Build employee expertise.

5. Create a shared understanding of success within your team and be able to immediately see and acknowledge when improvements are made.

Successfully executing these five steps requires having the right information readily available. When there’s a problem, you need to pinpoint the critical issues and take the right corrective actions to get those issues resolved quickly. That’s the only way to decrease your risk and ensure ongoing compliance.

 

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1. Monitor the performance of your business in real time.

Having real-time, up-to-the-minute audit information allows you to master the many small things like store cleanliness, customer service and regulatory compliance. That’s what ultimately drives the big things like sales, customer satisfaction and loyalty. But, as previously mentioned, it becomes more complicated when dealing with multiple locations.

Let’s take a look at how one retail business improved its ability to have the right audit information delivered in real time.

In 2008, a retail grocery chain with multiple locations in five Midwest states was ready to switch from the highly inefficient method of paper and pencil audits to a mobile auditing solution. It needed a method that offered reliability, accessibility and uniformity for users. Without those characteristics, monitoring a business in real-time, effectively communicating, fostering accountability, building employee expertise and creating a shared understanding among teams is virtually impossible.

“Switching to a mobile business performance technology has created timeliness and accessibility for our teammates to use and view the audit reports,” says the director of food safety for this retail grocery chain. “Instead of calling someone to find the report — and waiting for it via email or fax — they can go online and view the current audit report immediately. Once they became familiar with the process, they could access reports at their leisure.”

This executive says such technology helps her retail grocery chain deliver a more consistent customer experience at approximately 100 locations because everyone is using the same data.

2. Improve the way you communicate.

This retail grocery chain learned giving employees access to critical data in a centralized location through a closed-loop communication system greatly impacted operational efficiency. Companies need a system to configure and manage alerts, report distribution, and urgent communications settings. Accurate, timely intelligence that’s easy to digest will facilitate the communications necessary for developing processes for remedying issues before they become crises. There must be a process for rapid, guaranteed communication with verified, directed responses.

3. Foster greater accountability.

A closed-loop communication system allows businesses to accurately pinpoint critical business and operational issues instantly through alerts, as well as through reports that notify the appropriate individuals when processes aren’t followed. This fosters accountability because it will be clearly indicate when a process has been followed or a corrective action has been implemented.

When Checkers, a fast food franchise with 805 locations, made the switch from a labor-intensive audit data collection method to software technology that automates the auditing process, accountability increased.

In 2008, Joe Ventimiglia, Checkers’ systems operations services manager, was introduced to a business performance software and was told it would make internal audits easier and increase operational efficiency. After seeing it did just that, use of the software not only expanded to all the restaurants, but also to other corporate departments besides operations.

“People have to wear a lot of hats in corporate offices. There simply isn’t time to keep track of all the data you need with paper, Excel spreadsheets or email chains back and forth. There are too many things that fall through the cracks and you waste a lot of time,” says Ventimiglia. “Now, the right person always has the right information on hand to make the right decision.”

4. Build employee expertise.

Employee expertise, and efficiency, starts with having a clear vision into what’s happening, as well as giving employees the ability to quickly spot catastrophic stoppers and immediately trigger corrective actions. Employees with the right expertise will demonstrate an understanding of which “best practices” to replicate.

Inefficiencies hurt employee expertise because employees will not have the time necessary to effectively perform all their job functions effectively. A few years ago, the Landmark Restaurant Group, an IHOP franchisee company, had a very serious auditing efficiency problem. The process Landmark’s regional managers had for conducting regular audits included printing multiple forms, filing them into a large binder, and then conducting an audit. Completing all the forms and questionnaires took 2 to 3 hours, on average. Once complete, the manager spent another 1 to 2 hours entering the data collected, notes and relevant photos from the audit, creating reports and sending them to appropriate management. It was then up to the management team to determine how to use the data to impact operations and increase same-store sales. On top of that, management needed to ensure their regional managers and operators were conducting all of their required audits, and that corrective actions were completed and resolved.

It goes without saying that this process was incredibly time consuming, yet critical to the business. Managers were becoming buried by data, as were their corporate administrative assistants. This spurred Landmark to look for a tool to simplify the auditing process. When the company changed to a paper-free audit system, they saved a lot of prep time and already had all the data they needed captured. There was no need to do manual data entry.

I can tell you several stories like this. For example, managers at Arby’s franchisee organization, Brumit Restaurant Group, also used a paper-based system. When they switched to software technology, they reduced their audit time in half.

It’s surprising to me in this day and age how many businesses are still using paper, pencil and a clipboard to conduct their internal audits. What typically happens is someone writes down the collected data and then files it away — sometimes never to be seen again. The problem with this method is it may “work,” but the data isn’t being utilized or even looked at. This can lead to some very serious problems. If there are corrections that need to be made immediately, it may be weeks or months before that data ends up in the decision maker’s hands so that those crucial corrections are executed.

5. Create a shared understanding of success within your team and be able to immediately see and acknowledge when improvements are made.

Employees should be assigned roles and responsibilities that clearly outline a shared vision of success. When success is achieved, it’s immediately recognized and acknowledged.

To consistently maintain success, the best companies want and need to control all the moving parts of their business. This cannot be efficiently accomplished with an archaic system like paper and pencil, or even with electronic spreadsheets. The only way to effectively do that is to adopt an automated system that keeps track of those moving parts with real-time data. That way you know which parts of your company engine are running smoothly and which ones need an adjustment. The goal is to keep the whole system running with less waste and greater profitability.

With ever-increasing demand on your time, along with the need to make your company as lean and competitive as possible, you can’t spend your day poring over databases and spreadsheets of information. It’s way too difficult to efficiently extract the actionable data you need to improve your operational efficiency.

The bottom line is moving from outdated methods like paper and pencil or electronic spreadsheets to business performance software will save your company a tremendous amount of time because it greatly simplifies the process of collecting data from all your departments.

When shopping for a business performance software, there are a number of features to look for, including:

• It should report your data in a format that’s easy to read and digest.

• It should provide real-time assessment, and be accessible anytime from your mobile device. Your general computer office suite doesn’t offer the right tools to accurately capture and analyze your data in real time, so using that software will ultimately just be a waste of your time and resources.

• Make sure it’s customizable for your requirements. You should be able to track and record the data that you need in one integrated system that automatically populates all the reports, charts and graphs that require that data.

• You should have control over when and how you see your reports and data, and have the ability to set alerts to automatically signal you with when threshold levels were met or were not met, depending on what you’re tracking.

• Collaboration is key in business performance management software. All the stakeholders should have the details as well as the big picture view of the entire company process. This will allow them to work collaboratively, share information, and even send messages through the system to those with authorized access to the software.

• Finally, the software must allow you to put an action plan in place to correct performance issues. It should not only help you track the changes, but also the completion of the action plan. By enabling constant improvements to operations and quality, you’ll be well on your way to maximizing your operational efficiency.

In this day and age, it makes sense to replace outdated data collecting methods with mobile and cloud-based tools during internal audits. Businesses need to do all they can to maintain operational efficiency so they can stay competitive…and profitable.

— Marty Tidwell is president and CEO of the Steton Technology Group headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. His company’s cloud-based business performance software enables companies to run more efficiently, stay in compliance and strengthen brand consistency across the enterprise. For more information, visit www.steton.com.

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