Staff task analysis and review

Freeing up staff capacity to accommodate growth

Most of us, at some stage of our careers, have experienced arbitrary staff re-allocations; here are some examples of what NOT to do, and why:

Traditional "solutions"...

  • Hiring freeze
  • Across-the-board cuts
  • "Salami" cuts
  • Political fix

...and their typical results

  • morale collapses
  • best people leave
  • executives burn out
  • everyone has a cast iron excuse for failure
  • people cheat the system
  • numbers creep up anyway
  • the organisation becomes ineffectual

If we dig a little deeper into each of these approaches we can identify why they fail, before examining a method which addresses these weaknesses - and works...

1. Hiring freeze in old functions

  • Unplanned personnel gaps appear, often emerging fastest in those functional areas where staff are hardest to get, and so are most mobile.
  • Promotions are inhibited, encouraging the best staff to create more unplanned gaps by leaving.
  • The decline in morale begins.

2. Across-the-board cuts in old functions

  • The typical 10% cut implies 10% more hours from those who remain
  • But the keenest staff were fully committed anyway, and so middle managers get squeezed as the bulk of their subordinates stick to 37 weekly hours.

3. "Salami" cuts in old functions

  • Further cuts, targeted now at the "less important" or "most over-manned" departments, slice off another 5% or so.
  • The "working longer and harder" solution is now exhausted, leaving middle managers to decide what corners to cut and what work to leave undone.
  • Resource constraints are the standard excuse for failure. Paperclip economies extinguish all hope for the future as morale reaches zero.
  • Emaciated departments now add little value to the corporate process - chiefs without indians can't manage, but costs remain high. "Cheaters" hire temps, or bundle staff work into "equipment" contracts.

4. Political fix

  • Exasperated functional heads finally demand more resources so that essential tasks can be performed adequately - the failure of the organisation now being apparent to all. Funding goes to the most persuasive, who may not be the more deserving...
  • Numbers return to former levels, but staff calibre is weakened, and resource allocation more skewed; the stage is set for another cycle - if the company can survive that long.

A new approach to freeing up the staff resources for growth

  • When it's your turn to initiate the process, how can you do things differently, in a way which will really work:
    • With the full support of your staff, and...
    • Without numbers climbing up next year?
  • It's a tall order to succeed where so many have failed (and continue to fail) but it is possible. The Alexander Partnership has refined a technique which has a 100% record in delivering just this success - and typically within three months, too. We call it STAR.

The philosophy

  • Cutting staff numbers in old functions without also eliminating tasks is recipe for the disasters outlined above; the key to success is in identifying which tasks should be simplified or dropped and letting that determine the staff numbers released for growth.
  • The myriad tasks performed by staff in organisations are mostly the result of organic growth when new rôles and their associated tasks are added. It is a much harder job to autonomously identify when those tasks and rôles cease to be relevant and should be displaced by new high value tasks...
  • The detail of these redundant tasks is too fine to be observed from the boardroom, and so even if a convincing case is made that "Finance is twice the size it should be", reasoned argument about which half of the department's tasks are to go is unlikely...
  • The Alexander Partnership approach is to harness the knowledge of middle management and their staff in searching out the unnecessary or over-engineered tasks. This process also reveals any areas requiring additional resources to function well. Proposals for what should be cut out (or added) thus originate from those performing the work, and they are adapted after consulting those who receive and use each task's end product. Who better to determine the detail and frequency of a sales forecast than the people who have to use it?
  • The open approach used by us applies the same rigour to every part of the company in a process which is seen by both staff and management to be fair, unmoved by politics and driven only by the needs of the enterprise. Even in times of financial stringency some departments may need to grow while others shrink; staff can readily accept uneven changes in resource allocation if these result from an even handed process in which they have had a real say.
  • Because it offers a tailored solution, our STAR approach takes a little longer to identify the free resource than across-the-board budget cuts for old functions, but for the same reason it "fits" the organisation better and has positive side effects rather than negative ones.

What exactly is STAR?

STAR stands for "Staff Task Analysis & Review", a structured process in which ideas to improve effectiveness and free up resources are developed, evaluated and - where appropriate - adopted. There are six phases, with broad staff involvement in phases 2 and 3, but mostly management levels in later phases:

  • Phase 1: Confirm departmental budgets, in money and staff person-years
  • Phase 2: Build an activity database, identifying and costing every task undertaken in each department
  • Phase 3: Review all tasks, generating efficiency improvement ideas, using the database to estimate potential resources freed up
  • Phase 4: Evaluate the ideas with those affected by them
  • Phase 5: Win senior management's support for the ideas
  • Phase 6: Revise staffing, organisation and budgets in line with accepted ideas
  • Ongoing: Implement and monitor

The bottom line

  • The outcome of the STAR process is precise, measurable and immediate. Savings in existing functions will vary from department to department, typically ranging from 5% to 45%, depending on initial efficiency and to what extent the department supported the enterprise's real strategy.
  • The detailed STAR audit of staff functions and tasks produces a set of "job descriptions" for each department, along with revised staffing and financial budgets. Because each department's tasks have been broken down and analysed, they can easily be assembled into individual job descriptions and new organisation structures.
  • The implementation plan matches staff released from existing functions with task reductions, leaving a leaner, more stimulating organisation at the heart of the company - clearly focused on what really matters to the business!
  • Releasing resources from within to enable growth is faster, more economical and culturally more effective than recruiting wholly new staff from outside to satisfy new needs.

The rôle of the consultant

In what is essentially an internal process, the external consultant's prime function is as facilitator. The Alexander Partnership:

  • Assists top management in preparing for the launch of the process
  • Trains the client team in the STAR process
  • Helps staff to describe their activities in ways which will assist idea generation
  • Leads/organises departmental brainstorming sessions to produce ideas
  • Ensures fairness across the company, by making every department work equally hard at coming up with ideas
  • Maintains rigour in quality and presentation of ideas, so that decisions are taken, not postponed
  • Provides a stimulus to keep to the strict schedule, which minimises employee uncertainty, disruption and cost
  • Assists in personnel and reorganisation issues
  • Manages the process and keeps directors informed of progress throughout

"Ownership" of the results is ensured by two things the consultants do not do:

  • All ideas are formally proposed by company staff, not consultants
  • All decisions to accept ideas are made by line management, in accordance with normal responsibilities

Why STAR works

  • STAR works because it involves the people directly affected by organisational change, in a process seen to be sensible and fair.
  • By starting with the people who will have to implement change in their own daily routine, STAR's organisational database is both a reliable and a powerful foundation for generating and valuing ideas for change. It reduces the threat which staff usually associate with efficiency improvement exercises.
  • Breaking the link between tasks, positions and people currently in post by committing to reorganise at the end of STAR is crucial. Staff coming forward with ideas to reduce their current jobs are thus not "shooting themselves in the foot" but enhancing their prospects, showing creativity - and loyalty.
  • Staff are encouraged to propose many small, low risk ideas rather than a few large and controversial ones; a typical size for an implemented STAR idea is 0.2 person-years of freed up resource. ("Big" ideas remain the province of senior managers, as part of normal strategy development processes).
  • Everyone can see clearly that the process is not subject to individual bias; the presence of consultants gives an objectivity to proceedings which encourages middle managers and their subordinates to join wholeheartedly in the collective effort to generate efficiency improvement ideas.
  • Finally, those required to implement accepted efficiency improvement ideas are also those who originated or approved them, leaving no easy excuses for weak delivery.

Other STAR benefits

  • Part of the aftermath of across-the-board cuts in old functions is the recurrent excuse of "we don't have the resources any more" for every late submission or sub-standard piece of work; STAR forces agreement on what resources are for, pre-empting such problems.
  • Following STAR, company staff remain alert to efficiency, so that the inevitable pressures for old activities to creep back and for costs to consequently rise are effectively resisted at every level.
  • The revised activity database is an ideal precursor to an IT/automation study; firstly, it prevents unneeded tasks from being automated in and, secondly, the company-wide costing of activities aids priority setting for the automation effort.

The Alexander Partnership approach to staff efficiency: Summary

  • Traditional arbitrary staff re-allocation focuses on reducing resources in old functions and finding out later whether the organisation's purposes remain sustainable.
  • The Alexander Partnership's STAR process focuses instead on identifying the tasks to keep and those to drop, removing uncertainties about resource adequacy from the outset, maintaining morale and helping to retain key employees.
  • It's a demanding process, with its own hazards, but in experienced hands it really does work; let us prove it to you!

Traditional: cut staff in old functions - and later discover what jobs don't get done
STAR: cut out unimportant work - and re-allocate staff accordingly