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The time has come to find ways to debottleneck organizational assets in much the same manner as physical assets.

This process is familiar to anyone who has ever been involved in manufacturing or refining. But debottlenecking, aimed at making relatively small changes which result in significantly improved efficiency, has not been used in organizations to ease restricted workflow caused by the workers themselves.

Employee limitations which impede the attainment of corporate goals can be more costly than manufacturing bottlenecks. People who, deliberately or not, hold up the smooth flow of trade or production may need to be retrained, reassigned or terminated, harsh as it may sound.

Spotting organizational bottlenecks requires keen observation, thoughtful analysis and intuitive judgment. Start by looking for barriers to decision making, or logjams which occur frequently. Certain employees, many of whom could be supervisors, might be causing delay, congestion or blockage in the smooth flow of work. These workers probably have operated that way for years; dont confuse them with individuals whose errors only occasionally cause delays or inefficiencies.

Individuals who regularly cause bottlenecks may be overzealous gatekeepers or they may be unable to make decisions because of incompetence or inexperience. They may have been given more responsibility than they can handle, or they may lack the necessary background and talent for the job. These employees often feel inadequate and insecure, and they will do their best to prove that the fault lies somewhere else. Finding the real problem can be time consuming – but well worth it for the corporation.

Sometimes what appears to be too heavy a workload may be something else. Years ago we used to marvel at the tremendous volume of work which a senior clerk was able to handle. Each morning piles of mail would be delivered to his inbox, but by evening the stack had been reduced to almost nothing, and his outbox was filled with finished paperwork. It was impressive – until he became ill and couldnt work. It was thought that we would never be able to find someone to take his place. When we did, we were shocked to discover that most of that paper had been mailed to himself each day, and that this fine gentleman was, in fact, accomplishing very little. Appearances can be deceiving.

When a clogged work flow has been successfully identified and corrected, dont congratulate yourself too soon. To the surprise of many, debottlenecking one step in the process often shifts the bottleneck to another area. Be prepared to quickly move on to optimize the next one or two choke points.

Keep in mind that an organizational bottleneck may not have been caused by an individual, but by the company itself. Inflexible company policies often create such problems. The necessary authority, manpower and resources must be provided to enable a worker to do his or her job properly.

One last thought: Is it possible that you yourself could be a bottleneck in your organization? If so, try to correct your problem before someone else discovers it.

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