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January 2010
Working Simply
By Susanne Deitzel

     According to The Wall Street Journal, white collar workers waste an average of 40 percent of their workday, not because they aren’t smart, but because they were never taught organizational skills to cope with the increasing workloads and demands.

     Another source estimates a full 85 percent of the information businesses need to operate exists in content such as e-mail, graphics or video (Document Magazine, October 2003), with employees spending 25 to 35 percent of their time looking for the information they need to do their jobs.

     Sources peg 30 percent of all employees’ time as spent trying to find lost documents (Jane M. Von Bergen, The Boston Globe 3/21/2006), estimate that executives waste six weeks per year searching for lost documents (Fast Company Magazine 8/2004), indicate that a full 59 percent miss important information almost every day because it exists within the company but they cannot find it (Accenture, The Wall Street Journal 5/14/2007), and this, despite the fact that workers spend 41 percent of their time in e-mail management alone (Radicati Group, Palo Alto, 2007).

     As a result, sources estimate Americans waste more than two hours a day at work, costing companies $759 billion a year (Salary.com), and spend a full 80 percent of the average workday on things that have “little” or “no” value (Balancetime.com). That same source calculates that, in the last 20 years, working time has increased by 15 percent and leisure time has decreased by 33 percent.

     You’re not surprised? And none of these is a current, real-time statistic!

 

Got Chaos?

     The ever-increasing pace of change brought about largely by the ease of enhanced communications has brought with it more for us to do, more for us to know, and more for us to keep track of. Combined with heightened competition from an increasingly globalized economy, most businesses and individuals would be hard-pressed to deny that they need all the organizational help they can get, sometimes just to survive.

     Forward-looking companies, as well as individuals who work but also have responsibilities outside of work, are innovating, streamlining, and taking a new look at their game plan. Many experts say that taking charge of this sea change is very smart and very necessary—but also to expect a lot of chaos in the meantime.

     This is where Carson Tate comes in. President and founder of Working Simply, LLC, Tate is building a powerful reputation as a change agent on both the business and consumer levels. Tate revolutionizes organizational efficiency by assessing, analyzing and reengineering process flow, organizing and optimizing physical space, and providing time and task management solutions.

     “These tactical methods to creating and implementing change are ‘unsexy’,” Tate admits. They usually involve laser focus upon things like paper flow, e-mail and calendar management, and task lists. “But while these features of our daily existence aren’t glamorous, lack of attention to them can hit the bottom line harder than a poor strategy.”

     “Technology has exponentially increased the tide of digital communication, so there is more information and less time,” she explains, citing one report by the Gartner Group estimating that U.S. businesses spend $360 billion a year turning information on the documents they receive every day into something they can use to run their businesses.

     And because many companies have reduced staff, employees are increasingly overwhelmed by additional and unfamiliar duties that don’t necessarily jibe with their other job functions. Schedules are overloaded. Stress makes it harder to concentrate and communicate. Mistakes happen.

     In addition to this, companies are creating new strategies that require a fresh look at the most direct, highest-yield path from point A to point B. Keeping things crisp and efficient is essential.

 

Design & Detail

     Tate, like a lot of entrepreneurs, bumped into the recognition of her unique skill set. As a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company and working fairly constantly out of her car, associates would ask her how she managed to keep her schedule, her office, her car, her life, so organized.

     “I didn’t realize these things didn’t come intuitively to everybody. But once I started hearing it over and over again, something clicked and I thought ‘Maybe I have something here,’” she remembers.

     She danced with the idea of starting her own business for a full year before taking the leap. Then in 2003, she said goodbye to her job (and her company car, cell phone and computer) and began building Simplicity, a business providing organizational solutions to consumers.

     She did research, held an apprenticeship, received her CPO (Certified Professional Organizer) designation, and was almost immediately invited into people’s homes and then their offices to make their daily lives more efficient, more productive and more enjoyable. The business grew fast, and in a few years spawned her business unit, Working Simply.

     Clients say that Tate’s professionalism, presence and sense of ease sets the tone for objectivity and fact-finding. Foundation for the Carolinas’ Holly Welch Stubbing engaged Working Simply after she returned from maternity leave.

     “I have a very tight meeting schedule so I need to be as efficient as possible. Carson provided expert ways to delegate tasks, coordinate my daily calendar, capture takeaways from meetings, and manage the enormous amounts of paper that I collect between meetings,” attests Stubbing.

     After working with individuals in their office environments for a few years, it became very clear to Tate that her talents weren’t limited to the domain of organizing. She started to hear feedback from clients like Spark Publications President Fabi Preslar: “Carson helped me find a system that has made me much more focused and created even more efficient and profitable ways to run my company.” And she expanded her service offerings accordingly.

 

Structures & Success

     Gradually, Working Simply evolved from one-on-one work with senior executives and entrepreneurs to advising teams and departments to optimize processes. Now she is in demand by organizations seeking systemic efficiencies and higher productivity.

     Tate debunks the notion that disorganization is a character flaw. She says that in many instances her clients are high achievers who bury themselves in commitments until they are forced to review how they are organizing the structures around them. It is easy to apply the same logic to what many businesses are experiencing while trying to do more with less. It is also easier to see deficiencies in leaner times.

     Tate explains: “A classic example is front line sales and sales fulfillment. There is often a disconnect between these two groups that is directly related to how they pass along information. What might look like routine paperwork can be the hidden source of delays, customer complaints, and lost sales. By optimizing that process and aligning internal staff, a business can quickly and profoundly influence its bottom line.”

     Tate says that this economic environment has placed an incredible amount of stress on business systems. “Not only are companies deciding that processes need to be reviewed and restructured, but they are requiring that new systems be flexible and adaptable, and contract and expand to constant change.”

     Another common need is reviewing how physical space is used. Businesses are looking to streamline, optimize and eliminate unnecessary overhead, and in some cases reconfigure existing space into revenue-generating assets.

     “If your physical space is cluttered, or unused, then there is something that isn’t working as well as it could. And for a business, that means lost opportunity in terms of revenue,” says Tate.

     She also makes a distinction between activity and productivity: “A common problem is outdated reporting structures. We are finding that companies have new strategic goals, but are still using old sales reports. There is an incredible amount of human resources being channeled into generating and assembling data that isn’t relevant and no one is reading.”

     Globalization also presents productivity challenges. Different cultural mindsets affect sense of urgency, team and individual dynamics, and other factors that influence the decision-making process.

     “The success of an intervention is contingent on a solution that is appropriate for the users, the culture, and the stakeholders,” comments Tate. “By taking cultural variations into account, we can integrate these factors into the solutions we create.”

 

Process & Productivity

     Not surprisingly, Working Simply has a highly-structured, yet customized process for service delivery. An initial phone call determines if the client and Working Simply are a good fit. Generally, this means that the individual, leader or team is open to suggestions and amenable to change.

     “We want to provide the highest value to everyone, and sometimes this includes explaining that investing in something they aren’t completely committed to isn’t a good use of their resources.” Tate adds, “We have found that a client must realize that the cost of the status quo has to be higher than the cost of investing in the solution.”

     The most frequent costs include decreased morale and productivity, sagging sales, and lost opportunities, but can also lead to gross negligence resulting in costly errors, regulatory or legal violations.

     After the initial phone conversation, a face-to-face meeting with the leader, team, owner, or HR department is scheduled to determine the presenting problems and ascertain details concerning the scope of the project. This meeting also creates a foundation for Working Simply and the client to align on goals and success measures. Tate explains that measurement is an integral part of the process.

     “We have developed very specific questions to determine what success looks like for each client. We want to know what outcome is important to the company—is it reduced absenteeism, higher production figures, increased sales metrics, decreased cost figures, better customer satisfaction scores? Because change itself can be a process, it is important to determine these measures and establish markers in time to see improvement,” explains Tate.

     The process then moves into assessment, which can include interviews, shadowing, and Working Simply’s proprietary assessment devices. From this data, a recommendation is offered. The organization is then free to take the recommendation to execute on its own, or can choose to enter into Working Simply’s implementation phase.

 

Sweet Spot

     Working Simply’s sweet spot is comprehending a company’s big picture and translating it into tasks as detailed as managing an inbox or paper flow, designing a form, or a delegation process. Tate is careful to add, “When a project enters into an area of specialization, we refer that item to one of our carefully selected subject-matter experts.”

     “For example,” she says, “an accounting client and I might identify gaps between needs and fulfillment from a particular software program; however, finding the particular fix for that issue would be referred to someone fluent in those products.”

     Similarly, she may help a client identify the skill sets and abilities needed for an employee position, but does not perform the recruiting. She adds that the process of integrating a specialist into a project is seamless for the client and the relationships are trusted, enduring and share values and standards in service delivery.

     Any engagement is followed by an evaluation of the project, and a follow up 30 to 60 days later to determine its efficiency and sustainability.

     “Since we tailor solutions to fit client needs, we build sustainability into the solution. However, we like the client to test drive and tweak the process. We are completely happy when we have worked our way out of a job.”

     Individual coaching engagements usually range from 3 to 6 months. Organizational projects generally range anywhere from 30 days to 6 to 9 months. They include a contractual provision for confidentiality which Tate says is a cornerstone to developing the trust that yields real results.

     While the majority of clients are seeking streamlining and optimization as the result of economic contraction, Tate says she is beginning to see people thinking about how to expand again. “People in an expansion mindset are looking at ways to not only innovate their products, but innovate their systems, which is very exciting.”

     While she stays very busy, Tate practices what she preaches. Her schedule includes two blossoming businesses, a thriving peer network, and community service as an elder at Myers Park Presbyterian Church and board member of Girls on The Run Charlotte.

     The Boston Marathoner also regularly works running into her calendar, is pursuing her master’s degree in Organizational Development at Queens University, is a seminar speaker, and makes sure she has plenty of time to spend with her husband and two dogs. Her secret to success?

     “Prioritize, schedule, see it through,” Tate summarized, “If it’s not on your calendar, it’s not in your life.”

 

 

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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