Role Efficiency Studies: How Fine-Tuning Your Workforce Improves Efficiency and Profits

Role study analysis provides a robust evidence base that shows where there are opportunities to redefine the leadership structure, and take steps to clarify the purpose of roles and how employees can spend their time to best support their teams and the business.

Managers, deputies, supervisors, team leaders, assistants. Team structures can be complex, and if there’s overlap or imbalance, it can make a big dent in your overall efficiency—and your profits.

You can have the slickest equipment, the best products, a thorough understanding of exactly how long it takes to run every aspect of your business. But if your team structure isn’t right or there are hazy boundaries when it comes to responsibilities, you can end up with duplicated responsibilities and expensive managers spending a lot of their time on tasks others can do.

Role studies are day-in-the-life-of studies that follow the role holder for the length of his or her shift. Trained work study analysts measure and observe exactly how they’re spending their time, whether they’re with a customer, doing admin, or leading a team huddle. Observed work is split into four categories:

  • Directly supporting customers
  • Management duties
  • Carrying out essential tasks
  • Work that does not add any value—that might be waiting for systems or walking empty-handed between floors

The data collected shows how each role measures up, how they compare against each other, how they vary across different sites, and how they compare with role benchmarks, too.

What we look for in the data is evidence that each role is clearly differentiated and is consistent across different teams and locations. Too often we see managers spending only a fraction of their time on management tasks, to the extent that they can become expensive generalists. There is often crossover between what roles do, so we might see that the work profile for the manager and assistant manager is more similar than you’d expect from their accountabilities. Or there might be an unclear picture where there are both supervisor and team leader roles within an organizational structure. High levels of variance between different teams and sites show there is variability in how employees in the same role spend time in different places and that the role has drifted from the clear vision when it was created.

Role study analysis provides a robust evidence base that shows where there are opportunities to redefine the leadership structure, and take steps to clarify the purpose of roles and how employees can spend their time to best support their teams and the business.

Sample Scenarios

A typical example is a retailer with relatively modestly sized stores where the leadership team includes a store manager and two assistant managers, plus team leaders. Analysis showed there were more managers than colleagues in some stores and there was no differential between how the three different roles spent their time. The retailer used the evidence to slim down its leadership teams and bring clearer definition to how it wanted store managers and management support roles to spend their time. In doing so, it freed up salary spend to invest into customer-facing colleagues to drive sales.

In another scenario, we measured managers spending less than 20 percent of their time doing things only managers can do, and determined they had significant down time where they add no value to the business at all. The business reviewed the roles and provided targeted training, so managers were more effective and focused in their roles

It’s not all about flattening structures. One client had a number of customer-facing call center teams that were a mix of their own teams and outsourced services. Analysis showed that team leaders in their own business spent almost half their time coaching their teams, which led to better customer satisfaction scores and increased revenues. Team leaders in the outsourced sites spent their time focussing on the key performance indicators (KPIs) and service standard that were baked into the contract between the two parties, with less time spent with agents, and saw poorer business outcomes as a result.

Time Well-Spent?

There is no right or wrong answer; it depends what is right for each organization. Some businesses need operational, multi-skilled leaders, while bigger operations thrive with a less hands-on and more business-development-focused leader. The challenge is that many organizations don’t really know how employees in certain roles spend their time.

We’ve also looked at specialist roles such as sales consultants, account managers, and coffee baristas. Role study and efficiency analysis paints a clear picture of whether these specialist roles are fully embedded in the business and adding value for customers, as baristas are in a coffee shop, for example. Or whether the role is too vague, ill-defined, and not driving customer benefit. “Meeter and greeter” roles, for example, tend to alternate between being under occupied and getting dragged into the core operation in a way that makes them indistinguishable from other colleagues.

Role studies go further than looking if employees are efficient or not. They are also a valuable way of identifying the barriers that prevent employees from spending more time where they add the most value. Common culprits are e-mails, calls, conference calls, and internal messaging platforms. It is not unusual for us to measure the equivalent of one day a week spent on calls and e-mails. A study of customer-facing account teams showed that after a full day of client and prospect visits, they had to deal with a backlog of an average of 60 e-mails a day, meaning that work spilled over into their family time.

We often measure systems that are causing delay or require duplications in data entry and identify whole industries of local reporting collecting KPIs to satisfy particularly overzealous regional managers.

If you are wondering if you have the right structure or whether your teams are doing the things that add value for your organization, a role study might be just the evidence you are looking for.

Simon Hedaux is founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a productivity partner that helps businesses drive efficiency, boost productivity, and optimize budgets. For more information, visit:


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