Lost Productivity: Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

Lost Productivity: Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

Paper is still the gold standard for many types of documents. Major personal events – marriages, wills, deeds, birth certificates – are still memorialized on paper. Such documents are typically filed away, and rarely accessed again. They’re a passive form of media.

But in business, paper documents operate differently. Paper is a highly active medium in any paper-reliant organization, going in and out of file cabinets, across desks, through many hands.

The more times a document is touched, the greater the loss of productivity.

Paper-based processes kill productivity in three ways:

  1. Movement– Inputting information by hand (a form, for example), and walking a document from one place to another (an approval process , for example), all happen at human speed. And if the recipient isn’t present to immediately handle the document, or the document travels via the USPS or another carrier, the process becomes even slower.
  2. Loss– DeLoitte & Touche have calculated that the average U.S. manager spends 3 hours per week looking for lost documents. That’s roughly 150 hours per year, per person, in lost productivity.
  3. Security – It is estimated that 70% of businesses would fail within 3 weeks in the event of a catastrophic loss of paper records due to fire or flood.

The explosive growth in work-from-home (WFH) adds a fourth productivity challenge. WFH staffers need access to papers locked away in the office. When staffers travel to the office, the commute time translates to lost productivity. And when documents are taken out of the office, there’s an increased security risk. 61% of data breaches in small businesses involve paper. Productivity plummets while damage is assessed and repaired.

The solution to paper’s productivity-killing tendencies is digital:

  1. Imaging (document conversion) of paper documents creates secure, accessible, searchable digital documents. Instead of moving at human speed from one desk to another, imaged documents move at near-instantaneous internet speeds. Imaged documents never get lost under a bookshelf or left in the copier. Usage authorization is managed and monitored for improved security, giving remote workers the access they need to be productive.
  2. Enterprise content management (ECM) software helps businesses move many of their paper-based processes to a digital format. Documents originate digitally, and remain in that medium throughout all operational processes. Errors are reduced, and, like imaged documents, these digital-origin documents move quickly and safely through the pipeline.

Even when businesses convert to ECM, however, paper is still generated. Signatures may be added, hand-written revisions can be made, notes may be added. An imaging program works alongside an ECM system to preserve a record of those document outputs, in digital format. Can your business gain efficiency and productivity by going digital? If you have paper-based processes, the answer is Yes.

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Lesson Seven: There are No “Wrong” Emotions

Lesson Seven: There are No “Wrong” Emotions

This is the seventh in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.

We’re all taught from an early age, “Don’t cry.” “Suck it up.” “Rub some dirt on it.” As adults experiencing difficult times, it’s only natural to have an emotional reaction to our external circumstances. And yet we were trained long ago to ignore or deny our feelings of shock, fear, and anxiety. We refuse to acknowledge these “wrong” emotions.

Not surprisingly, denying our “wrong” emotions only adds to our stress load. Fearful, anxious feelings are associated with weakness and vulnerability – and weakness, whether in your personal life or your business life, feels dangerous. A feedback loop is formed; the sense of danger amplifies the fear, which in turn increases the feeling of danger. Sounds extremely stressful, right?

Much of our personal stress these days is related to work: Will I have a job next week? Will I have to close my business? Will I ever find another job, or start another business? Work-related stress inevitably affects job performance, which then increases the overall stress level. Stress makes us less able to think clearly and act with conviction.

Interviewed in Forbes, Kelly Turner, Ph.D., outlines three steps to manage work-related stress:

  1. Make a list of the things creating stress, both personal and professional. Put the biggest stressors at the top, and address them first.
  2. Make a plan for alleviating the stress. Get ahead of the stress by anticipating an upcoming challenge. Being prepared with a plan keeps the stress level lower.
  3. Make new daily habits to replace old ones that add to your stress burden. Include time to exercise and time to “stop and smell the roses.” A walk around the block or a few minutes of a funny video will make a great difference.

Turner recommends reaching out to trusted colleagues, mentors, or coaches for a friendly ear or insightful advice. This helps to short-circuit the stress loop of fearfulness and vulnerability.

Turner also advises releasing those “wrong” emotions. Identify what you’re feeling and examine the source of the emotional triggers. Once you name the feelings, they become manageable.

There’s good stress, like the feeling you get when you close a big sale, or push yourself to accomplish an exercise goal. And there’s bad stress, the kind that disrupts your professional life, your business life, your health, and your happiness. Within both those stresses, there are emotions. And none of them are “wrong.” Acknowledge what you are feeling, and you will be taking the first step toward putting bad stress behind you.


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Lesson Six: Re-Examine Business and Personal Fundamentals

Lesson Six: Re-Examine Business and Personal Fundamentals

This is the sixth in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.


The fundamentals – interpersonal connections, the natural world, a spiritual-values focus – are easy to lose sight of in the middle of an economic crisis. When things seem to be falling apart, it’s a good time to get back to basics and make sure your foundation is solid, ready to support a new structure.

On a personal level, a few minutes a day for a phone call to a friend or a face-to-face with a family member keeps everyone feeling connected. A walk through a park or a hike in the woods puts us in touch with the natural world. And setting aside time for meditation or worship renews our spiritual selves. A strong personal foundation makes it possible to be a strong business leader.

In the business realm, the same fundamentals of humanity and spirit are basic to a successful enterprise. John Mariotti, President and CEO of The Enterprise Group, recommends keeping these nine business fundamentals top-of-mind:

  1. “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” (Theodore Levitt)  It seems self-evident, yet many businesses end up focused on process instead of customer relationships.
  2. Provide high-quality and reliable products or services. As Mariotti points out, customers value reliability. Quality and reliability are the underpinning of your brand.
  3. Keep the customers you have by selling them the products or services that made you successful. Keep your core business solid, especially when presented with new opportunities (and the risks that come with them).
  4. Charge a fair price. Too high, and you lose customers; too low and you lose your business.
  5. Always consider what is important to your customers. Listen. What are their pain points, and what can you offer as a solution?
  6. Know your costs and charge enough to make a profit.“Lose money on every sale, make it up in volume” is not a viable business model.
  7. Manage your cash flow. Monitor your projected cash flow to stay ahead of any finance issues.
  8. Keep your eye on the competition, and focus on what made you successful. Your value proposition and your distinctive brand will make you stand out.
  9. Hire the right people. Team up with people whose skills and attitude complement the values of your business. Protect the team and the brand by swiftly removing any “bad apples.”

We would add a tenth item to this list: Cultivate relationships with vendors who share your customer-centric orientation. Your business relies on customers, but it also relies on vendors to provide services or goods that you don’t make in-house. Seek out vendors who treat you the way you treat your customers.

When you keep your eye on the fundamentals that support all of your endeavors, both personal and business, you will weather the storm.


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Lesson Five: Adversity is Good for You and Your Business

Lesson Five: Adversity is Good for You and Your Business

This is the fifth in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.


Adversity introduces us to ourselves, as the saying goes. Adversity is actually an opportunity. We discover unexpected strengths and resources when we’re faced with difficulties. This is true in business just as it is in our personal lives.

The pandemic is unquestionably adverse for business. Writing in Forbes, Dana Gerdman recommends examining business adversity from these points of view:

  1. Identify those areas where you and your team can have an influence. Can you revise your business model to fit within the new community health parameters? Can you put modified workflows in place to promote safety? Control what you’re able to control, and don’t waste resources on things you can’t control.
  2. Think about how you can step up to address the problem, and what encouragement and support you can give to others so the entire team is involved. Communication is vital during adversity. Make sure everyone understands their part in meeting the challenge, and use technology (Zoom, etc.) to promote team cohesion.
  3. Look at the size of the problem, and what steps you can take – even if they’re small ones – that will make a difference. Curing a pandemic may not be practical for your business, but you can certainly move to ensure your staff’s safety. WFH (work from home) has suddenly become the standard for many in the service sector. Support WFH by providing document imaging and home office equipment – a useful step to keep staff healthy and help end the pandemic.
  4. Every problem has an end. We may not know when a cure or a vaccine will be discovered, but we can make accommodations to remain productive in the interim. Now is the time to make sure your business has productivity tools for the present, and for the future. Asset management systems like RFID support productivity with social distancing tools for the short term, and inventory and process management both now and in the long term. Invest in systems that can take you through the current adversity and remain useful long after the problem is solved.

When we face adversity, we have a chance to be our best. Historians point to World War II as a time when America faced tremendous adversity, and we discovered how great our collective strength was – the Greatest Generation. Take on the current adverse conditions and discover the greatness within yourself and your business.

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Lesson Four: Kindness is Catching, in a Good Way

Lesson Four: Kindness is Catching, in a Good Way

This is the fourth in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.

Kindness is a characteristic that isn’t often applied to businesses. It’s thought of as a strictly human trait, but businesses are made up of individuals – individuals who, as part of a business, can be collectively kind. How can a business build a “kindness mindset” that spreads kind behavior both within its own walls and outside in the larger community?

Like other attributes, kindness is expressed in action – taking action to improve a sub-optimal situation, like the classic Boy Scout good deed of helping an elderly lady across the street. In a business setting, the kindness mindset can be applied in four broad categories.

  1. Leadership: Recognize and reward kind acts by staffers. Demonstrate kindness in speech and attitude by avoiding belittling, negative behaviors. Support employees’ career goals with additional training and education.
  2. Operations: Look for ways to improve staffers’ work-life balance, especially in WFH; do they have adequate e-resources like imaged documents and electronics?  Safety is a form of kindness too: Utilize ergonomic vertical lifts, track-mounted file storage, and other safety equipment to reduce work-related accidents.
  3. Clients: Being kind is part of relationship-building. If a client has a temporary setback, set aside short-term profits and brainstorm with your own suppliers for solutions that fit your client’s finances.
  4. Community. Establish opportunities such as career tours and internships for disadvantaged populations. Volunteer time as well as money; showing up and taking part is a visible commitment to your community.

Kindness is not weakness. It is a form of strength. At its essence, kindness is an acknowledgement that everyone in a community has value and deserves the resources needed to reach their optimal worth.

Even more important, kindness is contagious. It’s a truism that you get back whatever you put out, whether it’s positive or negative. When your business acts in kind ways, that behavior will come back to the business in unexpected and beneficial ways. Make kindness a prominent part of your brand.

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Lesson Three: Resilience – 5 Steps for Your Business Model

Lesson Three: Resilience – 5 Steps for Your Business Model

This is the third in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.

Resilience is innate to us all. We have built-in mechanisms to endure and recover from physical challenges, and we can strengthen our physical resilience, as any athlete will tell you. We can strengthen our psychological resilience too, by connecting with others and doing something meaningful every day.

The ability to adapt to challenges and novel circumstances is the hallmark of resilience, not just for individuals but for businesses as well. But unlike human resilience, business resilience is not innate.

Most businesses have provisions for sudden disruptions to supply chains and operations, but few have the same resilience built in to the business model itself. Your old business model may not be holding up well to the challenges of today. But you can modify the model to add a measure of resilience that not only helps your business survive, but thrive in the “new normal.”

The business experts at Gartner offer a five-step approach to improving business resilience:

  1. Define the current business model.Customers, value proposition, capabilities, financial model – what have they been, up to this point? What has changed in the current crisis?
  2. Identify uncertainties. What uncertainties are likely to affect the business? Define the disruptions.
  3. Assess the impact. Create a Business Impact Analysis that covers the categories of impact, the time frame and cycles of impact, the relative weights of different types of impact, and the dependency risks.
  4. Design the changes to the model. An example: Some organizations are changing to fully remote work, supported by imaging (document conversion) to maintain productivity. Focus on what would need to change in your organization’s model to meet Step Three’s impact; no idea is off limits here.
  5. Execute. The four previous steps inform the decision-making process. Once decisions are made and the new business model is defined, take an agile approach to execution. Ensure that all department leaders, from IT to customer service, have bought in to the new business model, and are integrating it into their operations.

The same is true for business organizations. Change is inevitable, but it is usually slow and gives plenty of notice. In a crisis, however, change doesn’t wait. No business can be entirely shock-proof, but those which add resilience to their business models can meet the challenge: endure, adapt, strengthen, and thrive.


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