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Find and Fix the “One-Percenters” to Improve Your Small Business

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Find and Fix the “One-Percenters” to Improve Your Small Business

NOTE TO READERS: This article is based on a USA case study. Because they drive on the wrong side of the road over there, the opposite applies to us. So, where the case study says “avoid left turns”, that means “avoid right turns” for Australians. Left-hand turns are what we should be doing. 

Did you know that UPS – the giant US based parcel delivery service – instructs its truck drivers to take right-hand turns as opposed to left-hand turns when delivering parcels? The first time I read this, I thought it was a clickbait headline, designed to get me to read an article that would not enlighten me at all on left hand and right hand turns when driving a truck.

I was very, very wrong. UPS delivers approximately 18 million packages every single day, so they certainly know something about parcel delivery. UPS has been figuring out how to optimise delivery routes, and minimise time and costs, for a very long time.

Right turn good, Left turn bad

UPS started its “anti-left turn” campaign way back in the 1970’s when they started to strategically plan their delivery routes rather than allowing truck drivers to figure it out for themselves. In 2008, UPS introduced Orion, a software platform that calculates the best possible delivery route for every truck and every parcel. That’s 30,000 route optimisations per minute.

Each route optimisation includes making right-hand turns in preference to left-hand turns, unless it can’t be avoided. Using Orion and deliberately avoiding left-hand turns has saved URS millions of dollars, and the planet billions of tonnes of Carbon emissions. The infographic below from CNN says it all.

Just the fuel saving alone is worth $300 to $400 million every year.

Why discriminate against left-hand turns?

Even the Mythbusters were sceptical about the UPS claims on left turns, so they challenged the claim in their iconic TV program. Unlike many other episodes, nothing was blown up in this one, but they did prove that UPS was correct.  Right turns are more efficient.

There are two reasons why UPS (and now other delivery companies) favour right-hand turns:

  • Time – Left turns usually go against the traffic flow, so there is idle time while drivers wait to turn, and more fuel is burned.
  • Safety – Turning left results in more car crashes than right turns, and more pedestrians are killed by left-turning vehicles than those turning right.

But what does all this talk about turning left and right have to do with your small business?  

As a Small Business owner, you can’t expect to save $300 million like UPS does. However, you should be able to save considerable amounts of time and money, and see other noticeable business results, after optimising the so-calledone-percenters.

What I mean by the one-percenters is finding and fixing the small things that could improve the quality of your products and services, reduce the environmental impact of your operation, improve collaboration within your team, and ultimately improve your bottom line.

These one-percenters can lurk in the most unusual places in your business – as the UPS example shows. Be prepared to progress through trial and error. You will need to take measurements pre and post change before you can decide if a specific change is worthwhile.

You will also need to employ creative thinking to find where the opportunities for improvements are hiding. In my own company we introduced a LEAN Award that we give out at our monthly team meetings. (LEAN is a systematic method, originally used in manufacturing, to eliminate waste within a system). When someone comes up with a good idea for improvement, they present it to the team, and the winner gets a bottle of wine as a prize. Over time we’ve received some brilliant suggestions. Some of these, in fact, had been staring us in the face – if only we’d been looking earlier.

Once you have tracked down your one-percenters, measured their impact and decided to implement the change in your business, the next vital step is to document the change and make sure that everyone knows about it. This is the purpose of your documented business systems – to embed the improved practices in the everyday operations of your business.

Your challenge now is to go and search for the “one percent” improvements in your business. I’d love to hear about what you’ve found, and how the new changes have affected your business and/or your community.

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