Absolutely true. If you want to know where there is waste in your organization, ask your people. They know where it is, but they won’t tell you unless you ask.
At a medical practice that has a number of offices, we asked the staff for “time wasters”. . . activities that take up a lot of time without an obvious benefit. In this practice, patient records are kept centrally, so when a doctor is seeing a patient at one of the outlying offices, the patient’s record (which can be voluminous) must be faxed there. The staff reported that they spent a lot of time standing at the fax machine. We checked with the doctors who told us they don’t need the entire record, only two or three pages of it. So it was an easy fix that saved a lot of staff time with no adverse impact on doctor or patient. But we wouldn’t have found this “time waster” if we hadn’t asked.
Go through your entire organization from the executive offices to the loading dock and ask everyone where they see waste . . . wasted time, materials, or space. You’ll be surprised by what you learn. In some cases, an employee will believe something is wasteful because s/he doesn’t understand its value. This becomes an opportunity to help that employee learn more about how your business actually works. But in many cases, the employee will point out something that really is wasteful and can be corrected. You just have to ask.
A retiring GM worker once said, “For 25 years you’ve paid only for my hands when you could have had my brain for free.” Don’t make that mistake.