specialization

By Lisa Michaels

On a broad scale, it’s fairly easy to understand the importance of work specialization and the division of roles.

For instance, you would probably not want your dry cleaner to operate on you and you most likely would not want your surgeon to cut your hair. In a hospital, surgeons only perform surgery, but they don’t take patient histories or administer medications. Nurses take patient histories and administer medications, but they don’t transport patients from place to place – that is what orderlies do.

By dividing labor based on specialization, hospitals maximize efficiency by reserving the most complicated and challenging tasks for those that have the highest education and skill levels.

Skill-focused specialization is useful, but how to apply it to your own business operations?

Here are 5 ways to implement the core theories of work division in your business and some benefits they offer.

1. Considering Skill and Talent When Assigning Tasks Matters

Employees who are better suited to certain tasks will not only perform them more efficiently but will also be far happier doing them. Many times tasks are assigned based on rank or tenure rather than who is most suited to do them.

When you force one person to do a task they hate simply because it is part of their job description, rather than assigning it to the person best suited to do it – regardless of rank – you not only decrease efficiency, you also make everyone unhappy.

2. No Time Is Wasted When Switching Tasks

The theory that we can multi-task has long been debunked. What we are doing is switching our attention back and forth between two things, but each of those things has our full attention only for a few seconds.

It turns out that multi-tasking is highly inefficient because it takes time to refocus every time you switch to tasks.

That’s unnecessary downtime that can be minimized by the division of labor.

When impossible to have completely specialized personnel, try grouping similar tasks together and creating a workflow around that as it will diminish the time spent getting back on track after shifting roles.

3. Labor Specialization Leads To Higher Quality Output

When employees repeat the same tasks day in and day out, they develop a proficiency so strong they no longer need to even put any thought or energy into it. While it may seem like the less you think about something, the more likely you are to make a mistake, the opposite is actually true.

When was the last time you thought about tying your shoes?

When was the last time you made a mistake doing so?

Other things that can contribute to the better output alongside specialization is not interrupted work hours and non-forced idle time.

For the most part, businesses feel their workers should always be busy or doing something. Idleness is generally frowned upon, which often leads workers to go looking for something to do when they have completed their own tasks.

This might actually lead to a decrease in efficiency rather than an increase.

We can take on a productivity lesson from the most hard-working animal–ants.

When ants are digging a tunnel and it becomes too crowded, they will actually turn around and wait idly until the tunnel is clear. Sometimes, the most productive thing to do is sit back and wait without interrupting others.

Similar to the Pareto rule, only 30% of the ants are doing 70% of the work at any given time.

4. Increased Productivity Creates Economies of Scale

Not only an employee doing the same task repeatedly becomes faster and more skilled, but we see how production levels rise as well. The higher the output, the less it costs to produce one unit. That increased productivity enables growth and creates an economy of scale.

How Henry Ford Used Specialization Of Labor To Increase Productivity by 87.5%

The concepts of specialization are not new. Division of labor was first introduced by Adam Smith in the 1700s, and it was Henry Ford who most famously implemented this organization with great success.

Rather than having a warehouse full of workers who would each build a product from start to finish, Ford broke down the assembling of a car into 84 distinctive steps.

By repeating the same task again and again, a single worker would be able to perform that task far more swiftly than a single team tasked with putting an entire car together. Ford’s process decreased assembly time of a single car from 12 hours to about 90 minutes.

Modern businesses can learn a lot from these examples. Whether you run a digital agency or offer moving services, good work organization is the root of growth and profitability.

5. No Need To Move From One Job Post To Another

Every time we change a workstation or switch to another role, we spend a great deal of time first tailoring it to our needs and ramping up. Setting up is wasted time that can be used more efficiently when operations are better organized.

If you have ever gotten into a car to drive it after someone else has, you have a pretty good idea of how time-consuming change can be. Most likely, you had to move the seat forward or backward – sometimes several times until you got it to a comfortable position.

When an employee wears many hats, it feels like it’s constantly in someone else’s car.

There are many ways how businesses can determine who is to perform what tasks. In many cases, increasing efficiency is actually counterintuitive to how we feel things should be done. Increased productivity can happen in any business, but it often requires out-of-the-box thinking.

Lisa Michaels is a freelance writer, editor and a striving content marketing consultant from Portland. Being self-employed, she does her best to stay on top of the current trends in business and tech. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter @LisaBMichaels.

Specialization of labor stock photo by LeoWolfert/Shutterstock