Culture of Improvement

A Culture of Improvement

Marilyn SanfordsmartPRENEUR Blog Series

Gaining Insight

It used to drive me crazy when I took a look at the codes we’d accumulated for tracking labor.   Yet, what I knew, was the more detail we had, the more insights into what was necessary, billable and ultimately effective, the greater influence and insights we had over what to change, whether to add, improve or discontinue.  


Starting at the endpoint, which is billing, we had well documented information that we could present to clients, which helped them understand.  It also made our invoices more credible.  To better manage this, we had detailed tracking and reporting integrated into a software system.  

Macro Codes

We broke the coding into macro segments starting with Internal vs client related.   We then broke client related into billable, vs non billable with specialty codes to track custom or specific segments of the operations and projects.  This would also help the client gain perspective and to appreciate our commitment.  For internal we’d track meetings, vacation, training and downtime.  Downtime was typically turned into ‘internal jobs’ and occasionally was used to offset banked overtime.  

This taught us, engaged all players and tracked grey areas.  It gave us detail to ensure we addressed unexpected on-sight changes and to manage the unpredictable, on a timely basis.  We minimized the chance of missing or misstating billing, and we learned.  This knowledge was cycled back through the organization to highlight and improve processes for the benefit of future jobs.

Non-Billable Hours

Non-billable codes for clients, where we knew costs were incurred on a specific job but could not be billed, helped us with our post close reviews.  They provided insights to improve all aspects of operations. Indeed, it paved the way for a culture of learning.  Sometimes we were missing information from our sales or engineering.  It could also be management misses or lack of technician knowledge. Whatever the cause, we engaged in open and frank dialogue to learn and improve.  An open culture helps identify these learns, as does a solid tracking system.  

When is too much detail good?

I read an interesting blog that asked a simple question: “When is too much detail good.”  It went on to query the importance of levels of detail for both large and small jobs. How time was tracked and to what level this was the gateway to increasing learning through optics and insights. It recognized that large jobs differ from small but that much was gained by tracking details on both.  

This requires creating a culture across all employees that is aligned and appreciates why and to what end detail is important.  This creates both trust and engagement and feeds a culture of improvement.

About the Author

Marilyn Sanford

Marilyn is a Professional Accountant. She spent 23 years running trade based businesses, offering Low Voltage Custom Integration solutions to demanding and discriminating customers for high end residences and businesses. She has served on boards, taught in her Industry and is a Fellow of the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA). Marilyn Co—founded Smart fx in 1992, merged with La Scala in 2000 and later acquired LaScaIa in 2007. Over the years running a custom installation business, she learned what it takes to run a profitable business dependent on construction timelines. These insights and lessons learned, delivering ‘skilled labour’ as a primary service offering, were the seeds that grew the LincEdge concept.