Pace rating studies: Keeping performance on track

You might not have heard of Parkinson’s Law, but chances are you’ll know the proverb that defines it: ‘Work expands to fill available time’. It underpins all our research into our clients’ efficiency. And on its own, measuring pace acts as a kind of litmus test; if your team are performing at a less than ideal speed, it’s a sign they are not busy enough, and it could be costing you money.

Firing on all cylinders, giving it their all, performing at full capacity – however you put it, a pace rating study is about clocking the effort your team members are putting into a task, by assessing whether they’re completing it slowly, hurriedly or at an optimal speed. And pace rating’s not just all about speed; quality matters too. It’s no good being fast and delivering poor service or products, and it’s costly for your business if the quality of deliverables is excellent but it takes longer than it should to achieve it.

Pace rating reveals a crucial part of the story; you can’t analyse efficiency without taking pace into account. That’s why it’s a research method that always accompanies our activity time and efficiency studies. If tasks are taking longer than they need to, it could skew the figures we’ve gathered to help you plan your budgets and work out how many people you need on a shift. And if we reveal that a big chunk of your team’s time is spent on refilling shelves instead of serving customers, it’s possible that a slow pace is the most influential factor.

Beyond its value as one of a suite of research tools, a pace rating study is also useful in its own right. Thanks to Parkinson’s Law, it doesn’t just help to build an accurate picture of our clients’ efficiency – it also hints at contributing factors and opportunities.

We often see pace dip when people aren’t getting enough direction from their managers, there aren’t enough supervisors present to motivate teams, or there are too many team members on a shift. And it can have big consequences. Whenever your colleagues are taking longer than necessary to complete a task, you’re having to overinvest your salary budget. If 100% is the ideal pace and they’re operating at 90%, it’s going to cost you an extra 10% to get the job done.

It’s not all about being slow, though. If people are rushing, then it’s a sign your team is spread too thinly, and you need to allocate more salary budget. The impact on your performance and profits can be just as serious – a lower quality of service, possible burnout and missed sales opportunities.

How our studies work

When our team of workstudy analysts visit your stores or sites to carry out efficiency and activity time studies, they’re also primed to log the pace at which your colleagues are carrying out tasks.

Every one of our analysts holds a qualification in pace rating, refreshed with annual training, that equips them to judge whether a task is being performed at a swift and business-like pace to deliver a quality performance. Some jobs, like transporting soup to a table in a restaurant, for example, can’t be rushed. So a rating of 100 reflects an optimum pace for completing a task well. Anything below that is slower than ideal, and above is fast.

We rate the pace of individual tasks as well as calculate an overall average. And to add context and help our clients make sense of the data, we use our database of benchmarks to show how their pace compares with international standards and other businesses within their industry.

Then we’ll draw on the wider observations and findings gathered from the suite of studies we’ve carried out to give them practical next steps.

Pace rating in practice

In our portfolio of clients, a coffee shop chain sits at the top of the table when it comes to average pace. Faced with a stream of customers who expect prompt service, baristas work fast and accurately to meet orders, scoring a rating well above 100 at their peak.

At one fashion retailer, we saw higher pace ratings at peak times together with an absence of colleagues engaging with customers on the shop floor. It was a sign that staff were too thinly spread. We know that overstretched teams often focus on the most tangible jobs like getting stock out and covering tills, rather than maximising chances to serve high-value customers. As well as helping to drive out efficiency, our pace rating findings helped this retailer make informed, evidence-based decisions about addressing shortfalls and expanding their payroll budget.

At the other end of the scale are variety and discount retailers. Although time pressure isn’t as much of a factor in their industry as it is for somewhere like the coffee shop chain – and they were on a par with similar businesses for overall efficiency – our pace rating studies highlighted areas of work that fell well below expectation – and how tackling underlying issues could save them money.

For both retailers, we spotted signs that staff were using stock replenishment as a way of filling time, and consequently, identified significant opportunities to pick up the pace. It was a particular issue for a retailer in the evenings, when supervisors were thinner on the ground and there was less of an obvious need to move on to another task. We also revealed an inconsistent pace performance across different stores, indicating a possible influence of leadership and differences in staff scheduling.

Helping you pinpoint challenges and make savings

Measuring pace helps piece together a clear picture of efficiency, offers crucial clues to help you get to the bottom of issues and sheds light on opportunities to improve your productivity.

It also gives you a quantifiable incentive for making changes, indicating just how much you could save if everyone was performing every task at the right pace.

For example, let’s say your annual salary budget is £100m, and we’ve carried out an efficiency study which reveals that filling shelves takes up 10% of your team’s time. We also know that your colleagues are working at a restocking pace of 80 on average. If you’re able to increase that figure to 100, you have an opportunity to save or reinvest £2m every year. Or, if it’s a matter of colleagues being under-occupied because you’ve got too many people on shift, you could reduce your stock handling budget by the same amount.

There’s no underestimating the wisdom of Parkinson’s Law – it could offer a significant boost to your business.

What our clients say

“Refreshing to have a business that delivers on its promises and offers impartial advice to support the business focus around efficiency”

Leigh Rushworth, Senior Retail Business Change Lead, Wilko