No one intentionally creates a process or procedure that will hinder productivity. A new process is created to remedy something that is broken or to provide clearer direction to those who need to utilize it for their day-to-day functions. But something happens over time – a newly-hired employee may misunderstand a specific piece of the process and create a new version; or a step is omitted in a rush to hit a deadline; or a step is added as a double check when it really is not required. Eventually this bastardized process is what gets handed down by word-of-mouth to the next generation of workers and the generation after that. Ultimately, a good-intentioned process which was once so clear erodes to the point that it not-so-suddenly becomes a smudged pane of glass with everyone’s fingerprints smeared all over it. What once flowed smoothly now has all these little caveats and personalized spins on it so that it is unrecognizable to the initial version.
As a supervisor or manager it is your responsibility at regular intervals to review what processes and procedures your group is using to discern if they are recognizable to the original version and if not, why not. Another consideration is if the processes are relevant in the current work environment. If you now have an upgraded computer system that has increased functionality, then why would you continue to manually handle some transactions when they could be performed electronically? There are a myriad of changes that take place over time within a business and within a particular business function (e.g., Payables, Receivables, Payroll, and Customer Service) and you need to ensure that the dog-eared paper processes overflowing from those binders on everyone’s desk as well as the ones in their heads are in fact updated to reflect those changes.
When you ask your staff why they are doing what they are doing, the response you do not want to hear is “Well, that’s how Mary showed me to do it when I was training for the job.” Keeping in mind that Mary has been retired since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, you should know right then and there that you need to order a barrel from the maintenance department and start trashing those instructions which at this point most likely are hindering your department’s productivity – unless absolutely nothing has changed in that timeframe, which is another matter of concern! You also need to take a look at yourself and the message you are sending to your group. If you have a tendency to check and re-check every little detail, then it is likely your staff has picked up on this vibe and is doing the same thing because they think that is what you want. They might have added extra steps in their processes to accommodate for your personal quirks.
People need to be challenged everyday as to why they are doing what they are doing and this goes for top, middle and line management as well as everyone below. The workday is frustrating enough with variables you have no control over without tying yourself to a restrictive and outdated process. So take some time to question what you are doing and how you are doing it and see if there are any opportunities to improve upon it…and don’t be afraid to order a second barrel if you need it!
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