All companies that have been existence for some time develop policies and processes that are either documented or passed down in sometimes incidental fashion. If the steps are not written down and there’s a question, a long-tenured individual intervenes to clarify ‘how we do things.’ But when was the last time you examined how you do things to be sure it’s really the best, most efficient, way possible? All too often, we see clients married to a process they outgrew long ago and on which they have put band-aids to address new issues, when what they should have done is to blow up the system and start from scratch.
Hiring a new employee will often shed light on an outdated or outgrown process. When you explain how to do things to a newcomer, if you step outside yourself for a time and listen with a third ear – as it were – you will hear yourself question it. If you’re lucky, the new employee will be astute, forthright and assertive enough to ask good questions that highlight a convoluted process. Most of the time, though, new people keep quiet because you’re the boss and you know your business; they figure they’re new so they’re hardly in a position to opine without coming across as argumentative from the start. Another reason, and a sad one at that, is that they’re just not emotionally invested enough to want to find a better way. These walking-dead remain employed a very long time, satisfied to collect a paycheck and if the process requires them to go around their elbow to get to their ear, well, they figure they’re getting paid to do that. The result is never good for the company.
Is there a process in your organization that’s taking longer today than it used to? Something that needs correction or more increased oversight than it used to? Why not ask the people involved in the process to find a smarter, more efficient way to get things done? As long as the goal and your particular standard for accomplishment or excellence are communicated in advance, let the individuals themselves –or those inclined to – sort through the steps and identify resource-savers that accomplish the objective. This can be done via brief, group brainstorming sessions – ideally with no bosses in the room – or by small teams with a contest-type approach. Even individual employees can give a thorny issue some thought during non-peak time and outline a new process. You can ask the teams or people to present their ideas to a group for refinement (and even a vote for the winning idea), and/or consider empowering them to test their solution for a short time and then present the information.
I can boldly guarantee that a few things will happen:
1. You will learn of a great solution (or several!) that just might be better than the current process and be truly outside the box;
2. You will refine a current process, replacing a few steps with a more efficient way; or
3. You will reinforce that, really, the current process is just fine the way it is (as long as everyone’s been truly open-minded and not just adopted ‘group-think’)
Regardless of which result above eventually reigns, you will enjoy a more engaged, motivated workforce because your employees were asked their opinions and feel heard. People want to contribute if we will only let them. They want to feel valued, and part of something beyond themselves. Unfortunately, years of hitting the brick wall of the ‘way we’ve always done it’ sends the message that no one’s interested in their opinions. The key is to acknowledge the contributions and avoid making this another useless exercise where ideas are ignored or minimized.