Who out there among us does not have too much “paperwork” or “paperwork responsibilities?” How can you improve morale and motivation? How can you improve efficiencies and engagement? How do you keep things in balance?

Balance Easy Peasy poem

There are some pretty good ideas out there about how to make lemonade out of lemons, how we can improve effectiveness and impact and improve organizational effectiveness. It is not about inventing new solutions but about understanding the issues and the opportunities.

Here are a couple of ideas from my experiences on organizational improvement that you might adapt to your own purposes.

1 – Accountability

Working in a big organization with a great president, he and I were focused on organizational results and people and performance. We had 126 retail stores with all sorts of problems and an awful culture under the former president. It was clear that “staff” had the power and we were not focused on many of the right things — one indicator was that our store manager turnover was more than 250%! We had inventory problems, service quality issues, bad morale, high “inventory loss” problems, etc.

In talking with store managers, it was clear that they were overburdened with things. WAY too many forms and “immediate priorities” to handle rather than focusing on actual store operations, so we looked for ways to impact that. As Senior VP Operations, I pretty much immediately tried to clone the 13 young District Managers into my kind of people, changing their perceived role as forensic accountants into performance facilitators and coaches.

Lou asked his admin, Becky, to start a clandestine investigation herself — she was charged with collecting every single bit of information sent from the departments to the stores, filing it by Department and by Day. Two 3-ring binders that quickly filled up. We basically got a grip on the amount of paperwork sent each day to the stores and the demands that were being made of store managers for reports, etc.

The “All Department Head Meeting” that Lou directed was most interesting. This was the first time that anyone saw how much paper we shipped to stores — it was inches a week. Some was simply “policy information to read” from personnel or marketing. Other stuff was weekly order sheets for inventory. Some was requesting information of one kind or another, and always under a couple-of-days deadlines. Some were sent to all stores asking that only some stores respond. Anyone could type something up and send it to ALL stores.

The product group might send out an inch of paper a day — since some of the people were sharing news of the industry and what’s hot kind of stuff. It was eye-opening how many of these missives were three or four pages long. Nobody at corporate had a clue as to how much stuff was being sent out…

New Policy: One Page Memos, tightly written: Specific reasons for sending. Stores not needing information were not to get lazily copied. And, random reviews of all memos by Lou and me and Barbara (VP Stores). If the memo needed more than one page, it required special approval to send from Lou (there were few of those, as a result!).

The impact was amazing. Stores were being unburdened by “things to do and stuff to read” and managers could now find time to actually look at what was happening, manage store inventories, train new hires on best practices, and actually focus on customers! Manager morale went up immediately!

Note: This example occurred BEFORE today’s email system was established and, in today’s world, the onslaught of being overly burdened with too much email happens all of the time. Therefore, whether it was paperwork needing attended then or email needing to be read and responded to today, it can all be better managed and the volume turned down.

Suggestion: Have some simple and direct conversations with your operations people about what kinds of things distract them from accomplishing their jobs, their MAIN jobs. Minimize distractions and allow focus on primary issues and opportunities..

2 – Responsibility

Team building with the top management group of a manufacturing operation in Texas, we asked these Department Heads what kinds of things prevented them from doing their jobs most effectively. A bunch of things were discussed, with some Best Practice solutions offered by their associates. Many of them were unintentional inter-departmental kinds of issues, with non-congruent measurement systems interfering with collaboration, for example.

The most interesting were the external influences. A while back, their organization had been acquired in a merger and there were now “executives back in Cleveland” who were asking for things. A Department Head might get a memo asking them to complete this or that data analysis within three days, for example, something that required a scramble to get done and distract that manager from the job at hand.

With the Plant Manager sitting there listening, the complaints about this kind of thing were numerous. So, he made a pretty surprising Policy Decision. From that point on, any request from Corporate that was not an obvious priority or that was not aligned with the plant’s goal of Producing Product was secondary to plant operations and could be ignored or rejected.

If that corporate person justified the importance of the request and gave a reasonable deadline that did not interfere, fine well and good. But any “stupid request” should be forwarded to the Plant Manager and probably tabled. After all, the goal was production and not production of paperwork! The Plant Manager said that he would handle the politics and that Corporate would need to develop relationships with the Department Heads to build some teamwork.

A year later, I checked back and this actually worked extremely well. If some analyst really needed data and it had an impact on the company, they could get what they needed. If they were just “making some report,” they needed to do more than send some demand letter. The Plant Manager, after all, was responsible for generating operating profitability and  not “reports for some clerk,” as he put it!

Suggestion: Look closely at what Staff requests or requires from Operations and be sure that there is an alignment to the Mission and Goals for all of that. Staff needs to support Operations and not vice versa.

Square Wheels Toolkits are a simple and effective way to generate discussions on what things are not working smoothly and what ideas exist that could make improvements in the journey forward. Check out our performance improvement support products on the website and sign up to receive the blog posts at the right.

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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
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