In today’s workplace, we are asking for more better faster results from our people yet often not doing what we might to optimize engagement — we tend to be doing things TO people rather than WITH them, an approach that often generates resistance. Pushing generates push-back. And, it is common that when we are asking for changes, we are often adding more tasks and responsibilities to people who already have plenty of responsibilities and tasks. So, doesn’t it make sense that we look for things we can choose to eliminate and do it in a way that motivates?

Who out there among us does not have too many meetings or too much “paperwork?” And you can find lots of examples online of ways to decrease meeting time and make them more effective.

Logically, we can improve morale and motivation by doing a bit of best practice management and workplace simplification along with improving engagement. It is often simply a matter of keeping things in balance.

Balance Easy Peasy poem

From workshops and performance improvement programs, we all know that there are some good ideas in your workplace about how to make lemonade out of lemons. Top performers know how we can improve effectiveness and impact and improve organizational effectiveness since they are already doing things differently. 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. Let me start with an example from my own experience; while the details would be different today, the overall situation should be familiar to a lot of us.

1 – Accountability and Priorities

Working in an organization as the top operations guy with a very supportive new president, we focused on improving organizational results by focusing on people and performance. We had 126 retail stores with all sorts of problems and a horrible overall culture under the deceased former owner — 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 my store managers, it was clear that they felt overburdened with things. They received WAY too many forms and “immediate priorities” from the corporate staff. They were focused on paperwork a lot more than actual store results. They did not even know if their stores were profitable (and many of them were not, for a variety of reasons.

As Senior VP Operations, my first priority was to improve operational effectiveness and I saw our very young group of 13 District Managers as our leverage point — the challenge was to make them effective. The first thing was to change their perceived role as forensic accountants into performance facilitators and coaches.

Lou started with a clandestine investigation — he started collecting every single bit of information sent from the departments to the stores, filing it by Department and by Day. Two binders quickly filled up and we saw that there were inches of paper going to stores every week, each having something or other to do with operations. But if everything is important, than nothing is important.

This data collection got us a strong grip on the amount of paperwork sent each day to our stores and the nature of corporate demands being made of our store managers for reports, etc. Few people really understood how many things a manager had to read and do.

The resulting “All Department Head Meeting” that Lou directed was “most interesting.” This was the first time that anyone saw how much stuff we actually sent out to managers — it was literally inches every week. Some was simply “policy information to read” from personnel or marketing. Some was requesting information of one kind or another, and always under “need it now” deadlines. Some were sent to all stores asking that only some stores respond. Anyone at corporate could type something up and send it to EVERY store.

Our product group might send out a half-inch of paper a day — some was industry news and what’s hot kind of stuff. It was eye-opening how many of these missives were three or four pages long.

New Policy: One Page Memos, tightly written:

Things sent out needed specific reasons for being sent and people not needing information were not to get lazily copied. Random document reviews kept the focus and prevented slippage. If the memo needed more than one page, it required special senior management approval to send (there were few of those, as a result!).

The impact was amazing and virtually overnight. Stores were being unburdened by “things to do and stuff to read stuff” 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 obviously occurred BEFORE today’s email systems were 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: Do some MBWA and have some simple and direct conversations with your staff about what kinds of things distract them from accomplishing their jobs, their MAIN jobs. Minimize distractions and allow focus on primary issues and opportunities. Clarify the vision and generate alignment.

2 – Responsibility

Team building with the top management group of a manufacturing operation in Texas, we asked Department Head staff 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 collaboration issues that one normally sees.

The most interesting were the external influences.

A year before, their operation had been acquired in a merger and there were new “executives back in Cleveland” who were asking for things. A Department Head might get a memo asking them to complete some data analysis within three days, for example, some unexpected thing that required a scramble to get done and distract that manager from the job at hand.

With the Plant Manager listening, the complaints about this kind of thing were from most of his staff. 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 a 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 tabled. After all, the goal was production and not production of paperwork! The operation was accountable for results, not reports! 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 to get some of their requests handled.

A year later, I checked back and this change actually worked extremely well, helping to realign priorities. Requests for information could get answered, but only if there was a reasonable timeline and some rationale for it. If they were just “making some report” and the information would interfere with production, they needed to do more than send some 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.

Most of all, have some FUN out there!

Scott small picDr. 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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