I am an efficiency guy. I love to build systems and put processes and procedures in place to do the work that needs to get done.
Every once in a while, though, I'm reminded of how important people are to that equation.
I was hired recently by a company to advise them on a problem they were having with one of their systems. Some of their sales representatives were entering call tickets into a tracking system incorrectly and the owner thought it was a system issue.
After spending a few days on site with their employees, I realized it had nothing to do with the system. If you followed the system, it was actually physically impossible to enter the transaction incorrectly. The problem had everything to do with how he was on-boarding and training his new employees.
Here are some tips I have seen work for adding people to your processes and making both sides of the equation more successful:
Put Like Groups Together
When you're building a company, it's hard to organize everyone into "like" groups. You should try, because the benefits are powerful. Employees learn from each other when situated closely to one another. Overhearing others handle problems around them, even if they are not directly involved, is a great way to learn the ropes.
Lamp Post Group in Chattanooga does a great job of this by using a pod concept. Newer employees sit next to and learn alongside more seasoned employees. The newbies overhear conversations--a kind of informal training. The structure is obvious to the employees, but to an outsider, the hierarchy is invisible.
Pair New Hires with a Mentor
Make mentorship a part of your senior staff's job description. Often, even senior staffers won't do something like this unless they're specifically asked to. So roll out a formal mentoring program that encourages regular check-ins and a level of accountability between senior staff and those new to your organization. This is a great way for new employees to get to know the senior staff in a meaningful and non-threatening way.
Even in a non-business setting, mentors are a great idea. We use mentors in our Toastmasters club to bring new members into the fold. Getting started in the organization can be confusing; different roles are played at meetings new members are working towards that all-important first speech. Mentors help smooth the process and reduce attrition, making newbies feel part of the fold.
Give People Some "Blah" Space
In a world of highly-scheduled days and back-to-back meetings, when your teams work on projects together, it can be difficult for them to pick up where they left off last time. Make sure you include some space or place for teams to leave projects while they are in process. It's much easier for the team to walk-in to an immersive environment and pick up where they left off than to start over cold.
It's also a great way to show any visitors to your company work in progress and give them an idea of how your company arrives at the final product.
Give Them the Tools They Need to Collaborate
In today's connected world, employees are used to using tools that keep them connected in their personal life. Make these same type of tools available within the work environment to help keep the conversation and learning flowing.
I was at Write2Market, a thought leadership PR firm in Atlanta, GA one afternoon. They have a beautiful open working space and there were 12 people working there at the time, but it was dead silent. When I commented on how quiet it was, the office manager told me there was actually a constant stream of conversations going on about projects.
While it seemed odd for 12 individuals to be sitting next to each other and not talking to each other, it makes sense. These folks traffic in the written word. They were saving a step by not talking to each other. And don't think online conversations eliminate learning: There are systems that allow these conversations to be available to a wider group so that everyone learns from the questions being asked and the answers being given.
Don't just do things the way they've always been done, and don't rely on systems without human input. Take some time to consider the people who will be doing the work and build components that help to assure their success.