One of my favorite things about hiring new people is hearing their suggestions on how we might improve existing processes. A new person asking, "Why do you do it like that?" is music to my ears because what follows in that conversation will either give them a clearer understanding of how the company works and why, or it will expose an inefficiency blind spot and give the company a fresh perspective on a way to potentially improve that process.

All companies have these inefficiency blind spots. As we grow, the factors that influenced the original process (technology, staff, relevancy, organizational structure, etcetera) change. Quite often, we carry on with our old processes in the blur of day-to-day work without questioning if they still make sense in our current business climate.

Worse, we may suffer through frustrating aspects of our work without even entertaining the idea of reducing or eliminating those things, simply because "it's just always been that way" or because the solution seems too daunting, quickly landing on the proverbial back burner. Left unchecked, these items run the risk of owning the staff instead of vice versa.

That's exactly why you should schedule a deliberate exercise to uncover and eliminate these inefficiencies. Years ago, a consultant tasked with potentially customizing an enterprise software solution for us asked me two simple questions: "What's the stupidest thing you do each day? What's the hardest?"

These questions evolved into an annual exercise with our management team. Each manager ask everyone who reports to them for their answers to those two questions along with a proposed solution, no matter how weak that solution might feel. This gives everyone in the company a voice in the process and an invitation to express their frustrations in a productive and empowering way.

The "stupidest" thing can't be something that's deemed stupid because someone feels it is menial or boring...it must be stupid because it is inefficient, redundant, or irrelevant.

The "hardest" thing is usually the most complex responsibility or the biggest challenge. These are also the items that take the longest to finally come off the list.

Once the master list with all staff feedback is complete, the management team reviews and removes anything that truly can't be changed. These are often challenges that are caused by external forces, or those whose only solution is beyond current resources.

From there, a portion of each monthly management meeting is dedicated to brainstorming solutions and then checking in on the ongoing progress towards those solutions.

It's easy to lose sight of what your people on the frontlines struggle against at an operational level as your company grows and you have more levels of management between you and them. This exercise inevitably exposes a handful of staff frustrations that are easy fixes, the kind that leave you scratching your head as to why nobody spoke up earlier.

On the other hand, some of the "hardest" challenges on my company's list have taken years to address. Regardless, the point is to use the accountability of the review of your stupidest/hardest list in a monthly meeting as a way to keep that challenge from being pushed aside in favor of daily fires and easier problems to fix. The victory of eventually crossing those long-term challenges off the list is very rewarding.

Whether you're hearing rumblings about old, broken processes or are chugging along through steady growth, use this exercise as a way to empower your team to identify and resolve the business challenges that frustrate and impede them. Putting consistent energy towards this will bring about small and large improvements that all translate to a more efficient organization in the long run.

Published on: Oct 28, 2016
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