The way it’s always been done, yeah, we all know it well.  Have you ever been at the receiving end of some really bad lengthy needlessly drawn-out service, been involved with projects where there seems to be a collective effort to be inefficient that you just don’t seem part of?

In many respects, it seems as if these companies work really work against you to cause frustration.  Despite the numbers of people they employ, they just don’t get the job done for you, quick.  They work hard at being inefficient.

It’s almost as if their organisational mission is to deliver immense distress to their customers.  Rather than their given product or service, along with a satisfied customer.

For many years, I believed this was often the case of the public sector, former nationalised, regulated industries.  However, even private companies seem to have the same issues – try dealing with Virgin Media!

Companies surely can’t start off being inefficient, so how do they end up that way?

That’s the way it’s always been done here

As a consultant it’s the phrase that makes me shudder the most.

The phenomenon of ‘the way things have always been done here’, is the obvious first port of call.  I remember carrying out some work during some university holidays setting up a spreadsheet template for faxing off (yes kids, a fax machine is what we had before email) payroll bank transfers to the bank.  Years later, I was an employee for the organisation and found that people were still using my old spreadsheet, despite the payroll software being able to produce the same template with one click.

To this day, I couldn’t believe that nobody had challenged or updated the process I had put in place many years prior.  Many hours were lost updating this Excel sheet each week.  Whilst it created work, to me – it’s not quality or even value adding work.  There was a missed opportunity to improve and shave a few more hours off a task each week.

Though, due to the length of time that had passed since I first set up the process.  I was jumping the next step ahead, to have the payroll software simply send the data straight into the BACS system.  Still annoys me if you can’t tell!

Let’s try and unpick things – after many years of thought, it’s not as simple as you may think.

Lack of empowerment for the staff

Finding your voice is difficult.  Not everyone feels confident about speaking up in all circumstances.  This is perhaps one of the largest contributing factors to why things just stay the way they are.  For us consultants, quite often it’s the staff in the process who come up with the best source of ideas.  They’re often more receptive to being open with us, than they are their own management team.  Again though there are further reasons to unpick that which aren’t as pessimistic as it may seem.

  • Consultancy and change projects often opens up thoughts and conversations (not always us consultants borrowing your watch to tell you the time).  Workshopping and idea generation is often an important part of the change process.
  • Staff just simply don’t often get the headspace to think about how they are doing a task, they focus on what they’re doing.  Let’s face it, you don’t really want your payroll guys having existential thoughts, whilst accidentally adding a few zeros onto people’s salaries.  It’s a check, double check and triple check type activity when you’re working manually with such numbers.

Of course, it could also be those more problematic things dressed up as ‘culture’.  Poor recruitment, bad management, bullying and a whole host of other problems like worrying they won’t have a job if they offer up an improvement suggestion.  However, you know what – in years of doing this, they’re generally the least likely of reasons why staff haven’t appeared to have challenged things.

Lack of understanding of the tools available

Well, I’m a tame and reformed IT Manager.  So, it’s fairly easy for me to pick up anything technology related in sometimes in minutes.  Knowing what you’re looking for and starting with an attitude of ‘why can’t it just…’ is a skill in itself and one most organisations don’t have internally.

With my own personal aversion to coding that’s lasted well over 25 years I tend to work from the principle that somewhere, someone has solved the problem I’m faced with.  If not, it won’t be far off as it’ll be the next logical leap.  Pretty much like the payroll system spitting out a report for the autopay fax report, it was a logical next step.

Generally – when you look at things we do – including the Unleashing Process never leaving things there, is key.  It’s built into systems like ISO 9001 for Quality Management that you should be working towards continual improvement.  Whilst every organisations say they do in terms of getting the certificates, actual taking that to heart is more difficult.

Poor culture

A wise, ISO auditor once said to me that he knew when he’d have to work hard or be knocking off back to his hotel for a beer early.  He said that you can actually detect the smell of death in the air when you get into a company.  The younger me, didn’t really know what that meant.  Years of consultancy work, going into lots of businesses has given me exactly the same insight as to what he meant.

What is good culture and what is bad culture, is perhaps a series of blogs or maybe a book.  I’m not even sure even how to articulate my point here either!

I guess the closest thing I can produce is a thought experiment with the following scenario:

  • You’re a consultant, who’s expected to start a job on a specific day and time.
  • You arrive in your car at your client site suitably punctual, but you find it’s a huge factory with many entrances and sub-receptions.
  • You have no idea where to park, you weren’t given any instructions.
  • You find what you think is the main reception.
  • You can’t get parked, so you park nearby in one of the staff bays.
  • You find reception to be closed and the courtesy phone not to be working.
  • You can’t reach your client contact from your mobile.

In that moment, how do you feel about the company you’ve come to work for?

Most of us would expect if you were going to a complex site, you’d be issued with clear instructions.  Booked in, expected and sat in reception with a cup of tea waiting for your contact.  The chain of errors to get to the kerfuffle that I just described is large.  Poor signage, visitor booking processors, maintenance of telephone systems – you name it!   There’s a lot of individuals who didn’t appear to care.

For me, a positive culture is dealing with a business where everything just flows.  A great culture is one where that happens and the people seem genuinely proud to work there, they’re the companies biggest advocates.

That high performance organisational culture, just doesn’t happen by simply virtue signalling.  Staff perks and surveys for great employer awards, all that stuff is in my humble opinion just guff.  You only get to that space of organisational flow and genuinely happy people if a) the management and leadership care about what they do and b) the employees get their say and feel as if their opinions matter.

Challenging the way it’s always been done

Moving away from the way it’s always been done is not easy.  It’s a journey.  It also starts from often one person, who feels empowered and their voice is heard by management to start making a change.  That person generally has to understand or have people around them who understands the tools the organisation has or is available on the market, what the capability of those tools can do too.  Staff need to be taken out of their comfort zones, even just for a short while and given a space where they can think and feel comfortable offering up their ideas.

Part two of this blog will explore challenging the way it’s always been done some further…