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Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Happens When Leaders Ask 'Why Do We Do This?'


Young children are legendary for asking Why? Why? Why? when seeking to learn. Adults, however, tend to simply do what's been done before without asking – why do we do this?

An experience to consider. When appointed as head of operations years ago, I suspended a dozen reports compiled by the accounting department without announcing the change. Out of 200+ employees, one person called about not receiving a report. We continued that report and canceled the other eleven (which freed up ½ FTE in accounting as a result).

This brought into sharp focus the effect of doing something because: we've been doing it; it's a tradition; it's SOP.

A leader will not only question why but will also encourage the doers to ask 'why do we do this?'

Base evaluating why on:
  • Does it directly create sales?
  • Does it directly serve the customers' needs?
  • Does it directly support operations and production?
  • Does it directly advance the mission, vision, or progress to the goal?
  • Does it exist in a different form – e.g., stored data – can it be accessible as needed instead of compiling a report?

A significant factor in the current turmoil in the labor market is the obvious becoming clear – the computer is now doing tasks and processes, and fewer people are needed. For example - when you check in at the kiosk in the airport, you get your boarding pass, the passenger list is updated, your seat is confirmed, your connecting flight is notified you are coming, food provisioning is updated, and the pilot and cabin crew are informed you are boarding.

Visualize the effect of multiple individual processing that was eliminated by sharing the check-in information – resulting in less airline employee gate agents and less passenger lines. Computer vs. people is occurring in all sectors – corporate, non-profit, government, and small business, with similar results.

Process automation frees up individuals to do something else; however, currently there is a limited amount 'something else' available.

To re-frame the picture of jobs and roles, a leader can ask - What would directly improve key areas in the organization. Focus on sales, results, customers, and effective production – bundle tasks and processes together to define new jobs and roles, then train people on the technology – not the equipment, but how to produce results.

Have a story about 'do it because we do it' work or innovative job creating? Please join the discussion.

2 comments:

Dick Davies said...

It's always harder to figure out something new or better than to just let sub-optimal continue.
I remember the "journalist" who took Gov.Scott Walker to the coals for not alerting the media that he was going to honor his campaign promises and and clean up Wisconsin. Walker defended himself by saying he had said he was going to do it, he just didn't know it would solve so many problems. The angry alleged journalist was able to press an admission that if the Governor had it to do over again, he could have done a better job alerting the media about his success beforehand.

Jack Gates said...

Dick:

Thanks for the comment.

It reminds us that Gov. Walker pursued what he promised during the campaign and that, for some, reporting has devolved to repeating.

The latter illustrates roles can atrophy in the face of helpful advances in technology.