One of the things I notice as I work with new leaders is a tendency to accept work practices and processes as fixed entities. In some cases, company procedures, processes and work practices are mandated from a level far removed from the front-line supervisor, and they are relatively fixed. However, in most cases, front-line supervisors have more flexibility and freedom to adjust and improve work processes than they realize upon first taking the new position.
When I attempt to make the point that they might have more freedom and flexibility than they realize, I often get resistance from new supervisors. They say things like, “Supervisors don’t have any flexibility in my company” or “You don’t understand my boss. She won’t let me do anything that isn’t strictly by the book.”
While the statements may accurately reflect how much freedom new supervisors feel they have, neither statement is completely true. Very few supervisors have no flexibility in how they assign tasks and instruct their team members.
Almost all supervisors have at least some flexibility.
As an engineering officer on a submarine, I used to start, run and shutdown nuclear reactors. Frankly, the nuclear navy is a pretty rigid environment. As a junior officer, I did not get much leeway in how I did things. I was expected to follow the rules, regulations and procedures as defined by people senior to me.
But even in that environment, I had some flexibility. In addition to following procedures, I was expected to observe work practices, read procedures and notice bottlenecks in processes to look for ways to make them better and more efficient. I could not always act on my observations without approval, and I was expected to make well-reasoned recommendations.
With rare exceptions, supervisors in the business world have more flexibility and freedom than I had as an engineering officer. Realizing the freedom and flexibility is the basis for what I would call “The Secret” to getting more done.
Your first step is to identify and remove the barriers to productivity that are brought about by work processes. Take these actions:
- Ask your team members to explain what slows them down. For example, do they need a form to streamline communications and requests? Are they required to use a process that no longer works?
- Observe their work flow. Is a piece of equipment installed so that they have to take 10 extra steps 15 times each day? Do they have to handle the same piece of paper multiple times?
- Listen to their frustrations. Do they consistently joke about how ridiculous a certain process step seems to them? Do they talk about things they have to do to work around broken or slow equipment?
When you invest your time and energy into finding and removing barriers to employees’ and your productivity, you multiply your efforts and you get more done. Plan thirty minutes within the next 48 hours to consider the work processes used by your team. Focus on identifying barriers, duplicated effort and outdated practices that hinder efficient task completion. Then initiate a change to remove that barrier to task completion.