Produce Good Habits from Procedures

The strength of efficient procedures lies in the fact that, once established, they become automatic. Well-planned procedures for paper flow, for processing orders, and for other routine matters save time and increase the productivity of everyone. Ongoing evaluation and adjustment of procedures is the responsibility of the entire work group. Whether in a group or on your own, as you look for ways to save time through efficient procedures, consider the following four major steps.

Identify routine activities.

Evaluate any routine activity that occurs with relative frequency and according to an established pattern. For example, most orders from the sales department are routine. The supervisor or manager reviews orders only to approve credit for a new customer or to handle some unusual feature of an order. Examine the various activities performed by your department and determine where a time saving could occur through revising current procedures.

Study existing procedures.

Look at the procedures now being followed to accomplish a particular task. Ask pertinent questions like these:

“Who does the work?”

“When is the work done?”

“Where is the work done?”

“How is the work used after it is completed?”

Learn everything about the purpose, the people, and the procedures involved in the task. Ask questions about each activity. Is it necessary? Many reports and procedures can be eliminated entirely or combined with other activities. Be willing to question all procedures in the interest of responding rapidly to changing needs.

Develop a new method.

Once you understand the need and know exactly who has been doing the work and how, develop an improved method for achieving the task in a time-efficient manner. Eliminate obsolete tasks. Combine several routine activities that can be done by one person. Place vital information on the computer network for immediate access by the appropriate people who need to make efficient, timely decisions.

Rearrange the order in which work is accomplished. If, for example, the shipping department complains that it does not receive sales orders soon enough to ship on time, consider rearranging or simplifying the order in which sales are processed. Distribute multiple copies of orders or cut time by directly entering orders on a computer information system so everyone receives order information sooner.

Solicit feedback from those who will use a new procedure. Although you cannot use every suggestion, you can use some of the best. But always be sure to respond in some way to all suggestions. Responding to the suggestions of people gains their commitment and belief in the organization. People give even more to an organization in which they feel their input makes a difference.

Apply the new procedure.

After designing the new procedure, put it into operation. Institute adequate training. Be sure all your people know where they fit into the new procedure. Explain their duties and responsibilities, and ask for their commitment.

While a new procedure or work method is being implemented, watch it closely. Question people about how well it is working and ask for their comments about improvement. Once you are satisfied that the routine is well established, turn supervision over to someone else and free your time for other work and future productivity.

Procedures are merely formally established habits. Habits – both good and bad – develop through repetition and become fixed through reinforcement. Reinforce desirable actions through appropriate praise and recognition, and discourage bad habits through immediate correction. When given constructive feedback, people quickly develop the desired habits for handling routine matters. The result? Efficient procedures.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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