What could you accomplish if you stopped thinking about “this one time?” and tightened your processes to improve your business? Denise Limato, Watermark’s Vice President of Organizational Optimization Services, lays it out for you.

Let’s talk about “isms,” those colorful sayings people use to help make their point. These are the thought processes that inhibit companies from becoming more efficient and effective. For businesses with tight margins, like janitorial and security contractors, finding ways to become more efficient is one of the only ways to reduce costs and see continued growth. Let’s look at one of those thought processes that causes companies to be less efficient — and less profitable.

While most of my “isms” are original, this one borrows from the popular movie, American Pie.  One of the characters in the movie prefaces almost all her stories with “This one time at band camp…”. Interestingly, I’ve heard many a justification for cumbersome and ineffective processes begin in a similar way where the defender of the process explains that this one time, an adverse outcome occurred, and the existing process was created to prevent that outcome from occurring again.  Similar to “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” we see a multi-step process put in place to prevent one thing from possibly ever happening again.

Three commonalities exist in these “this one time” events. First, the process was a knee-jerk reaction to what was more likely a person-problem rather than a process-problem. Second, the likelihood of that issue, and corresponding consequence, is very unlikely to occur again. In several cases, the situation is so different now then when this issue occurred, it makes it no longer relevant. Lastly, people are the triggers for the next step in these processes, which means it still has multiple potential points of failure.

These “this one time” processes typically involve people repeating actions of others to try and ensure a mistake doesn’t occur. In addition to employees repeating the actions of others, these processes are also dependent on email chains that remind the next person in line to complete their task. The process is time-consuming, repetitive, and has no real benefit to the organization. The time and effort spent to prevent the event from occurring again actually costs more than if they had just dealt with the mistake if it occurred again. That, by definition, is inefficient.

This is not to say that checks and balances aren’t worth the effort. In some cases, it’s essential that work is checked and validated. The key is cost effectiveness. Does the process or check and balance cost more than the potential mistake might cost? Of course, we want to prevent mistakes and rework from happening. But what can you do instead?

Process mapping is a great exercise to flush out “this one time” processes and inefficiencies. The visual picture of the flow of the process provides an excellent mirror to reflect to all individuals involved. The actors see their part in the overall picture and it provides the opportunity to more easily see duplication of effort as well as potential points of failure. The extra benefit is the discussion of why. Why do we do it this way? Why is this repeated here? Why is this a benefit? 

As you consider ways to decrease costs, take some time to look at your processes. You might find opportunities to reduce steps, improve outcomes, and start your explanations with “all the time” instead of “this one time.”

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