For a number of years now, there has been increasing pressure on managers to get more done with less. At the same time, many managers work in organizations whose cultures have a heavy bias towards avoiding mistakes. In these types of organizations you often see increased emphasis put on governance, in addition to policy and procedures, intended to virtually eliminate mistakes.
Eliminating mistakes makes good common sense; because the cost of correcting mistakes and rework is typically increasingly expensive the further along in the process the mistake is made. That being said, there is some upper limit on quality, and the avoidance of rework, after which you have passed the point of diminishing returns.
Given the escalating cost of correcting mistakes, the natural tendency is to look for mistakes earlier in the process when they are much less costly to correct, or better yet, avoid mistakes all together. In my experience, some organizations have let the, eliminate mistakes mantra, go too far. In case you are wondering where your organization falls on the continuum, there is a simple litmus test you can use to gauge if things have really gone too far. If people seem to be spending more time trying to get approval or clarification on what should be done to make a process work, than the time they are spending on the core activities that provide the actual value to the end customer, things may have gone too far.
An overburdened, overly-cautious corporate culture can add undue cost to the final product or service being delivered. However, the bigger problem, from my point of view, is the reduction in speed at which things get accomplished, not to mention the effects on innovation. As processes slow down, exceptions can transform into major roadblocks rather than being mere bumps in the road.
A Fatal Mistake Managers Make
Under estimating the need for speed is a fatal mistake many managers make. Before I explain further, let me address that voice in your head that may be vying for your attention right now. When I talk about the importance of speed, what I am NOT talking about is doing rushed, sub-part work or short-cutting critical steps in a process. What I am talking about is putting a more prioritized emphasis on providing value to end customers sooner. Depending on the particular circumstances, here are some places to look for opportunities to speed up the delivery of value to customers:
Things to Consider When Looking to Increase Speed
- Create a high speed initiative and make it public knowledge to those involved that you are putting deliberate emphasis on delivering value faster.
- Make it known to your staff that you trust them and want them to use their best judgement. Making a mistake is okay; delaying things because you are unsure is not.
- Streamline processes to be able to deliver the most important things faster.
- Think smaller. Break up deliverables of products and services into smaller units that can be prioritized to give the customer the most important things first.
For the ideas above to work, what’s needed is a shift in thinking. For example, what if everyone started routinely thinking: what’s the most valuable thing I can do to make the customer happy? This is a very different mindset than one focused on covering-your-assets (CYA) or trying to avoid making any mistakes. Mistakes can be forgiven when working towards something of value for the customer, which also makes it valuable for the company. In fact, mistakes are good evidence that work is happening. If you put your focus on taking decisive actions to help customers win, you also have a sporting chance at winning also, which always trumps any amount of CYA proof that you were right.
If this post resonated with you, consider your answer to the following question:
What is the most valuable thing you can do immediately to provide more value to your customers faster?
With that, let me leave you with some additional food for thought on the subject from Rubert Murdoch…
“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.”