Strategically Reshaping Operations: How the Outcome Exercise and Task Inventory Drive Business Results
Taking over an operation, particularly one that is experiencing turmoil and suboptimal performance, is akin to stepping into a complex puzzle where every piece needs to be reevaluated and repositioned. The foremost step in this intricate process involves strategic alignment – pairing the best resources with the most effective outputs. It's a task that demands a keen understanding of both the human and operational elements of a business.
This alignment is not just about resource management; it's about unlocking the potential of every aspect of the operation to transform challenges into opportunities for growth and efficiency.
In this guide, we'll explore an activity I often do in new situations to ignite a turnaround and to effectively manage this transition, turning a struggling operation into a thriving, well-oiled machine.
Understanding Employee Motivation and Decentralizing Tasks
When managing operations, it's essential to start with a basic but powerful idea: people want to excel in their jobs. This desire leads to job satisfaction and better performance. Here's how to make the most of this:
Empower People: Remember, everyone wants to do their best at work and work at their highest ability.
Value Their Contributions: Make sure people feel that their work is important, and tied to outcomes and company success.
Now, for the strategy part. It's all about decentralization, which means assigning tasks to the right people at every level. This involves:
Decentralization: Push tasks down to the lower levels of your team.
Task Matching: Align tasks with the abilities and skills of your team members.
Efficient Decision-Making: Make decisions at the point where work happens, for faster and better outcomes.
Adaptability: Keep your operations flexible to change quickly when needed.
By focusing on these areas, you create an operation that's responsive and efficient. It's more than just getting the job done; it's about building a dynamic team where everyone is playing to their strengths and making decisions where they are most informed. This approach not only boosts efficiency but also enhances job satisfaction across your team.
With these concepts in hand, we need to look for where things have gone off the rails over time.
Identifying and Resolving 'Scar Tissue' in Operations
Over time in any business, roles and tasks can get mixed up, like 'scar tissue' forming. This happens when team members start doing extra jobs to help out and then keep doing them, even when not needed. New people might join for one job but end up doing something else. For example, a person hired for shipping might start answering sales emails, or someone at the front desk might help with packing slips.
This mix-up leads to people doing jobs that don't match their skills or even areas of responsibility. You might see things like:
A person from shipping who is now doing sales emails.
Someone from quality control helping with equipment.
The front desk person working on shipping tasks.
This 'scar tissue' manifests as muddled roles and mismatched tasks.
The best way to address this is:
1. Socratic Questioning: Ask 'Why' relentlessly. It's about peeling back the layers of each process and understanding its core purpose.
2. Look for Signs: Be an operations detective. Look for clues of inefficiency, mismanagement, and wrong mindsets.
When you step into a new business as an outsider, you often find many things that don't quite add up By simply asking "why" to anything that doesn't seem completely right, you can uncover a lot of issues. Even if something seems mostly okay but not quite perfect, asking "why" can lead to surprising discoveries. This approach helps reveal:
Twisted roles: People doing jobs they weren't originally hired for.
Improper decision-making: Choices made without all the necessary information.
Mindsets focused on being too cheap or too expensive: Ways of thinking that can hurt the business.
Asking these questions often reveals the 'scar tissue' in a business, showing you where changes could be made for the better.
The Outcome Exercise: Aligning Tasks with Talent
Once you’ve gained insights into the team's background, including their skills, natural tendencies, and areas for improvement, as well as their grasp of what the organization needs to succeed, you can begin to form a comprehensive understanding. This understanding encompasses not just their professional history, but also their strengths, weaknesses, and their perception of the organization's goals and requirements.
So, after doing several 1:1s and extracting as much information as possible, identifying the scar tissue of the organization, you perform the Outcome Exercise.
This exercise is pivotal in reshuffling your team effectively:
1. List Desired Outcomes: Start by clearly defining what success looks like for your business. Is it timely invoiced customers or well-maintained machinery? These aren't mere tasks; they're the pillars of your business's success.
2. Define Success Metrics: How do you know if you've achieved these outcomes? It could be metrics, like time taken for a task, or something more qualitative.
3. Team Involvement: This step is crucial. Involve your team in reshuffling responsibilities. This isn't a top-down directive; it's a collaborative effort.
Tip 👉️ : Make it clear: titles are secondary to talent and capability.
Implementing the Task Inventory System
Things won’t automatically shift after the last exercise, you need a tool or system to help with implementation… that’s where the Task Inventory System comes into play.
This system is about aligning daily tasks with overarching goals. Here's how it works:
Primary Purpose: Each team member identifies their main purpose at the company. This clarity is key
Secondary Outcomes: Next, they list any secondary outcomes from the Outcome Exercise.
Daily Logging: As they go about their day, they log their tasks. This isn't bureaucratic red tape; it's a way to ensure alignment with the Outcome Exercise and where the company is headed.
Action Points for Non-Aligning Tasks: When a task doesn't align, it's not just dropped; it's analyzed and put properly in place.
Task Unrelated to Purpose or Outcomes: You need to get rid of it. The eliminate, automate, delegate framework is perfect for this. See if it needs to be done, if so work to automate or find whose outcome it should be and shift it.
Task Related to Outcome but not Purpose: Work backwards on the ideal way to solve this. Do we need to eventually make a new hire, buy a tool, reshuffle outcomes again? This becomes a medium-term problem to solve as more resources can be afforded and acquired.
Tip 👉️ : Work to remove (eliminate/automate/delegate) all unrelated tasks within 90 days. After this, the newness of the exercise wears off and the scar tissue actually becomes worse and harder to change.
Additional Strategies for Efficiency
For those tasks that stay with you, don’t just take them at face value, work to find ways to do them better, faster, and cheaper.
Efficiency isn't just about doing things faster; it's about doing them smarter.
Here are some strategies:
Triggers: Utilize technology to set reminders that keep you proactive.
Reports: Create dashboards for real-time insights and staying ahead.
Cadences: Implement regular rhythms in your operations for predictability.
Checklists: Use checklists to maintain consistency and scalability in all tasks.
Templates and Forms: These aren't just paperwork; they're tools for efficiency. They streamline processes, ensuring that everyone's on the same page.
Expecting and Managing Change Resistance
Change is hard, even when it's for the better. Here's how to handle it:
Anticipate Friction: Understand that discomfort is natural. People may resist giving up or taking on tasks. But this friction isn't a sign of failure; it's a sign of progress.
Continuous Improvement: Foster a culture where improvement is constant. Encourage your team to see tasks not as burdens but as opportunities for personal growth and satisfaction.
Push Tasks Lower: Always push tasks as low as possible to enable your team to work at their highest level. This will require trust and patience… but its worth it.
Streamlining your operations is a multifaceted challenge. It's about empowering your team, aligning tasks with talents, and embracing change. By applying these steps, you're not just optimizing operations; you're nurturing a culture of efficiency, satisfaction, and success.