For many Indigenous corporations, there is a huge gap between what management knows should be done, and what actually gets done.
Substantial management time is taken, particularly in administrative matters, reinventing the wheel, doing the same thing in different ways, taking longer to do something that was done efficiently yesterday, and making mistakes along the way.
But imagine if your corporation were a business franchise. Have you ever seen a good franchise like McDonald’s or Coffee Club produce different products from store to store? No matter where you go or when you go, everything happens exactly the same way, taking exactly the same time, producing exactly the same result.
How do you get those outcomes for your corporation?
The answer is the implementation of a good set of workable systems and procedures.
However many Indigenous corporations can probably point to a manual on a shelf that was first written when they incorporated containing policies and procedures. Why don’t they work?
I would say that there are probably two reasons. The first is that they are not maintained – people don’t follow any detailed procedures (if there are any) in a formal way that maintains their use, and that fleshes out any necessary updates.
I’ll give you two examples.
In any Coffee Club kitchen, near the exit door, you will find photographs of what every meal on their menu should look like. As servers leave the kitchen, they check the photo to ensure that the dish they are carrying looks like the photo – and their performance review includes an assessment on if they are following this procedure.
In another example, 5-Star hotel chains provide room checklists to their housekeeping crews. When a housekeeper enters a room to clean, they go through a checklist showing what gets cleaned, topped up, or replaced. At the end of their shift, their checklists are checked and they are performance-reviewed on how they have maintained the checklists.
The second reason why those procedures manuals on the shelves don’t work is that they are probably not detailed enough – or too detailed! What people need is not a long list of things to do but a logical flow of the process or even a flowchart diagram that they can follow quickly but consistently.
For an existing organisation already using many informal systems and procedures (often from person to person!) it is difficult to “start fresh” and invent new systems and procedures. So, even if you understood the need for systems, even if you understood why existing ones don’t work, the question when you are busy every day is “where do I begin?”
Here’s my step by step suggestion on where you start and what you do.
First, begin with those processes which you urgently need to delegate because they are taking up too much of management time. Or, start with those processes where there is an urgent need to improve because they are taking so long and causing reputational or financial risk.
Once you have identified these urgent areas, start this process by listing the job responsibilities of everyone involved in those urgent areas. Then ask each person to write down the basic processes they take to achieve their responsibilities.
For example, let’s say mail-handling is an urgent issue. You ascertain that your Administrative Assistant has mail-handling amongst the following responsibilities: –
- They receive and distribute mail;
- They file documents;
- They keep the Boardroom booking diary;
- They type letters and other correspondence.
Ask him or her to write down the detailed processes for each responsibility, but starting with the urgent mail-handling matter. For example in dealing with mail perhaps they might write: –
- Collect mail from Post Office by 9 AM
- Open mail and put into piles per addressee at my desk
- Enter the sender and addressee in the mail register
- Stamp letters with the date as they are entered in the register
- Distribute to addressees.
Sometimes it’s difficult for people to write down exactly what they do so ask them to try this trick – have them take a small notepad and write down what they do as they do it, every day, for a couple of weeks.
Documenting systems and procedures can be time-consuming and some of your staff may not see the necessity of taking the time to write down their processes or of carrying a notebook around with them.
However, remember and explain that ultimately they reduce the time to complete tasks and the process may allow you to eliminate unnecessary parts of the process. You are actually creating the opportunity to improve, delegate, and even automate systems for them.
Once you have the documented “real-life” processes from the urgent delegation or improvement tasks, you can analyse the tasks to see if any are duplications or just not necessary. For example, your Administrative Assistant may be stamping the date on the letters, but the register already automatically records the date.
Go through each set of detailed processes and apply: –
- Eliminate – can the step be eliminated?
- Improve – can the step be improved?
- Automate – can the step be automated?
This will not take a short time – indeed to do this properly and then to analyse and decide on changes, even on a smaller number of urgent processes, may take a matter of weeks. But it’s a start, and having done this you will have handled the urgent issues in your systems once and for all.
After that, you can then continue on the rest of the responsibilities and processes – for example, ask your Administrative Assistant to go through the same process for how they file documents.
If you have any sense of frustration about the administration of your corporation, about how long it takes to do something, about constantly having to show someone how to do something, about getting different results for the same thing from different people, yiu need to start creating practical and workable systems.
Remember, if you have working systems: –
- Your results are predictable and consistent;
- You can delegate much more easily by handing out process checklists or flow diagrams;
- You can measure and performance-manage;
- You can keep improving processes; and
- You can scale your work.