Process Efficiencies Require Willingness to Put Up With Current Inefficiencies

As the school year has come to a close, it is a time to reflect on many things.  The fact that I now have a child going into high school certainly gives me pause, if not a bit of trepidation.  It also gives me time to reflect on the efficiencies and inefficiencies of everything I do in the morning to get my children ready for school each day.  You see every morning I drive my children to school.  It is a very straightforward route that consists of a series of right turns and only a few traffic lights.  My son and daughter can expect to arrive at school within 4 minutes of us leaving the house.  It is predictable and reliable.

When I come back, I am faced with two choices:  the exact reverse route or a longer route, which by a mile and a half leads me to a light and a wait.  Logic would prevail the longer way would take more time and not gain any efficiencies. But in this instance, couldn’t be further from the truth.

The shorter route forces me to take a left turn at a very busy intersection.  I can sometimes wait 5 to 7 minutes behind a long line of buses and parents returning to their starting points. There is no guarantee of a timely turn on my return trip.  There is no predictability or reliability on something, only a few minutes before, was smooth sailing and entirely stress free.

The longer route sends me to a light where I sit, on average, about 45 seconds.  (For disclaimer purposes, yes, I am a numbers nerd when it comes to stuff like this) After the turn 20 seconds later, I pass through that busy intersection on the opposite side where other cars and buses are still waiting.   I save about 5 minutes daily avoiding the “shorter” route back home.

This equates to about 900 minutes saved every school year.  I choose this longer route because the process is efficient, predictable and reliable and frankly, I consider my time valuable.  Sitting in traffic is neither beneficial nor fun.

Will this traffic pattern ever change?  Residents have complained and lobbied for a solution but nothing has been done about it. I don’t see a change taking place until a severe accident happens at the intersection and even then, change will get bogged down in a lengthy traffic study, engineering designs, market research, proposal process and then finally construction.

This is a direct corollary for change in process in the workplace.  Most organizations are unwilling to change their culture or processes unless there is an impetus for change.  There is the profit motive, which ties directly to the bottom line and is completely understandable.  The quality motive is the most admirable as it directly ties to making the organization better in terms of process or culture.  Then there is the legal, which by regulation or by force prompts the organizational change.  For example, oil companies being forced legally to clean up their environmental damage and setting forth policies that prevent such damage in the future.

Too often shortcuts from outside consultants and managers aren’t effective enough to make these process and organizational changes a long-term thing.

Great leadership understands that shortcuts, albeit cost effective in the short term, can have adverse effects without good planning.  These shortcuts could have negative impacts on costs, quality and perception on the long term.

My father is a retired U.S. Army officer and military logistician, so planning and resource management is in the blood, perhaps even encoded in my DNA.  My father never took shortcuts, realizing that studying all possible angles of a problem helped him to better understand the problem.  He then came up with a fully baked process for the needed improvement.  I have watched him over the years and it is nice to know and somewhat comforting that I take after him in that manner.

My father, being the career logistician that he still is today, understood the inner workings of his profession at an expert level.  This is why he was a great officer and an even more effective manager and as I say, one heck of a planner.

Growing up with him taught me one essential element about effective leadership and change.  That is that knowing your business and its processes is the key to improvement.  Too often mid-level managers are hired from outside the organization to bring about change.  Shortcuts taken by these outside-hired managers are generally ineffective because they don’t always understand the organization’s processes.

Sometimes outside help works, but if leadership wants to make true change in their organization, they should promote from within; advancing those with the skills, domain expertise and the moxie to lead effective organizational process change.

For the very near future, I’ll take the extra five minutes daily and take the “shortcut” long road home.  I’ll leave the process change to those professional civil engineers.