Stuart Mann, Global Implementation Manager for WiseTech Global, explains why successful task management doesn’t mean moving all the work downstream.
There is much cynicism surrounding phrases like ‘staff empowerment’ and ‘redistribution of tasks.’ Many see them as nicer ways to say ‘job loss.’ Are they?
Immediate and sustainable productivity improvements across an entire organization are the primary reasons behind most software implementation projects. But software in isolation can’t solve business problems. There’s no point incorporating your old ways into new work practices, trying to automate exactly what you’re doing now.
Staff, of course, hear discussions about ‘efficiency,’ ‘automation of processes,’ and ‘streamlined workflows,’ which they might simply interpret as ‘job losses.’ While it’s true that achieving change will inevitably involve the redistribution of certain tasks, fears about wholesale redundancies are largely unfounded.
What actually happens is that your staff will be liberated from the time-consuming, repetitive parts of their responsibilities to focus more on improving customer service and broadening their skillsets. Space is created for them to be able to draw on their accumulated knowledge of the business and understanding of your clients - rather than their ability to key in data and find pieces of paper.
Being Open to Unpleasant Truths
The first step for constructive change is to identify where the real problems are in your business. How much success you find here depends on how much effort you make getting people to think about the business, reassuring them that they can talk freely about the problems they experience, and convincing management to be open to hearing these unpleasant truths. Show everyone how they fit into the broader enterprise and how they can work together to make improvements.
Standardize to Automate
Across your organization there will be tasks that are repeated day in and day out, where the intervention of your staff adds no value to the business or to your customer relations. These standard operations are the ones that should be first on the ‘to be automated’ list.
When all the consistent processes come through a workflow automatically, your staff will only have to deal with whatever is flagged as an exception. By using their individual and collective expertise, they will work more efficiently and bring productivity gains business-wide.
Moving Data Capture Tasks for Quality and Accuracy
An obvious value example of task redistribution within your total workflow is found in changing the point of data capture.
By moving the entry of information toward the front end of your operations (and away from accounts!) you can secure high quality and accurate data for all the steps and activities that follow. Each department only needs to add the information specific to their requirements, rather than starting from scratch each time.
Businesses with teams that work independently - for air import, air export, sea import, road, rail, and so on - can now come together in a streamlined process, each step configured exactly as it needs to be from one mode to another. Standardizing your processes brings other benefits as well. Your staff gain greater awareness of the wider business. Because staff skillsets become more versatile, the whole organization becomes more flexible, making it easier to cover growth, sick leave, and holidays. And because your people gain a greater understanding of others’ operational roles, implementing changes later on will be far easier.
Shift and Share
‘Task redistribution’ can and should be considered another way of saying ‘team collaboration.’ When you break down internal barriers, you’ll also find that a more positive culture develops – one that’s positive not only for staff but for customers too.
Allocating what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, to the next available staff with the capacity to complete the job is the goal. Task sharing must be needs-based, non-hierarchical and a little less aware of those traditional barriers like branch or department. It should drive out the white space between tasks while reducing cherry picking and task switching.
So if immediate and sustainable productivity improvements are the primary reasons behind your next software implementation, go beyond the feature list and ask how the software can change you into a leaner, smarter operation.
Stuart Mann is Global Implementation Manager for WiseTech Global
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