The end of the year provides a perfect opportunity to mentally check your business. Since operations typically slow down during the holiday season, you may finally have a chance to step back from the day-to-day business of putting out fires and instead reflect upon the past year.
As you begin your review, keep in mind the two aspects of your business that matter the most: the processes and the people. Let's spend some time considering each.
Every organization, no matter what size or what industry, needs processes —systems through which products get manufactured and/or products or services are sold. Although some processes are more complicated than others, every business must have a system in order to avoid chaos. In fact, if a business does not have a necessary process, or if that process is not particularly effective, employees will develop their own informal process to get the work done.
So, as a leader, you need to look at both the formal and informal processes and ask yourself some tough questions. Are these processes doing what they are intended to do? Are you getting the results you want from them? Are they being used as intended, or are they being circumvented because they are not efficient? Have circumstances changed, making a process obsolete? Is a process working, but not as well as it could be?
Keep in mind that when you start looking at the possibility of changing processes, you may make people nervous. People typically don't like change, especially those who have invested in the current process for perhaps years and are very comfortable with it. I remember in the 1980s when desktop computers first began to come into the offices, and hoards of secretaries, who were expert at operating a typewriter, elected to retire rather than learn the new process of using a computer. Identifying a process that has outlived its usefulness and replacing it with a more efficient process ultimately helps employees get their work done better/faster/easier — and that's what you'll need to emphasize.
The next step in your end of year review is an examination of the people who operate within the process. When you do this review, it's important that you look at the process before you look at the people. If the process is flawed, it will certainly affect the work of even your best performers. And sometimes that's hard to discern.
Say, for example, you want your manufacturing line to produce 1,000 widgets a day. If you don't have an adequate amount of people, equipment or resources to do that, the employees will not meet the goal, even if the individuals are working at a high level. But it's not their failure; it's the result of a flawed process.
Many processes look absolutely wonderful until you add people to the equation. People are the X factor. They put your process in motion and help you see the successes and failures of the plan.
Once you know your process is as good as you can make it, the next question is whether you have the right people in the right place within this process to get the maximum performance. It's important to be realistic in your expectations. We often hear about employees working 110%. That's impossible, mathematically and realistically. In fact, it's not even realistic for employees to work at 100% on a regular basis. You need to be very reasonable about your expectations for your workforce as you examine them and their place and performance.
This is the time to make decisions about retention, promotion and transfers. You may have a very good employee who is in a position where he or she struggles. How can you put this person in the right place and within the right process? You may find that you have employees who are consistently underperforming and cannot be improved. It may be time to let them go — ideally after, but not too far after, the holidays. Who then will replace them? What hiring and promotion needs do you have? As a manager, you need to have the ability and fortitude to make these changes, which happen by thoroughly examining your overall workforce.
At the end of the year, when you have taken a good, hard look at your processes and people and have made the brave and sometimes difficult changes that result from your examination, your organization will be more prepared and more capable for whatever challenges lie in the year ahead.
With his distinctive, direct and oft-humorous approach, "recovering attorney" and long-time business and executive coach Paul Glover bares his knuckles to present 76 strategies and tips to thrive in the Knowledge Economy in his new book, WorkQuake, published by Round Table Companies. The blogger for FastCompany.com coined the term WorkQuakeTM of the Knowledge Economy to capture his unique insights and tools to implement organizational change in the knowledge economy. Paul's writing has been featured in The Business Edge, Vistage, Manufacturing.net, and Food Manufacturing. He is based in Chicago.
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