An extremely wise manager once told me that every problem in an office comes down to some combination of three things; a person, a process or a form. Using that simple formula she was able to diagnose and cure just about any issue that arose. Over the years, I’ve added hardware to the mix and consider ‘form’ to be a doppelganger for software. When issues arise in an office operation, start by considering which of these categories apply to the problem.
Several years ago, I was asked to improve operations at a large regional office. When I arrived, the first thing I did was just wander around and crack jokes with the employees. One particular person caught my eye as she had three cases of Whiteout under her desk. I grabbed a nearby cubicle, fired up my laptop and looked up her employee record. She was smart, hard working, and well liked by her managers. So, what was the deal with the Whiteout?
Rather than beating around the bush, I simply asked her whether she was trying to corner the market on correction fluid or selling it to those who enjoy the scent. It turned out that every document she received from headquarters had a mistake that needed to be corrected in order for the document to achieve its purpose. A few more questions revealed that she had been rebuffed by headquarters because there were ‘higher priorities’ than fixing her errant form. So, we basically had a ‘form and person’ problem. With a couple of calls, the problem was resolved (swear words from a business owner tend to change priorities) and this able employee became substantially more efficient.
When I walk into an office and see a large number of filing cabinets, this is a dead giveaway of a ‘process’ problem. There is rarely a good reason to store hard copies of documents. Federal law allows most documents to be electronically signed so storing contracts is unnecessary. Photographs and other ‘pictures’ (eg. medical imaging, bank statements, blueprints, etc.) can be digitally imaged (and are usually digitally created) with enormous detail. The problem is that the business does not know how to electronically manage documents. They likely have the hardware (scanner/copier) and software (almost any database can store images) but they don’t use the features. Here, development of a digital imaging process and some basic employee training solves the problem.
Retyping of data is another bright red flag. Almost every office utilizes a database (your customer relationship software, for example) to track their business. That database should be able to generate documents either internally or via an interface with another program (such as Word or Acrobat). If you enter all your customer’s information into the database, you should be able to create forms that contain that data. You should never have to ‘retype’ that information into a form or anywhere else for that matter. For law firms and other document driven businesses, a properly implemented document generation system provides enormous returns on investment. This is primarily a ‘software’ issue and is solved by creating and automating forms required to run the business.
The point is that, when evaluating your office, you should start by understanding where inefficiencies are born. Evaluate the person, software, hardware and process associated with the issue and then determine the proper course of action. Ask yourself whether additional training is needed (‘person’) or additional programming, such as creating a form, is necessary (‘software’). If a vital task is not being performed reliably, look at the underlying ‘process’ that drives that task. In many instances, the issue will be based upon a combination of these factors. Here, it is critical to understand that if you don’t correct each factor, the problem is likely to recur. The bottom line is that the performance any office can be improved by evaluating operations using these four categories.
If you’d like to learn more about how Techaerus can help you evaluate and improve your office’s efficiency, drop us a line here. You’ll be amazed at what just a bit of thought and elbow grease can accomplish.
Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).