Saturday, February 6, 2016

When you walk into an organisational disaster

It's happened to most of us from time to time. 

You start a new job or transfer to a different department and find that it's totally disorganised. Everyone does things differently and what was done one way Tuesday is done a different way on Friday.

It seems that nothing is organised. Nobody knows exactly how "things" are done and the place simply stumbles along with great inefficiency and plenty of frustration.

I've walked into these scenarios several times during my career and suspect it's a common challenge in numerous work places.

Fortunately, I was either a senior manager or had high autonomy and could rectify these inefficient situations. But, even if you are at the bottom of the hierarchy, you can still do something to improve your lot.

Nobody wants to go to work and become frustrated with dysfunctional systems. If your senior management won't address the issues, do it yourself.

How do you fix the problem?

Everything in business is related to processes and procedures.

A process describes a series of activities that lead to a particular result. A procedure is how you attain that result.

The process is the big picture - the overview of what happens and the procedures detail the way you make it happen.

So, to rectify organisations that are running like a dog with a broken hip, you have to identify what the processes are and then develop procedures that will get you there.

The benefit of procedures is that everyone can read how to do things the preferred way and eventually everyone begins singing to the same tune.

When new people start, they can be inducted using the procedures (standard operating procedures) of the department. Here's a case study from my own experience:

I worked as Head Lecturer at a Correctional Centre and part of my job was to purchase courses for prisoners from local training providers. (The process). When I arrived there were no standard procedures to follow to make this happen.

I set up a procedures manual for this and other activities which went something like this:

  1. Identify a suitable course provider (say for welding) 
  2. Identify suitable prisoner students
  3. Obtain a quotation to run the course and details of the course content
  4. Accept the quotation and raise a purchase order to cover the cost of the course
  5. Purchase whatever equipment was required
  6. Decide on a date and time for the course
  7. Advise prisoners who were to attend of the date, time and duration of the course
  8. Get approval for the course presenters to enter the prison
  9. Provide a brief to the presenters about conduct requirements while in the prison and safety aspects
  10. Run the course
  11. Obtain the results from the presenters
  12. Authorise payment 
  13. Issue certificates to prisoners
Because I organised numbers of courses at any time, this procedure leant itself to use of a single page checklist, the advantage of which was I could look at any of the checklists and know exactly what stage the process was at. All documentation related to the courses was clipped under the checklist.

If I was sick and someone else had to take over - which I never was - they could see at what stage of the process every course was at.

When all the admin for a course was completed, I filed the documents.


If you are faced with a similar experience, you can either go with the flow and bob around like a cork in the ocean or you can take control of the system and set up procedures to make your working life more interesting. 

It's your choice.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Risks of Emailing from Work

Do you send personal email from work? Most of us do.

When you send personal email from work using your employer's email client, server and PC or tablet, anything you send may be viewed by your employer or their agent.

You send an email message to the hot chick or guy in accounting asking for a date. You place a bet, send your partner an anniversary email promising a wonderful evening of passion.

It's all legally viewable by your employer. Any privacy you think you have doesn't legally exist.

Even if it did exist, you never know who in the IT Department may be reading it.

Recently, the European Court of Human Rights dealt with a case of personal email being sent on a company computer and found in favour of the company.

Most firms I know have a published IT policy that sets out what their IT infrastructure, including email, may be used for, when, and how.

The Northern Territory Government (Australia), for whom I worked, had a policy that stated that minimal personal use was acceptable but, any transmissions were allowed to be monitored by the IT Department to ensure the use met guidelines.

Further, all formal email messages had to be retained under the government's open and accountable record-keeping policies.

The message here is: don't write a formal or personal email with content you wouldn't want to be made public.

There are scores of cases of people whose careers have taken a hit because of email - just think of Hillary Clinton and the problems she had and how she used a personal server for government email. This is a bit different, but highlights the problems that can occur with something as simple and ubiquitous as email.

Don't get caught doing the wrong thing.


Friday, January 22, 2016

6 Productive Things to Do During Downtime at Work

By Guest Author, Ashley Andrews

With important projects and fast approaching deadlines to deal with, most people barely have time to grab a bite to eat, let alone do anything else during a workday. It’s rare for us to have a slow day, or even a couple of slow days at work. But if you are experiencing a quiet period, what can you do?

Instead of browsing through social media websites or playing a game on your phone, you can spend this time much more productively and complete tasks you’ve been putting off for a while. If you need some ideas on productive things you can do during downtime at work, here are my top 6 tips.

1)    Organise your desk

When you’re rushing from one task to another and racing to get things done before the deadlines, you won’t have time to organise your desk or clean up the mess in your drawer. It’s not your priority so, understandably, it will have to wait.

The problem is, with a list of deadlines and an increasing amount of work to do, most people rarely find the time to organise their workspace. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where you desperately need a piece of paper or a particular document but you can’t find it in all the clutter, no matter how hard you look.

If you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, try to declutter your workspace. Clear off your desk, discard everything you no longer need (or is not necessary for everyday use) and take some time to organise all your important files and papers. Not only will this help you save a considerable amount of time in the long run, but it will also make work a lot less stressful.

If you need some tips on how to get started, Time Management Ninja has some great suggestions.

2)    Tackle your emails

Everyone who gets several dozen emails each day will agree that organising your inbox can be a nightmare. Even if you go through a couple of them, another dozen will come in and you’ll have to start all over again. In no time, you’ll find your inbox filled with emails you’ve already dealt with or have put aside. When you have some free time on your hands, roll up your sleeves and start digging through them.

The simplest and easiest way to tackle your emails is to follow the “do, delete, delegate” process. Which means, read and reply to the email, delete it if you need to, or delegate it to someone else.

Another effective method is to dedicate certain times of your working day specifically for checking and replying to emails. You can read more about this technique on the
Microsoft blog.

3)    Make that call

If you’re guilty of putting off talking to people on the phone, now is the best time to get this done. You finally have the time to return your client’s call, or have a chat with your college friend, or that interesting person you met at a company trip or networking event. It’s always good to connect with your family, friends, and acquaintances when you have the time.

4)    Plan your upcoming days

Although there are some people who love to plan their days down to the very last detail, most people find it a tedious and unnecessary task. The truth is, however, that people who plan ahead are generally more productive than the rest of us. Planning your days ahead of time gives you a tentative roadmap, and allows you to set the pace for getting things done.

If, at this stage, you realise that your time is better spent starting early on a project or tackling a task with a still distant deadline, you should do it. Getting ahead of work will help you avoid last minute stress.

5)    Think about how you spend your time

Another productive way to spend your free time is to think about how you usually spend your time. Do you utilise your time properly? Are you managing your days well? Do you get things done without being stressed and get enough rest? Think about where you have the habit of wasting time and plan accordingly.

And, if you’re not entirely sure why managing your time is so important or how poor time management can affect a business, you can read about them on the
Activia website.   

6)    Learn something new

As they say, it’s never too late to learn. Whether it’s something that contributes to your productivity at work or something that would reduce stress and give you joy, take this time to learn something new. Perhaps you’ve been itching to learn origami, or need to develop your presentation skills. You can use this time to sharpen these skills.

How do you make use of downtime at work? Do you have any other tips that you think might be useful? Let us know!