How to bring order to operational chaos

How to bring order to operational chaos

In many organisations, core management activities can become diluted, with a variety of distractions seriously affecting performance and risking operational chaos. It’s the role of your operations managers to plan, forecast, allocate and performance-manage resource, ensuring delivery of SLAs and helping your business achieve its strategic objectives. Yet we see all too often that the time spent on delivering the core role is not where managers spend their time.

Common factors that degrade managers’ ability to manage

  • Too much time spent in meetings, the value and cost of which is not measured
  • Extended periods away from their desks
  • Focus on ad hoc projects
  • Time spent addressing IT issues
  • Regulatory concerns or mitigation actions

“Lost time is never found again.”

Benjamin Franklin

Have you got the right people doing the right things?

If your managers spend more of their time in meetings away from their teams or are taking more interest in projects than in their core role, you may not have the right people in the right positions. Internal promotion to management level is often based on experience and technical understanding, yet this doesn’t mean those individuals have the skills to manage their  people. Promote the wrong candidates and you will end up with teams ineffectively managed that lack the basic frameworks and processes to meet industry performance benchmarks. Whilst a candidate may be technically gifted they often do not have the skills or have not been trained to manage their people. Defining the core skills sets that you need to populate your management positions is essential for effective placement of both internal and external candidates. Defined recruitment and promotion standards aligned to your documented management frameworks are essential to ensure you have the right people, with the right skills.

Managers or firefighters?

Are your front-line mangers actively planning, scheduling and overseeing operations and engaging with their people? Or are they putting out one operational fire after another, without ever gaining control of the situation? Constant firefighting erodes the efficiency of teams and negatively impacts the customer journey. In many organisations, firefighting managers are often viewed as high performers, reacting to problems, rallying the troops and getting things sorted out. Yet the reality is that this reactionary style of management leads to an ever-growing backlog of problems and will trend toward chaos not high performance.

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”

Paul J. Meyer
Firefighter sitting on a firefighting truck with water hose

Why did the fire start in the first place?

We often see mangers rewarded for backlog recovery, yet I believe managers should be rewarded for consistent best practice delivery rewarding the right behaviours you want managers to live up to.

Ask yourself are your managers shouting about how good they are at dealing with problems, and how they have to constantly spend time sorting things out? And do you reward them for this type of behaviour?

Incentivise the wrong management style and you will end up reinforcing ineffective behaviours. What you need is people who will go to the source of the fire, learn why it started in the first place, and then make sure it doesn’t happen again and consistently deliver against the documented frameworks.

How to put out the fires and regain control

It would be unfair to pin the blame solely on managers and their lack of core skills. Responding to a continual stream of challenges is often the result of badly designed process and a lack of investment in IT meaning proactive management becomes increasingly difficult. So in addition to reviewing the performance of individual managers, take a close look at the framework in which they operate.

  • Do you recruit and promote to a standard documented in your management framework?
  • Have you delivered the appropriate training for your management be an industry leading operations team leaders?
  • Do you have the right incentives in place that underpin the behaviours you want consistently delivered ?
  • Have you given your mangers the right tools to enable them to deliver high performance?
  • Do they have access to software that allows them to measure performance, monitor trends and allocate work efficiently?
  • Have you made sufficient investment to allow your managers to do their job effectively?
  • What investment has been made to allow your managers to do their job effectively?

Compare this to what has been invested in other elements of the business in the past 12 months. Your front line managers are your key assets, they manage and lead your front line staff who touch thousands of customers every week and in some businesses they do not receive the investment they should.

An investment in your managers is one of the wisest decisions you can make. An effective manager motivates, improves performance of throughput and quality, reduces cost, increases capability and capacity.

Its all about ‘unlocking the potential in your greatest assets’

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