I was in trouble. As I exited my plane I frantically looked around, scanning the gate area. Nothing. I hurried deeper into Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, searching everywhere for a place to charge my phone before my next flight took off.
As I searched, I felt my cell phone give one final shudder, then die completely in my pocket. Why was an electrical outlet so hard to find in this busy airport? And then I saw them. With a thrill of relief, I finally found some available electrical outlets – but there was a catch. To use them I would need to either be as tall as a professional basketball player, or climb up on the counter, like the other people already there were doing. Are you kidding me? Who, knowing the needs of the patrons, would design a building this way?
Take a look below at the photo I took onsite. Yes, the outlets were that close to the ceiling (I would guess about 8 feet up). Yes, those are cell phones that people left dangling off the wall after standing on the counter to plug them in. And yes, at the bottom left is a person, presumably a cell phone owner, perched precariously on the counter. This process is definitely not people-centric.
At the gemba, many employees face challenges like this one every day. Processes built with needed equipment or information out of reach. Employees (metaphorically) standing on counters as they build work-arounds. These are hard-working, conscientious employees, exerting herculean effort to overcome the obstacles the business has put in their way. Processes that could be have been so simple, so efficient…if only the needs of the end-user were considered first.
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with a global corporate team designing a new process for employee recognition. It would be easy in this process to unintentionally burden the employee with extensive, bureaucratic paperwork with almost the feel of an antagonistic corporate audit. Our team’s mantra is simple: We will not punish the people with paperwork (and other bureaucracy). The process must be simple and sustainable. We will keep the user as our central focus and build a user-friendly process around him or her.
What seems like a simple statement is presenting incredible obstacles to my team as we discover systems we need but don’t have in place - systems that would help support the employee and not require the individual to bear the burden of documentation. Perhaps the lack of system support was what the airport discovered when it decided to install additional electrical outlets – maybe there wasn’t an easy way to add more electrical outlets near the ground. Maybe it was easier for the process to put outlets out-of-reach on the walls. Either way, the airport built a process and then inserted people into it.
For my team, time will tell how successful we are in building our process, a sustainable, simple process. Our progress is slow – with each step we encounter more obstacles, hard obstacles. Our eyes remain focused, however, on our target condition and we will not “punish the people.” We will design a people-centric process.
What about your business? Are you building your processes with your people at the center? Or are you building your processes then throwing your people in them? Go look for the outlets on your walls.