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Monitor Your Systems

Monitor Your Systems
Monitor Your Systems

I just returned from a Western Association of Chamber Executives (WACE) conference – nearly 500 chamber staffers from 14 western states exchanging ideas, best practices, horror stories and a fair number of jokes.  I always come back from this annual conference with a list of contacts, thoughts for new programs, ways to tweak old programs, and at least one pearl of wisdom.  This year’s pearl:  Don’t let your systems make you stupid.

The keynote speaker, Steve Little, recounted calling hotel room service and ordering a vanilla milkshake.  Told that there was no vanilla milkshake on the menu, he proceeded to order a bowl of vanilla ice cream, a large glass half-filled with milk, and a very long spoon.

He noted that he runs this little experiment often, and only 20% of room service staff at hotels with no vanilla milkshake menu item figure out that they can make one with the ingredients they have on hand.

We had a similar situation at the Chamber when I took over in 1999.  It was taking quite a few days to get end-of-month financial statements, due, I was told, to needing to post to all of the accounts.  Now, I’ve had some bookkeeping experience and interpreted this as paperwork process.  It wasn’t until a few months had gone by and we were looking to save money on our bank charges that I discovered we actually had accounts at more than eight different financial institutions, and the delay was a result of waiting for the mail to bring in the statement.

It was then that I instituted the “Stupid Rule.”  If you’re doing something in your job that you think is stupid, let me know because it probably is.

Businesses need to watch out for procedure creep.  Over time, as staff turns over and business grows and changes, procedures you’ve carefully created may have evolved into something you don’t recognize.  Small changes here and there add up to failed systems over time.

So take a look around your company and see if everyone’s doing what you intended.  Enlist your staff’s help in identifying the things that don’t make sense.  Your business will run more smoothly, and your employees and your customers will be happier.  Remember:  Don’t let your systems make you stupid!

Mary Ann Miller
Tempe Chamber of Commerce