First Line Manager: What process in your job is not important?

“What process in your job is not important?” is the most important question to ask your employees. You must ask this question now and then. You need them to do a process, you need to know to change it or drop it.  If the process is still important, tell them why.  There is another more important reason. It makes them stop and think about their job and why a process is important. Also, this question lets your employees know that you are willing to change the process.  This question gives employees an opportunity tell you about changes in their job.

The question lets you know if you failed to communicate the process importance. High customer satisfaction comes from your employees performing processes with dedication and consistency. The processes that are not important to your employees are the processes not done.  This attitude can lead to poor quality, low customer satisfaction, and business failure.

My tendency is to over think processes. I worked in several departments over the years. I see a lot of issues in any process; issues that impact other departments.  Some of these processes do not directly impact our department.  I must explain these processes fully. Most times if we do not do these processes our department will not see the impact; but, other departments will see a tremendous impact.  These are the processes employees drop first, after all they do not see the impact. It is critical that I check these processes. I do not want other departments contacting us because we cause problems for them. I prepare to give employees the “why” again as to a processes importance.  This is the reason I listen to my employees.

You, as a first line manager, train employees on a process. You explain why the process is important. Do your actions communicate that the process is important. Do you check the process to make sure employees keep the standard you need? You must check the process. Employees learn the really important processes because you give feedback. This is only possible if you check their actions. Your feedback is critical. Here is some of my thoughts on managing processes.

In 1975, I was working as a management trainee at a bakery.  Bill supervised the panning line. He mostly just stood around. I wondered what he did. Every now and then he would move toward the line grab a little flower then through it on the dough cutting wheel. When I look back on his job now I know what he did. Bill was watching and listening to the sound of the machine and looking at the dough quality.  Bill made sure the machine and the line did not stop. Bill seldom spoke. I am sure he never asked his employees what details about their jobs were not important. The dough and the machine controlled the process.

As a member of a foreman training class, I stood on the generator floor of a large electric generating dam. The plant began operation in 1914. The plant manager was explaining the working of the generator. Suddenly, he turned to the operator and said, “Did you hear that?” What they heard was the generator speeding up for a second. The next day we found out why, a transmission line over a hundred miles away from the plant fell. The plant manager and employee at the plant knew the sounds of the plant.  The generator operation defined all processes at this plant. I know there were few discussions about what processes are not important to keep the generator running. These processes created years ago are strictly followed.

My desk is in a place so I can hear most everything in our department. When I hear something that does not sound right I go to that dispatch area. I stand back and listen to what is going on. If everything is okay, I just stand there. If I see a problem, I inject a comment on what we need to do.  

We do not have a machine or generator dictating our processes. Our processes are flexible. We provide a service not a product. Our service changes because our computer systems and our customers change.

The first line manager’s most important job is listening and observing what employees do.  You required employees to do processes for your operation to work efficiently.  Because you are listening and watching the operation, you can check these important processes.  In a production operation it is critical because one employee can stop the production line. In a service operation the process results are harder to check. There is a saying. “a customer who receives good service will tell one other person; but, a customer that receives poor service will tell five others.”  Most times the customer will not complain to you, they will just not come back. You as a manager of a service may not know the complaint because it is hidden.

Your job as a first line manager is to manage and check the processes in your department.  You must ask the workers for their comments on the details of a process. There is s a saying, “Either you manage the details of the job or someone else will.” I say, “Either you manage the details of your department or your employees will.” 

As my grandmother told me “a watched pot never boils.” I add one more detail to this process, “A watched pot never boils over.”  When you watch the processes in your department you can avoid being scalded.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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