We won the contract, and my company just finished transitioning 50 armed security officers on payroll to secure one of our federal government’s critical infrastructures. Our 24-hour mission was to control the access to the installation and allow in only those who had an official reason to be there. Our officers were well-trained and mission-focused, yet one of them accidentally discharged a bullet from their weapon into the clearing barrel when he was de-gunning and going off shift. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
I was a relatively new CEO working for a large corporation, and this was one of my company’s first contract wins. Discharging a bullet from your firearm without justification is a massive safety violation and reportable to the client and my board of directors. “Ughh, not good,” I murmured when the operations officer told me the news. I asked our operations officer to get me the details of how and why the bullet was discharged and review and, if necessary, correct our firearms clearing process.
Two weeks later, another security officer accidentally discharged a bullet from his firearm into the clearing barrel while de-gunning, and again thankfully, no one was hurt. Now I was more than concerned we had a problem or multiple problems. I tasked my vice president of operations and the operations officer to monitor every shift change at this location for three days and evaluate the procedures our officers follow to safely clear their firearms before leaving the worksite. Their observations and assessment were that some procedures were absent, the security officers didn’t follow some, and the shift supervisor didn’t enforce some. Additionally, none of the employees received formal training on the process itself. However, the officers and supervisors understood the importance of safety and were motivated to follow a revised process.
This scenario is replicated in thousands of organizations every day. Most organizational work activity is transactional, and if it is, then systemize the action. When organizations begin to scale, they’re wholly dependent on the systems in place, the processes that make up the systems, and the procedures required to be performed concurrently and sequentially by the workforce that define the process. Management imposes and enforces standards for each procedure the employees must meet to achieve the level of output determined by the process. Maximizing process effectiveness means managers must train and certify the workforce. The employees must be motivated and held accountable for performing the procedures to standard and following the process through completion.
Importantly, for every system and process you have in your organization, assign a champion to monitor it for flaws or antiquity.
Many times, employee underperformance can be attributed to a system failure and not a lack of motivation. A system failure means a process is absent. A procedure in the process is missing or not well defined. There exists an untrained employee on a procedure or the process. A supervisor is not monitoring and requiring workforce adherence to the procedure or process. Or finally, the employee lacks the motivation to perform the procedure or follow the process.
Too often though, I’ve observed managers erroneously attribute underperformance to what they perceive as an unmotivated employee instead of a system failure. Then, what follows is the manager counseling a flustered employee on his underperformance. In this case, the manager is fixing the wrong problem and disenfranchising a good employee. Conversely, imagine what employee morale would be if the champion of the process noted that a procedure was flawed, corrected it, and retrained the employee on how to perform it!
When you observe an employee underperforming, the best business practice is to check your system, processes and procedures for flaws and inconsistencies. Then check to see if there are incompatibilities with other systems, processes and procedures. Ensure your managers are monitoring and enforcing compliance to the system. And train your employees on how to perform the procedures required of the system. When you follow this best business practice, you will be maximizing your organization’s productivity and your employees’ morale.
My team modified a procedure performed by the shift supervisor as part of the firearms clearing process. Then they trained the security officers on every procedural step in the process and certified them upon completion. Adherence to the process eliminated any possibility of accidentally firing a bullet into the clearing barrel. The revised process was then leveraged and adopted at all our other critical infrastructure worksites as a best business practice when de-gunning a shift.
Organizations are dynamic, as are the systems, processes and procedures the organization uses to maximize productivity. What my team went through as an organization to fix a system problem is what your process champions should be doing every day. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it!
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.