It's spring in my part of the world and
that means an abundance of water. Melted from ice and snow and delivered
by relentless rains, water is everywhere. Motionless water is
standing in low pastures, puddled in driveway potholes and trapped in my leaky
There is water in motion as well:
trickling, flowing or roaring toward larger bodies of water. Nature sees
to it that water stays in motion without instructions. It goes wherever
gravity chooses to send it. Natural flow for water is easy to see and
understand; it's downhill and usually along an obvious, well carved path.
Ideally, the work in your business should
have natural flow to it just like running water, resistance free along a
clear path. But in many businesses, work flows like ketchup from a
bottle. Following inverted shaking, taps and slaps, the ketchup
bottle temporarily spurts and drips an appeasing amount, very similar to the
way some employees respond to the boss's instructions.
volunteers, family) often have difficulty maintaining work flow because the
path, that is what to do next and how to do it, is unknown. They're
trapped like water in a low spot in a field, waiting for a drainage ditch for
Sure, you've told them, more than once,
in different ways when and how to do things. But, most likely the
instructions you gave were in your own concise language. You see the
problem with your concise language is that it's too concise, lacking details
and only presented in one way and in your style.
Consider your assignment of the task: sweep the barn. You have the
mental image of a swept barn and it's done according to your standard.
The recipient of the order is now faced with many decisions:
Where is it?
Where to start?
Sweepings into stalls or
into a shovel or out the door?
Sweep the feed and tack
How much sweeping, rough,
medium or squeaky clean?
Sweep behind trunks and
Catch cobwebs too?
What about horses cross-tied
in the aisle in my way?
Where does the broom get
stored when done?
The process of sweeping, simple at first glance, is filled with
decisions. The other work tasks in your business require decisions
too: Feeding hay, turnout groups, when to blanket, how often to check
water buckets and scrub, greeting customers, cleaning tack, taking messages,
fueling the tractor, filing receipts, loading the trailer for the show and so
Unclear expectations about work and how to do it by the owner, guarantee
inconsistent performance in job completion by the employee.
Well defined expectations in the form of an operations manual for your
business will help communicate the order in which to do work and the steps
necessary to complete it.
WAIT, before you stop reading, an operations manual doesn't have
to be difficult to produce!
Be easy on yourself and your employees, construct the manual one part at a
time. Start with feeding, or stall cleaning or cleaning tack. Begin
with a notepad and take notes on the process and what's important. Use
your digital camera to take photos of what a clean stall looks like, the right
level of bedding to maintain in the stall and the image of a rack full of clean
bridles with sparkling bits.
The photos will save hours of writing and explain certain parts of operations
more easily than words. Draw on the photos if that helps explain.
Don't go to extreme details at first.
Describing eleven ways to operate a rake in the barnyard may be
overkill. Add detail, or better yet, have your employees add detail as
they analyze the process.
Operations manuals are often associated only with large corporations like
McDonalds, Starbucks or Wal*Mart.
Small businesses have less room for error than large corporations;
lean with employee numbers by economic necessity, there are no extra people in
small businesses to pick up the slack for low productivity.
An operations manual is the basic support for a system to allow work
to flow like water on a clear path. Your development of systems for
your business will help:
- minimize conflicts between employees
- create consistency in quality of work done
- speed the completion of work
- reduce training time for new hires
- minimize worry while you're out of town
Let me know your results.
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