Like that children’s song, some workplace tasks just never seem to end (“It’s a small world…”). They constantly cycle, and you can’t shift your attention away for long, lest something slip out of whack (sorry for getting that song in your head). As exasperating as this may be, it’s the reality. Consider, for example, the constant reevaluation of personal and team workflow. Few things are more necessary—or, in the end, more rewarding.
The “good enough for government work” argument doesn’t cut it in the white-collar world. So it makes sense to reexamine your tasks regularly, always looking for easier, faster ways to do them. Begin by reading widely in your field, so you know about new breakthroughs and theoretical approaches. Once you have a new workflow process up and running, keep a high-level eye on its operation and tweak it at every opportunity.
Recently, I invented something I call the SCRAM formula that can help you stay on track by taking advantage of the feedback loop effect in your workflow process. This makes the progress of ongoing improvement almost inevitable:
1. Set it in place and start it up. Suppose you’ve decided to run a monthly productivity contest to stimulate your workers. First, choose the goals and initial prizes, and then announce the contest.
2. Communicate clearly in all directions. Tell all your crew members the rules of the contest, emphasizing high-quality work. Let them ask questions, answer those questions completely, and make it absolutely clear they must inform you if anything goes awry.
3. Respond immediately to any problems. If more of your output than normal starts failing quality control, go back to your team and remind them those items won’t count toward their totals unless the workers or teams responsible can fix them.
4. Adjust the system for greater efficiency. If someone can’t compete because they lack the tools or training, then get them what they need. Helping them helps you. If the prizes aren’t enough to keep the team motivated, up the ante or add a new twist.
5. Move back to Step 2 and repeat.
SCRAM results in a self-adjusting, flexible system, rather than a linear, brittle one etched in stone. As long as everyone follows all the steps, the system cycles indefinitely. If breakdown occurs at any step (especially Step 3), the loop may collapse.
Ongoing improvement requires you to constantly reevaluate everything, pinpoint recurring problems, and work toward eliminating them. Smooth over rough patches. Replace missing pieces or “worn” parts of the system that no longer work or that waste your time. If you need to institute a major change, take some time off to retool all or part of the system. If you find yourself in over your head, seek help!
Accountability Action Step
No matter how difficult it may seem, don’t give up. Any effort to maintain peak performance will inevitably require trial and error. As you attempt new strategies, you’ll find some will work well, while others fall short. Things may even go off the rails and grind to a halt sometimes, because you can’t account for everything; but again, don’t let that stop you from trying. Maximizing productivity takes time, and even the best-tuned machine needs maintenance occasionally.