A Little Red-Faced. Literally. Automating? Be Careful!

Red faced monkeyThere was an occasion more than ten years ago when I was red-faced at work. Literally. My colleagues noticed that my face seemed redder than usual. In fact, they said that my face was unusually red, and asked if I were having a fever or some other ailment. I didn’t feel sick at all. In fact, I felt very well! Having looked at the mirror and confirmed that my face was indeed rather red, I consulted the doctor, who seemed equally mystified and suggested that I should perhaps rest for a while and see if there should be any change for the better in my unusual appearance. I went to the washroom again, and suddenly I remembered that I had used a red towel at home in the morning after washing up. I recalled that I had not seen that red towel before, and it must have been a new one. Could it be…..??? I quickly scrubbed my face vigorously and discovered that my red-faced appearance was indeed due to the colour from the new red towel I had used that morning having been rubbed off onto my face! My colleagues and I all had a good laugh at my silliness and life went on as usual.
Recalling that incident, I realize how much all of us tend to be creatures of habit. We tend to carry on doing what works without thinking about it. Of course, this is essential, as the “automation” of many processes enables us to focus on other tasks. I do not believe the tripe that people are able to “multi-task”. What really happens in “multi-tasking” is that some processes actually become automated so that we are able to focus on what we are supposed to be doing. With more practice and successful repetition, more tasks become “automated”, allowing us to become better at yet another one. I remember a few times after moving house when I went on “autopilot” and actually drove “home” towards my old address. Has anything of the sort happened to you?
How do we ensure that the effects of “automation” do not affect our businesses adversely? Here are a few measures you can take to ensure things are kept fresh and not allowed to deteriorate into mindless routine:
  1. Maintain a regular inspection routine of your processes. Use a written, regularly updated checklist and not rely on human memory. Place a “surprise” or two along an inspection route checking for hydraulic leaks, for example, to keep people on their toes.
  2. Rotate people to different tasks, locations and contexts. Be firm and do not allow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” majority of your people nullify your intent.
  3. Host visitors, visitors whose views and opinions you respect, regularly. Ask for feedback and use the feedback appropriately.

I recounted this story during a radio talk show with 938 Live:

“Young Julie noticed that her mother would always cut the end off a roast before she put the roast into the oven. “Why do you always cut the end off the roast, Mummy?” Her mother paused. “Hmmm…I’m not sure, Julie, but your Grandmother always cut the end off the roast”. “Can we ask her why she did that?” “Of course, let’s call her”, Mummy replied. Well, it turned out that Grandma didn’t know either, but said that HER mother, Julie’s Great Grandmother, did it all the time. Grandma got on the phone with Great Grandma, who was still living, and asked “Mother, remember when you always used to cut the end of the roast off? Why did you do that?” To which Great Grandmother replied “Because the oven was too small”.

Do you have a clear picture as to why things are done the way they are? It might be a good idea to check once in a while if you realize that you don’t know. And yes, the last I checked my face, it looked normal, not red-faced at all. Would you like to come over and confirm?

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