Saturday, November 11, 2017

Navigating "Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time"

I retired from a job in which a small group of us handled many functions including operations, financial functions, and Human Resources.  Being short-staffed and overworked seems to have become the norm rather than the exception.

To navigate through this requires that we prioritize low level and high level functions.  Thinking this way can apply to our lives as a whole, not just work. 

Where I worked, we developed a mindset of Continuous Process Improvement (CPI).  When workloads became overwhelming, I found this mindset to be useful in quieting the chaos.  Chaos is the exact opposite of a CPI environment; it is the enemy of productivity. 

CPI isn’t just a set of standards.  CPI is a way of thinking that can apply at work and in our personal lives. In this post, I will talk about two areas of CPI; Process Development and Paperwork Reduction.

Process Development
It insufficient to only think about processes.  In order to get a good handle on processes, you need to understand the interactions of every process element.  This is where simple process maps can help you get a good helicopter view. 

Start by developing process maps of the existing conditions.  Look for unnecessary waste in the processes with an eye toward reducing redundancy and repetitive work.  Based on this review, develop process maps that will reflect expected conditions.  Be sure that everyone touched by the process is involved in development of it. Here are some examples of deliverable maps of expected conditions;

Now that you have a deliverable process, the next step is to deploy the processes.  Communicate every aspect of the finished product to everyone involved.  Get feedback!  It is important to remember that this process is NOT once and done.  Always think in terms of “finding a better way”.

Paperwork Reduction
Scanning, file sharing, and shredding capabilities are essential to reducing paper.  The initial cost of ramping up such capabilities is a factor that needs to be considered.  Time spent scanning is generally offset by savings in time dealing with and retrieving paper files. 

Office scanning management packages are available, but in small offices, scanning to .pdf and saving to a file server will usually suffice.  This requires file naming and folder management conventions that aid in retrieval of documents.  Another convention to consider is utilizing the recognize text function of Adobe Acrobat.  This allows searching within files, but will increase the size of the files, taking up more space on the server.

Another factor to consider in paperwork reduction is self-shredding vs. a shredding service.  A bin-installed shredding service costs more, but it reduces time spent shredding your own documents.

Final Thought
Continuous Process Improvement is the realization that no system is ever perfect.  It is
easy to forget that externals change constantly, and what worked today may not work tomorrow.  If you are adaptive and open to change, the benefits will become evident.  While all of this seems elemental and simple, it is easy to get overwhelmed and miss the basics.

Paying attention to incremental processes will ultimately make the high-level aspects of work easier to navigate.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Roles and Responsibilities in Government and Non-Profits

There is a clear distinction between board governance and the operations side in both non-profit and government organizations.  I’ve had experience in both areas.  What I have learned dates back to conversations I heard many years ago when my father was a school board member.

Over time, my father became adroit in roles as an elected official on various governmental boards. He was adamant about board members understanding their roles as policy setters, and acting accordingly.  He frowned on board members getting involved in operations. His feeling was, and I agree, that board members have two jobs; 1) to set policy, and 2) to deal with the CEO/ED/Superintendent. 

As CFO/COO in a government organization, I’ve dealt with boards from the operational side.  There were times that overzealous board members became involved in operations.  While I appreciated board members who asked questions and who understood their oversight roles, having board members overextend that role became counterproductive.  Normally I would then deal with the CEO of the organization to remedy the situation.

For the past 16 + years, I’ve been involved on the board side as well.  I’ve been guilty of over-stepping my board role and have been reminded of that role by a CEO.  As a rule, official dealings with anyone but the CEO can quickly become an obstruction to operations.  Board members are generally not subject matter experts, and more importantly, don’t have boots on the ground in everyday operations. 

Asking questions, understanding budgets, helping with donations and community outreach, and having a good helicopter view of operations are all important aspects of good governance as a board member.  

A board that has a good handle on operations is essential to the oversight role.  And when operations go awry, the board becomes essential in restoring stability to the organization.  Sometimes this may involve dipping into operations until the organization is re-stabilized.  But as a rule, the boundaries between policy-setting and operations must remain clear.

Moreover, boards play an essential role in governments and non-profits.  A good board hires right, provides oversight, and moves the mission of the organization ahead.  It is sometimes a balancing act!