Improving a Department in 4 Steps

Over the last week or so, I have been working with a company on improving the service experience within a small department of theirs. The department has about 5 employees and a relatively simple, but also important job within the company’s broader customer service department. The department was in need of attention, so I took a simple and straight forward approach to improving it. Here is what I did:

  1. Met with the employees. My personal style is to talk to employees about what the problems and opportunities are before I talk to managers about the same thing. Some people do it in the opposite order, but I prefer to talk to the employees first. One of the first things I like to do when I’m given a broad assignment (e. g. “Make this department better.”) is sit down with the employees in the particular  department and ask them what they think they do well, what they think needs to be improved upon, and what their ideas are in a very casual, pressure-free way. Before I go into meetings, I do my own research into the questions and come prepared with my thoughts and opinions as well (going in completely blind is a waste of time).
  2. Took their ideas back to the drawing board. After I met with the employees, I took their ideas and feedback back the drawing board. I did more research on my own and used their feedback and thoughts to come up with a flow chart of how I envisioned the revised process working. I then went through the department’s operating procedures and revised those in accordance with the flow chart I had just come up with. Even though many people hate them, I like flow charts. They’re great at visually showing how something (should) work and what needs to happen when something else happens.
  3. Went to the manager(s). At this point, I went to manager in chart of the department and showed him what I had come up with. In this particular situation, the manager was on board. In other situations, some back and forth between you and the manager/boss/co-worker might be necessary.
  4. Went back to the employees (with the manager). After the manager and I had come to an agreement about how everything should work and solidified some more details, we went back to the employees and pitched/introduced our ideas and what would be happening. This meeting was a lot more formal than the last one. There was an agenda, handouts, etc. There were a few minor suggestions / comments from the employees, which we took into consideration and used to update the procedures accordingly.

This process was highly effective and relatively painless. The time from first meeting to implementation was about a week and we’ve continued to follow up since then to tweak things further, but overall, this schedule and general procedure for making changes tends to be effective within support organizations. When you involve the people who do the work on a day-to-day bas in the decision making process, getting changes made and implemented will be a lot easier.

2 Responses to “Improving a Department in 4 Steps”

  1. Virgilio Paralisan said:

    Jul 20, 09 at 5:30 am

    What you did in this situation is a simple and very effective approach in project management applied to customer service: Stakeholder Consultation.

    In my personal experience (and this is very true what you are saying) the process is “highly effective and relatively painless” especially when you get to the implementation of your agreed approach to the problem. There has to be a consensus or agreement in every step towards the resolution of issues. It can be a bit slow for some but at least whatever comes at the end is a result of everyone having a say in both the process and outcome.

    So many bright approaches can crash and burn simply because people are withdrawing from the process of deciding the execution of solution. Your perspective opens communication and provides avenues for people to get whatever they have in their minds right in the open. People tend to find it easier to compromise or give out more concessions if they are consulted.

  2. Leila Maucha said:

    Jul 20, 09 at 8:58 am

    This is so helpful to me because I am in the same situation and these tips have really given me a better way of handling things