If you want to improve or eliminate the pain points for employees in your call centers, distribution centers and vendors, walk a mile in those workers’ shoes.
Depending upon the practicality of physical visits from one work center to another, this is a solid method to enlighten those who work in the various divisions of your organization. It helps build better partnerships, streamline processes and gain significant enterprise efficiencies.
If you cannot send entire groups due to cost or logistical constraints, select key team members for these visits. Here are some other tips for starting a program.
Pull together the leaders of the groups involved – Make sure each understands and has input on the goals of the initiative. Plan an agenda and proposed schedule for discussion purposes and publish in advance of your meeting.
Create an agenda – Determine the areas you’d like the teams to visit and learn about. Distribute the agenda ahead of time to ensure you have time to collect feedback from those going on the visits and those hosting them.
Estimate the time it will take to tour the areas you would like to demonstrate — making sure to include both your well run AND particularly challenging areas. You will likely be surprised by the great suggestions that come from “outside the box” – literally!
Develop a schedule and publish it! – Your teams will manage YOU to it. There’s always a “good reason” to put it off until next week or month, but the reality is, the sooner, the better as your organization and your customers will be able to benefit from it more quickly. This translates directly into improvements in attitudes, customer service, performance and working environments for both internal and external customers. Some folks may grumble that it will take time away from their work – their managers might even have the same complaint. But once scheduled, you will find that it flows nicely into most any off-peak work week.
Of course, entire teams cannot generally go on a tour of another facility at once; they will most likely need to go in waves. Publish the schedule so each team member knows when they will be going on field trips and when their facility will be visited by other teams.
Select a tour host – This is a great opportunity to acknowledge the great performance and knowledge wealth of one of your future leaders. A public relations tour is not what’s needed: You want a peer-style tour that will encourage open dialogue, and idea sharing while creating a total team atmosphere.
Set the tone upfront – Make it clear that there are no stupid questions – encourage people to ask them. Everyone should understand that the goal is to make the jobs easier and more efficient, giving them perspective on how each group impacts the others.
Don’t forget to include your vendors! – Making sure the vendors have an opportunity to see how you fulfill their products can bring you a plethora of ideas. So often I’ve heard comments like “Oh, I didn’t realize THAT’s how you stocked/picked/packaged/ THAT!” You might come up with a great idea that makes the vendor’s work easier or improve your operations significantly.
Assign a note taker – Enlist someone who can effectively translate requests, suggestions, ideas, problems, opportunities and the like, catalog them in an issue/action format for follow-up. Make sure this list is a running one so that you take advantage of the lessons learned from each tour. Then concurrently develop a follow-up communication mechanism to report status updates to the resulting changes made – or not made from these tours.
Invite senior managementto participate but toward the end of the series – This will ensure you have your tour leaders more at ease giving them an opportunity for some exposure they might not otherwise have! As for who should be involved, you’ll best determine this for your enterprise. I would suggest distribution center, call center and vendor teams, corporate management and even stores teams, depending on your distribution channels.
Susan M. Garvey is the manager of vendor relationships for the Phoenix Chapter of Project Management Institute.