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Communication: Write It On Your Piece of Plexiglass

May 24th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Over the years I’ve written a lot of training materials, rx primarily for drivers and dispatchers. When I first managed a tow company, capsule the owner had paid a consulting firm to analyze his business and one of the things they did was create job descriptions for most of the positions in his company.

I read through all of them. They seemed well written and comprehensive. I think it might have been the first time anyone had read them (to be fair, rx they were only a year or two old). I used those as the framework for a training and performance review program. You see, the thing is, you don’t need to have everything done for you when you run or manage a business, or manage a department. You can take what you have that works and build on it. I’m continually amazed by organizations that don’t have written procedures, training materials, employee handbooks, etc. For example, the board that runs the junior baseball program that my youngest son participates in – every year new board members are hired and then they make it up as they go along, asking former members or current members who carry over what they are supposed to be doing. They have by-laws that outline some of their responsibilities, but it’s a genuine mystery what exactly they are supposed to be doing, and not all mysteries have happy endings.

Many of us have very busy workdays, so the thought of stepping out of the Class V rapids to record what we are doing for the benefit of future generations seems like a distraction at best. We don’t have time, right? I’m sure you’ve heard this one before: Do we have time to keep making the same mistakes? Do we have time to force a new employee or a promoted employee to figure out for himself or herself how to contribute efficiently to the operation? Like anything dysfunctional, your responsibility, when dropped into a situation like this, is to break the chain of dysfunction. Years ago I came across an explanation that drove home the importance of doing this so well that I actually remember it. It was from, of all people, a network marketing trainer named Tim Sales (yes, his actual name). Mr. Sales, a brilliant man, had a background in military service and during his time in the military, he served in the underwater bomb squad. His job was to locate bombs underwater and render them harmless. Needless to say, the need for proficiency and clear-headedness in this line of work is very pronounced. One challenge is that you are sometimes faced with a device that you have never encountered before and that you are not yet trained to defuse or safely detonate. One thing they brought with them during missions was a piece of Plexiglass and a grease pencil. When they worked on the device, they would write on the Plexiglass the next thing they were going to do, and then they would do it. The value of the Plexiglass was that if, heaven forbid, the bomb detonated, the blast would carry the Plexiglass away without destroying it in the water, and someone could find it and see what action led to the bomb detonating. This would help prevent the same action from being taken under similar circumstances.

Fortunately, for most of us, the ramifications of our actions are not so severe. We can probably get away with using paper, or even a hard drive. We can probably write things down after we do them, rather than before. The point is, we need to leave a record of what works, what doesn’t, what the conditions were and what were the results. If we take a job and don’t have specific guidelines, we need to record what we do, why we do it, what our goals are and how we see our role in the overall operation. The long-term goal of any occupation should be one of two things: make yourself and your position obsolete (a great goal for middle-managers) or make it possible for someone to walk into your workspace and take over seamlessly in the event that you keel over unexpectedly (after they move out your carcass). There’s no point in taking secrets to the grave. This should be on every management performance review, and you should ask your managers to answer the question as part of a self-review: Can someone step in for me tomorrow if I die tonight without significant pain for the company?

It’s also a great idea for a company with high turnover to conduct exit interviews for employees who leave of their own volition. Chances are, if you have high turnover you’ve got serious dysfunction and if you’ve got serious dysfunction, chances are no one is talking about it in productive ways. Chances are if anyone is talking about it, its gossip after work at the pub. So your big chance to find out the real dirt is when someone leaves for greener pastures and you give them permission to be as frank and fearless as possible, just for that one hour before they leave for good. If only you had solicited that feedback consistently and positively, maybe they wouldn’t be exiting. That’s the data that should be on the Plexiglass.

I say this almost every day of my work life, like a mantra: Communication is the most valuable commodity in business. See it, live it, write it in grease pencil on your piece of Plexiglass.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper