The last few posts have been about minimizing interruptions. Interruptions are literally the single greatest productivity killer in your business or personal life!
If interruptions are coming from an outsider, including clients, it is easy to set up rules to deal with this. But insiders (your employees and family) are a different story. You can’t have rules that keep them from doing their work successfully. So you need to look at the causes of interruption.
The three largest causes of interruption from employees are knowledge, training, and authority.
Lack of knowledge is different from lack of training. Lack of knowledge could be as simple as knowing the alarm code to get into a client’s office. This lack of knowledge is addressed through proper documentation.
Look at your interruption diet (see the last blog post). If you glossed over it because you didn’t think you needed to do the exercise, maybe it’s time to actually do it. Anyway, look at your interruptions from employees.
How many of them were about knowledge generally? Where do we keep the xxx? What’s the logon for that? Where are the licenses kept? And so forth.
Most of the time, failure to pass knowledge to employees happens because the boss/owner feels that they’re too busy to document. Fine: Make the employees document! Every time they ask for information, make them document where it is or should be found.
Whether you take the time or your employees take the time, someone has to document your processes. I love having everyone involved. I also love empowering everyone to improve the process every time they use it. This leads to continuous incremental improvement. We’ll come back to that topic.
Lack of training means that the main reason an employee needs to interrupt you is that they don’t have the skillset to get something done. This might mean that they don’t know your internal process or that they do not master a certain skill or technology. Both are obviously fixable.
One of the things you probably never thought about when you started your business is that you need to train your employees (and yourself)—forever! Training people on internal processes goes a long way to eliminate the lack of knowledge we just talked about. And training them on techniques and tools keeps your business moving ahead with the latest skills in your industry.
Again, look at your interruption diet results. How many of your interruptions are related to employees who do not know how to perform a skill or service that’s important to their job? And how will you fix that?
I’m a huge fan of training in all forms. That means having employees train each other, take classes, read books, watch videos, take exams, get certified, and whatever else they can do. Improving your employees’ skills improves your business!
There’s an old humorous story about the business owner who complains: What if I spend all this money training people and then they leave? Well, what happens if you don’t train them and they stay?
It is obviously in your best interest to train your employees and to encourage their self-study. The reality is that they will probably not work for you for the rest of their lives. Taking actions to build up their skills and talents will help them advance their career. In the short term, you get a better employee—and one who is committed to you because you have invested in them. In the end, they will probably stay longer if they see that you are helping them reach up the ladder of success.
The final reason that employees interrupt the owner or boss is that they lack the authority to act on their own. This is actually one of the most critical measures of a successful business.
Why doesn’t your team have the ability to execute without you? In some cases, this is part of the division of job duties. For example, a task might require manager approval. Consider how useful or necessary that rule is.
Much more commonly, employees cannot perform tasks simply because the real authority still remains with the owner or manager. This is a weakness in the owner or manager. It might be a desire to retain power, or a reluctance to believe that the team can actually do the job. Again, that goes back to training.
The worst thing you can do when it comes to delegation is to delegate in name only and retain the actual authority. This leads to making you the chokepoint for everything in your company. True delegation includes the delegation of authority to actually make decisions.
You cannot delegate in name only. When employees feel that they cannot make the smallest decision simply because it will probably be overridden by the boss—for no good reason—they tend to give up making any decision. In other words, bad delegation leads to an even worse chokepoint.
And, of course, it means that you get interrupted all day long. Thus, you’ve become the biggest chokepoint in the office, and even you can’t get any work done.
Obviously, this is more than simply a pet peeve for me. Having worked with thousands of businesses over the years, I believe constant interruption may be the biggest sign of a broken business. Luckily, it can all be solved with a series of intentional processes that you put in place.
Final Note on Phones
I know we have trained ourselves (since forever) that we have to answer the phone. It’s just not true.
I am often asked about a reasonable response time. You won’t believe it, but the next day is usually fine. In reality, I now check my phone once per day. But I let employees check their phones every two hours. That’s three or four times per day.
If you respond within fifteen to thirty minutes, I don’t think there are any reasonable people who will expect a faster response. Your clients know that you run a service business and you are often out delivering service.
The first time I was running an IT department (back when I had a real job), we had somebody working on our larger computers. This guy used to always take calls from other clients while he was working at our office. He’d go out in the hallway and walk back and forth. All I could think of was the fact that he was spending our money and somebody else’s money at the same time. I didn’t like that.
This was about 1993. I told him, “If you’re going to take phone calls, I want to make damn sure you are off my clock.” And he said, “Well, sometimes stuff comes up and blah, blah.”
I said I don’t care. “I know stuff comes up. Get off my clock if you’re going to go take that call.”
Your clients don’t want you to treat them like this. Given the trade-off between taking calls for another client while at their office, they would rather have all of your attention in a reasonable amount of time. For most of you, if you respond within an hour, your clients probably won’t even notice the difference.
Final story. One time we moved from one office to another. My marketing manager, Monica, put her phone on the floor next to her desk. I said, “What is your phone doing on the floor?”
And she said, “Oh. I’m not going to answer it. And you’re not going to answer it. So why should it take up space on my desk?”
And that’s actually current. Shortly after that, we moved to just having voicemail and no phones.