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Photo credit: Patrick Bell

At my company, we used to struggle to master the many tasks it took to run our business and keep our promises. The sad truth is it wasn’t just the very complicated ones that could derail us; it could be what should have been the simplest and most routine of tasks.

That’s because even the simplest of tasks often require many different moving pieces and many different people working on different parts of it.

You know what was worse? Sometimes, we had two people doing the exact same task at the same exact time! But neither of them knew the other was doing it until it was too late, if at all. And sometimes, no one did the task because everyone was convinced it must be someone else’s job to do it.

Imagine you’re installing a rooftop unit today. So, you wisely made arrangements with the crane company. The bad news is someone else on the install team, unbeknownst to you, did the same thing. Now, you have two cranes onsite. Or, you figured someone on the install team would order the crane so you didn’t. Now, the install crew is onsite but there’s no crane coming.

Here are three ways jobs can get derailed:

  1. Two people did the same task but didn’t know they were duplicating the effort.
  2. No one did the task because everyone was sure it was someone else’s job or responsibility.
  3. The steps of the task were never laid out, so things were done out of order or critical steps were botched or just plain skipped.

All three scenarios caused us a lot of stress, lost opportunities, blown profits and some potential disasters.

We only discovered how often this stuff was going on when we finally sat down in groups to map out what it took to get each task done and done right. What came into focus is the need to plot out the steps for each task, the right sequence and then who is assigned for doing the task and coordinating all the resources such as materials, tools and people.

Those meetings about how we do our work were extremely helpful. Although, I admit that the meetings themselves were gut wrenching because it’s tough to admit how easy it is to drop the ball. But it was exactly what we needed to do.

Assign backups

Something we hadn’t considered came to light in these process meetings. We could do all the previous steps correctly and then trip up when the assigned person was not available. That’s why we took it one level deeper and worked out who was assigned to be backup if the first person designated to be in charge was unavailable. This should be made clear if you have created a Depth Chart that spells out who is backup for each box on the Organizational Chart.

For example: “The Techs are to contact their Field Supervisor first for any needed technical support and only if unavailable are Techs to contact the Service Manager directly.”

Here’s what I know. When it takes multiple people to complete even the simplest of tasks, the result is poor performance, wasteful business practices and a lack of accountability — unless somebody’s in charge. When someone is clearly in charge for the whole process, there’s much less chance the task at hand will get screwed up.

A helpful way to think of this new approach to doing tasks when multiple steps and/or multiple people are involved is as a relay race. The more the baton must be passed, the more likely it will get dropped and the less likely you’ll win the race. But if the baton mustbe passed along, it is far less likely to be dropped if the handoffs are clear and objective in nature so it’s apparent as to whom, how and when the baton is to be passed to the next team member.

Another revelation that came to light from this process of analyzing the multiple tasks we do is that there can be training and skills issues with the people who are assigned these projects. The completion of the job at hand must be addressed if success is to be assured.

The root cause for all this going awry can be a lack of communication, whether it’s two people ending up doing the same task but not knowing it or each of them assuming the other had it covered.

A lack of communication is usually rampant at companies that think they’re too busy to have productive, regular meetings. What happens is everyone runs around doing things they shouldn’t, causing redundancy. They think, “If I don’t do it, nobody will.”

When nobody does the task at a company, the source of the problem is the task was never defined and assigned to someone specifically on the Organizational Chart. That means the tasks were never discussed and a known written procedure was not put in place.

How do you fix this?

Start with a solid Organizational Chart and define what tasks must get done within each box. Then, figure out who is assigned to each box, even if it’s just you! Each person in each box needs to know who, if anybody, is available to help them complete specific tasks.

The next step is to map out the steps of each task and assign people to each part of it. Try to keep the number of people involved to a minimum. If the current person occupying the box is lacking all the skills he needs to do all the tasks, you must train him. If he doesn’t pick up his skills, you either need to move him to another box or move him out of your company.

 Master the tasks you do 80% of the time in a systematic and repeatable way and your company will have confident employees who can say, “It’s my job and you can count on me to get it done.”