Years ago, I interviewed for a position with a 20-year old, $120 million company. The vice president I interviewed with told me how screwed up the company was operationally but I dismissed this as hyperbole. I recall thinking, “Just how bad could a 20-year old, $120 million company be?” I was about to find out. I was offered the job.

Within days, I discovered the vice president had told the truth–there was no exaggeration…I had inherited a horrific mess.

I got my first substantive clue to this in Human Resources when I reported to my first day at work. The woman who greeted me took me back to her cubicle. Soon she stood up, cupped her hands around her mouth and, slowly and, with great articulation, shouted to the entire room, “Does. Anybody. Know. Where. The. Employee. Number. Logbook. Is?”

Fortunately, the person who had borrowed this single source of truth handed over the binder. This was my introduction about the extent of the automation at this company.

New employees sometimes assume that a company with a certain size, age and revenue must have processes in place. It’s only after being onboard for a short time that one realizes where the potholes are. If this was an airplane, you’d refuse to board.

The leadership of the company may not know the degree to which the deficiencies exist though they should. The problems are sometimes concealed by firefighting, poor execution and high employee frustration. Because this seems so normal, no one has considered what needs to be done to ease the tension and frustration.

The absence of systems and processes creates people dependencies rather than process dependencies making it difficult to onboard new people and move people around within the organization. If the processes don’t presently scale, that factor alone can constrain growth.

The work scope for the new hire may be unrealistic given expectations set when a person is hired. Reengineering the systems and processes needs can be a full-time or greater job. This investment can pay handsome dividends.

Thought for the week:

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Sir Richard Branson

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What do you think? I welcome your comments! Dave Gardner
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Dave Gardner

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, blogger and author based in Silicon Valley. He's been in the front row for the birth and evolution of Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world. Since 1992, Dave Gardner has focused on making the complex simple around people, process and technology. He can be reached through his website, www.DaveGardner.biz, or via phone at +1 408-475-7068.

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