Banishing Bad Hair Days since 1997!™

Be Careful What You Wish For - Creating Written Operational Procedures

It's 2:00 in the morning and I am still planted firmly in my best Feng Shui direction typing feverishly on my Notebook that has all the keys on the keyboard worn off. Good thing I'm a touch typist or I would be really screwed if I had to hunt and peck. Those typing classes at Bishop Du Bourg High School back in the old St. Louis high school days certainly came in handy. Actually, not to brag, but I came in at the top of my class for the final year type-off. We didn't call it keyboarding like they do now...but I digress.

Why am I still up working? It seems like the more efficient I become the less efficient I become and the faster I work, the higher the piles get for me to try and conquer.

How does that make any sense? But it does, really. Everything in life is like that when you think about it.

I guess its like when you clean out a horribly cluttered closet. The first few feet into the closet is pure hell as you try to figure out how in the heck you collected all those broken Christmas tree ornaments, tangled string of lights and other Holiday stuff. And that's only the first few feet. Who knows what's buried in the back?

One of my New Year's Resolution involved being more efficient. I decided that 2008 would be the year got completely organized to the point where everything was carefully written down in manuals and kept under lock and key in the HR office. You know, like the big companies do. HAH! No wonder they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In January I gathered the troops into the conference room, which is usually bursting with a variety of goodies and Starbucks drinks, and explained how we were going to implement a process to make the time to record every minute detail of every job so that we have everything in nice neat job descriptions, operational procedures and policies. WOW. What a concept.

Don't get me wrong. Everyone knows what to do on a constant basis, but details are generally passed down via word of mouth or through new employee training. Yes, we have a lot of things documented like vacation, sick leave, payday, time off procedures and similar employee operational issues.

We even have a formal written policy about tattoos (can't be visible), piercings (certain no-nos) and dress code (you must wear shoes and clothes). But when it comes to other daily operational policies we definitely have some holes to plug.

The idea certainly sounded very worthwhile and my entire staff enthusiastically nodded with their cupcake laden faces moving up and down as they agreed with the wonderful new plan. Afterall, it would make things so much easier when someone went on vacation, had a baby, went up in a space shuttle (that happens sometimes in Dallas) or any other random thing that might happen leaving us with a glaring staff hole to cover.

But of course there was one major flaw in my brilliant plan. We're an edgy web company. Who writes things down anyway? Who has time? We're all too busy scurrying around trying to get all the tasks done that need to get done to run the website, the forums, the store, the product lines, work with the media and with partners and on and on. UGH.

But surprisingly we were off to a great start documenting all kinds of appropriate things until last Friday when my warehouse manager (WHM) mentioned he needed to meet with me.

A bit of history - my WHM is a great guy and has been with me for five years. He started at the very bottom of the bottom packing boxes and loading the daily delivery trucks.

From that humble beginning he grew up to manage the current crew of guys who zip around the warehouse picking, packing, checking and posting orders. He also supervises the guys on the phone who answer the toll free order line. Everything under his thumb always hums along nicely. I rarely toss and turn at night thinking about any what ifs, with the WHM at the helm. I trust him and he does a great job.

When he walked into my office Friday he was dropping by to tell me that because of a sudden new family emergency, he would have to request several weeks off for family leave. I could feel my heart drop to the bottom of my throat. Then I asked when he needed to be gone. Any time, he replied, depending on the ongoing family emergency.

You guessed it. A major gotcha and no, we don't have all of his 1001 procedures carefully documented and tucked away in those procedure books I dreamed about in January. What to do, what to do. Ahhhh, mobilize the troops for instant ghosting and divide and conquer.

I figured out the basics of the WHM's job and then split the tasks into three parts. I gave one part to the Streak, one to Lance and one to B. No, I really don't have time to add warehouse management tasks to my already out-of-control duties. Afterall, I need to work on the business, not in the business. Have to keep reminding myself of that pearl of wisdom.

And so it happened today. Everywhere the WHM went, the Streak, Lance and B followed him. They proceeded to learn (and yes, document) everything he did, except of course using the restroom. It was quite a sight to see the WHM striding along through the warehouse followed at any one time by one or all of the three supersleuths with their little pads in hand.

Yes, I asked one of the warehouse guys (thanks for the suggestion) to step up and be acting manager but no, none of them wanted the responsibility. Besides, it appears that once the family crisis is resolved, the WHM will again be in command of his mountain of boxes and shipping computers.

The good news? As the three ghosts take their crash courses, they are uncovering all sorts of "ways to streamline" the current warehouse and shipping operations. Ultimately that means they have less writing to do and helps save the company time and money. Even more interesting, as they uncover ways to make things better and more efficient for the business and our customers they get very excited like they are finding buried treasure. Which in a way they are.

They have been sending me a rash of emails with....we could save if we did this or we should consider doing that or hey, I had a great new idea. Definitely great emails for a boss to receive.

So yes, the Warehouse Manager's sudden family crisis was a big gotcha with regard to having detailed documentation, but ultimately it looks like we're going to be able to make lemonade from the lemons. Who knows, we may even have that very official operation manual all finished in no time.

Confidentially, sometimes I feel like my life is in an episode of Seinfeld or The Hills or Sex And The City. Yeah I know...totally different shows, but you get my drift and we definitely have a lot of those characters walking around

I guess I should be careful what I wish for, but in this instance, looks like the Universe if nudging me along to get what I wished for, regardless of the temporary pain.

Now if my wish for the return of the vanilla cupcakes at Starbucks in Dallas could be heard....I would be all set. Life would be yummy.

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