Someone recently asked me, “Why don’t you write blog posts about positive things?” I was surprised at first (and probably a bit defensive) as I think my posts are positive – after all, I don’t just go about kidney-punching management practices that irritate me; there’s always a moral to the story, as well as a wonderful alternative from the world of systems thinking.
Nevertheless, after I stopped sulking I decided that perhaps they were right and therefore resolved to write a ‘positive’ post in the rare event that I ever encountered anything that momentarily lifted me from my permanently grumpy state.
Today was that day!
This evening I went to a well-known pizza place for dinner. Upon arrival, it was busy and there was no one at the ‘please wait here to be seated’ lecturn. A staff member who was striding purposefully in one direction noticed my party waiting and did a quick about-turn to come and speak to us. That was pleasing, as he was clearly in the middle of something else. Positive start.
Next, he offered us a choice of tables, but the table we wanted needed clearing and wiping down first. He did it himself on the spot, then brought cutlery and napkins. Only then did I notice he was the manager. I was impressed he hadn’t simply ordered one of his underlings to do these menial tasks for him. Another positive point.
Ordering the food was a doddle too. Remember the pain of trying to order non-standard food items in my post ‘Cream or Ice Cream’? No such thing here! Being a cheese hater in a pizza place you half expect to be regarded as some sort of freak, but ordering my extra hot pizza (with extra chillies of course) and – wait for it – NO CHEESE - did not fall immediately into the ‘too difficult’ bracket. Others in my party also ordered non-standard permutations of menu items without any problem whatsoever. (“Can I have extra X, no Y, some Z instead of H?” And so on). Wow! That’s positive.
I could go on. The service was fast. The food was good. The waiters and waitresses were alert. The staff clearly worked as a team. The atmosphere was good. The prices were very fair. All positive stuff.
When I went to pay the bill I couldn’t stop myself commenting to the waitress about what a great setup they had there. She told me she had recently moved from another branch of the same restaurant where waiting staff had specified areas to wait upon and as a result, there was a lot of unhealthy competition and a reluctance to help each other out. Not positive.
So, where is this happy story going? Well, the reason it was such a positive experience is because this branch have got so many elements of a pro-systems operating model right:
- Staff work across functional boundaries and are therefore not trapped in dreaded ‘silos’. (e.g. ‘I only work on the till, but don’t serve food’ / ‘I only take food orders, but don’t greet customers’ / ‘I only serve food, but don’t clean tables’ etc) Especially impressive is the fact that the manager performs all of these functions as well. This creates a multifunctional team who are more responsive to variation and demand. There is no division of labour. The result is a quicker and more effective service to the customer. Positive.
- Staff work across ‘geographic’ boundaries, i.e. waiters and waitresses are not restricted by being made to work in just ‘the purple zone’ or ‘the green zone’ of seated areas. They can cross these invisible boundaries and help each other out. It works better like that. Again, it means that variation, such as that which occurs due to peaks and troughs of table service requirements can be handled more effectively. Positive.
- Waste is reduced by this adaptive approach to handling incoming demand as, for example, someone posted only to the ‘please wait here to be seated’ lecturn would be unproductive if no one was waiting to be seated. Meanwhile, his or her colleagues might be run off their feet taking orders and delivering food to tables. Under the multifunctional model, everyone can chip in. Positive.
- Staff are trusted to make decisions when faced with requests for non-standard food items. (“No cheese, please!”) This results in happy customers, no unnecessary bureaucracy (“I’ll have to ask the manager if that’s okay”), and let’s face it, no hassle for kitchen staff. The fact that the manager is prepared to undertake the same work as everyone else when necessary further suggests that the organisational structure is not unduly hierarchical. It also helps imbue a healthy culture where respect is earnt and not imposed. (Would you believe I know managers who have been criticised for mucking in with their staff?) Positive, but not the bit in brackets, obviously.
- There is a clearly defined purpose to all the activity that goes on in this pizza place; this appears to be absolutely understood by staff. It focuses them on doing the right thing – they help each other out and are unafraid to use their initiative in order to ensure that the customer receives a good service. Deming told us that “A system must have an aim”. The overall aim of this system (i.e. its purpose) could probably be articulated by a statement along the lines of, “To please the customer”.
They did, and that was positive.