A couple of years ago, I lived in a single room. It wasn’t very large, but I still somehow managed to squeeze all my stuff into it. I slept in there, ate in there, watched TV, played Xbox and worked until the small hours in there. Everything was OK until it came to cleaning that room.

It wasn’t big enough for the amount of stuff it had to hold, I couldn’t really move things around to clean underneath them and the whole process was needlessly difficult, almost impossible. It was a thousand times easier to just let the dust pile up unless my parents were coming to visit. It was too small to clean, stretched to capacity by what it had.

I see this paralleled a lot in the working world – we’re all so fixated on getting that next deal in, so obsessed with the idea of being “lean”, with saving money wherever we can that we simply don’t have the resources to look at our own processes. With teams stretched to capacity and beyond, how does anyone have the time to redefine process, to look at what we’re doing and see where improvements can be made, to investigate new tools that might make people’s jobs easier or more efficient? The sad answer is that most of us don’t. Our houses are too small to clean.

Of course, the answer should be that our company’s directors should be worrying about that and the operational teams should be getting on with bringing their vision to life. The problem is one of the twenty-first century, particularly in digital industries – most people with “Chief” or “Director” in their job title don’t have the first clue how the work their company sells is actually done. How is someone like that going to effect real change? In most cases, they can’t, and that thought terrifies me.

What’s The Solution?

I’m not going to sit here and tell you I have all the answers. I don’t. I don’t think anyone really does, short of suggesting we burn the whole thing down and start again.

The key issue, I suppose, is that these problems are endemic to most businesses and their associated industries. We’re all trying to stay lean, keeping our heads above water until the economy picks back up, just focusing on making that next deal happen, getting that next client, skating by until we’ve made enough headway to afford another person in our teams who will have to fit in with our current, broken processes until they’re over capacity as well.

We need to find a way to break the cycle and, as managers, team leaders, operational staff, we can’t rely on our directors or the C-suite to do it for us – in a lot of cases they don’t even know how to find the house we live in, let alone clean it. We’ve got to find that switch-point, find a way to move our stuff around, into the hallway or even the street if necessary, and clean our own houses.

Educate, Grow, Develop

I’ve alluded to a similar approach in other posts of mine – I believe that education is the key. We need to somehow find the time to educate our directors as to how things are actually done, how much time they take and why it matters that they are done that way. Perhaps if that education is in place, our processes can be streamlined, repaired if needs be, and we can get our work done in the best possible way. That’s my ideal, but unfortunately, I’m not sure I believe that would work in most companies.

No, I think it’s down to us – those of us on the ground, the teams actually doing the work, those of us that live and breathe what we do, the ones frustrated by our workloads becoming unmanageable because of broken processes, the ones who see the dust piling up but can’t clean it because there’s something in the way.

We live in a wonderful time. We have the internet, we have millions of intelligent people undertaking further studies, we have retirees that don’t want to give up work completely. What if we, as skilled individuals, managers, the people who know that the processes are broken, found a way to leverage these things to help us clean our houses?

I’m not suggesting you call your mother and ask her to dust your TV or wash your clothes, but what if you could use some other people to take the less difficult parts off your hands while you and your team focus on cleaning the things that matter?

That’s just one idea. My preferred solution – and one I’m undertaking at the moment – is to simply grow our teams. In my situation, as a manager of a department, I’m working towards growing the team to the point where I don’t have to be as involved in the day-to-day running of our client accounts and, consequently, I’ll be freed up enough to focus on reworking my processes where required, to tighten them up in places and to cut down on some of the red tape, even the red tape that I’ve ended up putting in place along the way.

Education is and – in my opinion, at least – always should be the preferred solution, but if that’s not working for you or your team, the people on the ground, I feel like we sometimes have to take matters into our own hands. There’s nothing wrong with running lean – far from it – but if you’re too lean to do the work to the best of your ability, you might need to find a way to put on some muscle.

Cleaning your house takes effort, it takes time and, just sometimes, it takes a couple of people to help you out.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Living in the clouds? I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.