One of the most common staff mistakes at this stage of the organization’s development is trying to respond to every board request as it comes in, or at least as quickly as possible. In their efforts to offer a high level of customer service, staff may in fact be reducing the efficiency and quality of the association’s operations simply by continually attending to “urgent” rather than “important” tasks. Volunteer board members can help prevent this by verbally acknowledging that just because an issue is of high priority in terms of their volunteer work, doesn’t mean that it should take immediate precedence over other items staff are working on. An organization and its members benefit when both volunteer board members and senior staff approach operations with quality, efficiency and sustainability in mind. Here are a few ideas:
1) Set a consistent schedule
Tasks that are scheduled in advance and that are part of a daily, weekly or monthly routine are far less likely to be problematic than tasks that are undertaken “as needed.” A task that is assigned to a specific individual or group, and is scheduled to take place at a specific time, such as every second Monday at 2:00 pm, is a task you can follow-up on as a director or manager. Everybody knows it needs to happen, it is part of at least one person’s job description, and it becomes part of your organization’s regular operating routine.
2) Stop task-switching
In association environments, most employees, suppliers and volunteers must balance many competing demands for their time. To keep pace with these competing demands, they’re often inclined to try to tackle each item or request as soon as possible after they’ve received it. This is a recipe to for decreased efficiency and increased error rates because it typically involves switching from one type of task to another. Categorizing incoming items or requests and processing them in batches not only reduces the time each task takes to complete, it allows the individual or group performing the task to compare similar items within each batch, thereby enhancing operational consistency.
3) Reduce time stress
One of the side-effects of working in the age of instant and pervasive digital communication is that many of us feel obligated to provide instant responses or results, even when dealing with complex issues, projects or processes. As an association board member, executive director or manager, it’s important to recognize this tendency in yourself and others and deliberately choose a different approach. Now isn’t always better. Always give yourself, your staff team and your volunteers much more time than is necessary to complete various tasks, so that people can truly think about what they’re doing, can perform at their peak and can take some satisfaction in task completion rather than being pressured to jump to the next task.
4) Reduce task complexity
The truth about most work processes and systems is that they evolve incrementally and often don’t keep pace with the organization’s growth. As a result, what started out as a perfectly simple process that worked well when it was designed may have been added onto so many times that it is so complex or time-consuming that nobody, no matter how well trained or how much time they have, can correctly complete certain tasks on a consistent basis. Long-time employees or volunteers who have been part of this evolution may not even realize this is the case. Prior to assigning a task to an employee, supplier or volunteer, take an honest look at the steps involved and ask yourself if each one is really still necessary. Simplify wherever possible.
5) Accept that mistakes are part of life
Ironically, associations that take steps to anticipate and respond to errors made by staff or volunteers tend to deliver better member service and achieve higher levels of organizational performance. They also tend to have higher board member and staff retention rates. One of the reasons for this is that anticipating potential errors and developing plans to deal with them forces the association’s leadership team to undertake a significant amount of operational and process analysis. The level of shared insight team members develop allows them to quickly move beyond the blame game when problems occur and to move toward sustainable long-term solutions.
To find out more about how The Association Expert™ can help you develop affordable, customized strategies to enhance the quality or efficiency of your organization’s operations, please contact us at 1-877-685-4288.