Why don’t people follow procedures? I was intrigued by that question when it was posted over at Christian Paulsen’s Lean Leadership blog. Most quality professionals struggle with this question every day. Our procedures make us successful by driving consistency, reducing defects, and facilitating communication. With all those benefits, why would anyone want to deviate?
Maybe the procedures are impractical, too hard, or not understood as Christian points out in his blog. People also may not see the benefit of following the procedure or may be afraid of the change. But what about a seasoned employee who clearly has a knowledge of the procedure and understands its use and purpose? Why would that employee stray?
I think it’s human nature to seek out ease and efficiency. For example, if you have a meeting on the 30th floor of a building, would you walk up 30 flights of stairs or take the elevator? Unfortunately, our animalistic tendency to do things the “easy way” doesn’t always align with our procedures description of the “right way.” This conflict between what’s “easy” and what’s “right” is magnified even more when you start to enforce performance metrics and implement rewards or incentives based on meeting performance goals.
The order picking procedure at our distribution center is a perfect example of this conflict. The procedure requires the order picker to use their handheld computer to scan the barcode on each unit they pick to fulfill the order. If there the order requires 10 pieces, they should be performing 10 scans. Why all the scanning? Quality of course! The scanner is actually performing 2 important quality control functions. First it is performing a count of the number of pieces picked to ensure the order in accurate. Second, it is verifying that the barcode is correct and the right item is being picked. Unfortunately, the scanner does take more time than simply grabbing the product off the shelf and throwing it into a box. Since employee’s receive their quarterly bonuses based on the speed at which they pick orders, what incentive is there to use the scanner?
To get people to follow their procedures you need to do 3 things. First, we need to reduce the dissonance between compliance and productivity. As we strive to build quality into our processes, we need to constantly be aware of efficiency and effectiveness. Second, operators need to be involved in the procedure development and decision making process. The operators know what’s going to work and what’s going to fail in the “real world.” Including the operators in the conversation will also instill a sense of pride, responsibility, and ownership that will improve adherence to the procedure. Finally, employee incentives and rewards must be in alignment with the procedures. If I’m asked to do one thing and paid to do something else…
As my man Too Short says, “Gotta Get That Money!”