Making Work Easier as we “Fly the Friendly Skies…?”

Yesterday, when I read a US Airline Quality Rating Report, I was not surprised to see the airline that was rated dead last. You see, just last month I had the worst customer experience of my life traveling on that airline.

The short version of the story is that the last-place airline determined that I was a “no show” three days prior to my flight, sold my Economy Plus seat (which was an up-sell), cancelled my reservation, kept my money, and then charged me an additional $130 to rebook me on the same flight.

To make matters worse, they didn’t send me a text message or an email telling me that they had decided to cancel my ticket which is strange because I use their app, I’m registered as a frequent flyer, and they have all of my contact information in their system.

But I’m not posting this to bash the airline (although I admire the Canadian guy who made a viral video about them). I’m posting this because I have a passion to help employees succeed by making work easier. And the employees that I dealt with were simply set up for failure in the worst way.

Unbeknownst to me, the general policy that triggered the cancellation of my reservation is shared by most airlines and may be difficult to fix. But even if we didn’t change or modify the policy, the employees would have been far better off if existing technology and information had been used to:

– Email or text the customer alerting them that their reservation may be (or has been) cancelled.

– Provide a link to an easy-to-read explanation of what happened, why and what the customer can do to rectify the situation.

And so I am posting this as free, professional advice to the unnamed airline as a simple example of how making work easier results in making customers happier.



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Making Work Easier – The Workshop

People want to do a good job. After all, who doesn’t want to succeed? And so the first thing to consider when faced with issues of poor customer service or product quality is the design of your work processes. In other words, focus on making work easier rather than adding quality checks or trying to “fix” your employees.

Even the smallest organizations benefit from improving their business processes and now I’m proud to announce that I offer a two-hour workshop for businesses of any size that is affordable, informative and fun!

Participants learn how to:
– quickly diagram their organization’s Value Chain.
– diagram a business processes from customer request to delivery of goods and/or services.
– redesign a business process with the goal of making work easier!


Contact me at or 858-224-2405 for more information.

Making Work Easier Beats Fixing Your Employees – A True Story

Recently, I was discussing why I focus on making work easier rather than “fixing” employees with JetBlue University’s Learning Technologies Team. I shared the following true story.

It was the mid-90’s and I was an internal consultant working for a medical cost containment company. The CFO called me into his office and asked me to find out why his Accounts Receivables were unacceptably high when our customers swore that their payments had been sent. His best guess was that the A/R clerks weren’t posting the checks correctly. In other words, we probably needed to fix the people.

That sounded odd to me, so I interviewed a couple of the A/R Clerks. One of them opened a series of drawers located inside a locked cabinet to reveal thousands of unposted and uncashed checks. There were literally thousands of checks grouped into large bundles bound by rubber bands. Mystery solved and yet I was stunned!

The A/R Clerk said that there was no way to post these checks but her explanation wasn’t clear. Maybe this was a training issue after all. In an effort to find out more, I analyzed the end-to-end system that the Accounting department supported.

Back then, it took me a week to accomplish that task; today I can map the value chain in about 15 minutes using an approach I learned from Geary Rummler. Here’s a partial sketch representing what I found:

value chain

I learned that we had two separate types of technology: Re-pricing technology and Accounting technology. The root cause became clear when I created a linear map of the high level process:

Step 1: Receive physician bill (aka “claim”) from insurance company for re-pricing.

Step 2: Enter codes off physician bill into the re-pricing system.

Step 3: Re-pricing software applies volume discounts to each claim.

Step 4: Re-pricing software produces an invoice to be attached to the re-priced claim.

Step 5: Batch 100 re-priced claims and invoices together.

Step 6: Consolidate 100 individual invoices into one consolidated invoice.

Step 7: Mail batch with consolidated invoice to insurance company.

Can you se the systemic problem yet?  Well, that’s a lot to ask from such a short overview, so I’ll just cut to the chase:

First Issue:
The re-pricing technology created 100 individual invoices and pushed that data into the Accounting technology but the individual invoices were overwritten when the consolidated invoice was created manually.

Second Issue:

The average individual invoice within the batch is only $2 and this is why the decision was made to batch them and produce one invoice (average charge of $200). Yet, in reality, we had a high volume of low dollar transactions.

Third Issue:

Regulatory compliance in certain states required that insurance companies apply the payment of our invoice directly to the patient’s (aka claimant’s) file. In these cases, the insurance company could not pay the consolidated invoice. They had to pay the 100 individual  $2 invoices.

Fourth Issue:

The high volume of $2 checks being received overwhelmed the A/R Clerks and there was no way to determine which consolidated $200 invoice to post each $2 payment against. And, how important is a $2 check when you also have a ton $200 checks to post? They posted the larger checks and let the smaller ones sit.

Fifth Issue:

Yes, the A/R Clerks needed training (or procedures) for depositing unposted checks each day. This would ensure that the checks didn’t expire, but this was not going to fix the issue of being able to post the checks correctly.

Recommendation to the CFO:

Focus on making work easier. Fix the process. I facilitated a cross-functional team to redesign the process and we won the President’s Award for our efforts.

Please use this story or one of your own to convince your clients and coworkers that you cannot improve workplace performance by fixing the employees. You must also focus on making work easier!

The Purpose of Business is to Create Customers

According to management guru, Peter Drucker, the purpose of business is not to maximize profit but rather “to create a customer*.” Businesses competing for the same customer set themselves apart by delivering a consistent customer experience that adds value.

Do your employees share a vision of the desired customer experience? Does it add value? Is it delivered consistently? Are you sure about that?

One way to define the existing customer experience is to trace an order from receipt to delivery using the following six-steps. Improvements made to this “end-to-end process” will increase referrals, return customers, and revenue.

Six Steps that Define the Customer Experience

Step 1: Begin at the Beginning
• Get a package of large sticky notes.
• Beginning with “Order the product or service,” list every step required to convert that order into the deliverable. Write each step on a separate sticky note leaving a blank space along the bottom.

Step 2: Construct the Workflow
• Hang a long sheet of butcher paper horizontally on the wall.
• Leave about one foot of blank space on the left margin of the butcher paper and six inches of blank space across the top.
• Beginning on the left side of the butcher paper, place the sticky notes in order horizontally so that step one is on the left and the last step is on the right.

Order Widget Enter Order into OMS Check Credit Pic and Pack Widget Ship Widget

Step 3: Identify the Handoffs in the Workflow
• Steps are completed by one job role and then there is a “handoff” to another job role. You want to see where these occur.
• In pencil, write the job role responsible for completing the step on the bottom of each sticky note. You may find that the same person handles the order several times throughout the process.
• Now go to the far left side of the butcher paper and write “Customer” in the top left-hand corner of the butcher paper.
• List each job role vertically on the left side of the butcher paper. Each job role will be listed only once. Try to list the job roles from top to bottom in the order in which they perform the steps of the process.
• Imagine an Olympic swimming pool and draw horizontal lines to create a “swimlane” for each job title.
• Move the sticky notes to group them into their respective job role swimlane while maintaing the horizontal flow of the steps.

Customer Order Widget
Sales Acknowledge Order Notify customer of ship date
Order Entry Enter Order into OMS
Finance Check Credit
Warehouse Pic and Pack


Shipping Ship Widget

Step 4: Capture the Time it takes to Complete each Step
• Write Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 and so on horizontally across the top of your butcher paper so as to create columns.
• Adjust the steps in the process to fall into the day within which they begin. There may be gaps of several days between one step and the next.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 5

Day 6

Customer Order Widget
Sales Acknowledge Order Notify customer of ship date
Order Entry Enter Order into OMS
Finance Check


Warehouse Pic and Pack


Shipping Ship Widget

Step 5: Step Back and Analyze the Customer Experience
• Calculate the number of days it takes from Order to Delivery.
• Count the number of times the order is handed off from one employee to the next.
• Determine the points in the process where the customer is updated with information about their order.

Step 6: Have those who Perform the Work Validate the Process
• Take a picture of your process map or transcribe using your favorite software (Word, Powerpoint, Visio, Keynote, Pages…whatever you feel most comfortable using.)
• Gather a representative for each of the job titles listed and ask them to validate the process on the butcher paper explaining that you want them to correct any mistakes you have made.
• Provide blank sticky notes and pens so that they can add more steps if necessary. If they need to start over using a fresh sheet of butcher paper, so be it.
• If you are in a position of authority you may have to leave the room so that they can discuss the current process openly and honestly.

Once you have defined the current Customer Experience, you can identify opportunities for making work easier and making customers happier. It is recommended that you hire a performance improvement consultant to facilitate this aspect of the project. If you don’t have someone on staff to act in this role, give me a call. I can work with you at a reasonable cost using Go-to-Meeting or I can refer you to a facilitator in your area.

Dawn Papaila, CPT

* Drucker, P.F. (2001). The essential drucker. New York: Collins Business Essentials.

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Technology is only Part of the System

A good consultant understands that their client’s business is a system. When I use the word “system” people typically think I’m talking about computers and software, which is understandable. But, in fact, every business has three levels of systems nested within one another as depicted here:

opp system1. Organization System:
The overarching system is your organization. Inputs such as capital, human resources, and supplies, are utilized to produce outputs of products and services.


2. Process System:
Within the organization there are processes. These processes are subsystems that have specific inputs that are converted into outputs. An example might be your Order Fulfillment process. The input is an order that is converted into an output of a shipment to the customer.

3. Performer System:
Performers are the employees who perform each step of the process. For example, the Order Fulfillment process may begin with a salesperson and then move to a finance employee for credit approval. If credit is approved, a warehouse employee who packs and ships the order performs the next step of the process. Each of these employees receives a different input and produces a different output as each step of the Order Fulfillment process is completed.

Given the nested configuration of these systems, it is easy to understand why making changes to a system at one level may have an unintended impact on a system at another level.

Looking at businesses as systems is not new yet many business owners and managers have not been exposed to the importance of this concept. The work that Jay Forrester of MIT completed in the 1950’s with General Electric is an early example of using systems thinking as a management tool. GE’s plant in Kentucky had a problem with employee turnover and they thought it might be due to external economic factors. Forrester was able to show how the instability in GE employment was due to the internal structure of the firm and not to an external force.

Once you experience the indisputable logic and power of systems thinking, you will never be fooled into thinking that issues of production can be solved with the implementation of new software or that your employees will produce more if you simply train them to work faster. You will know to consider all three levels of your business system and that only systemic solutions will move your business forward.

Are you Making Work Easier or Making Employees Work Harder?

At a recent “mixer,” a guy asked me what I do for a living, I proudly replied, “I improve employee performance, product quality, and customer satisfaction by making work easier!” He chuckled and sniped, “Business owners don’t want to make work easier, they want their employees to work harder to improve bottom line results.” Then he gave me his card and told me that he would be happy to help me define my strategic advantage.

Well, I’m a business owner and I am consistently looking for ways to increase productivity by making work easier. And when I was employed by a Fortune 500 company, I was a member of an elite team of “corporate systems planners” who reduced bureaucracy by making work easier. This is not a new concept. We all want to work smarter, not harder!

And so, regardless of the advice of the well-intentioned marketing consultant, I have decided to trust my instincts and have created this blog entitled, Making Work Easier. Let’s face it, in this economy, employees are working harder than ever and I believe that business owners understand that the best way to improve employee performance is by making work easier.

Now, I don’t push fads or silver bullet fixes. I don’t sell “cloud” systems and I don’t teach metaphysical “secrets” of success. That doesn’t mean that I don’t personally use SaaS or that I’ve never created a vision board. It is just means that this is neither my expertise nor my approach to making work easier.

As a Director of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), I will show you how to view your business as a system and how to improve your “primary processes.” What the heck does that mean? Don’t worry, I promise to make this work easier too.

Use the rss feed button to subscribe to my blog to learn about proven and systematic techniques for making work easier. Thanks!

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