4 easy-to-use SYSTEMS to improve small office efficiency

In a small office there are seldom middle managers.  So the owner, by default, assumes the role.  Beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of owner-manager, he is also often entrepreneur, technician and many other roles.  Many start-up businesses are begun by individuals with outstanding technical capabilities.  Their excellent skill as technicians cause them over estimate their capabilities as business owners and managers.

Feeling the shortcomings

Soon, however, the new businessman begins to feels as a manager, and his limitations as a businessman.  This may not be evident when works on his own; the shortcomings are not too evident.  Once he wins enough work to justify hiring staff, that’s when the difficulties begin.  He becomes frustrated when he cannot get the best out of his employees, deems them lazy and unreliable.  And, the employees are frustrated due to lack of leadership and management from the ‘boss’.  Many times employees become disenchanted and decides to move on to another company - a tragedy for both employer and employee.

Had some simple management systems been in place, the employer would have been able to build buy-in from the employees and achieve more productivity from his employees.  His employees would have worked in an environment of clarity and independence within the context of the company vision, management and systems.

I lived through this situation in my own office – it lasted over 20 years.  Often I was frustrated with my employees, although instinctively I knew it had something to do with my management or lack thereof.  But, I didn’t know precisely how to fix it.  Each time a promising technician or young architect announced his resignation, I was devastated.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, this management style, more accurately called non-management, went on for too long.   Eventually it came down to a simple choice, I could either learn and apply good management skills to my practice, or quit.

Before I outline some fundamental management systems techniques, I want to relate an example of one of my biggest frustrations, typical to the interface between my employees and I.

A story about Justin

A junior employee, who we will call Justin, stopped by my office, when I was in the middle of writing a proposal that was due at day’s end.  Justin pops his head in my door and asks “my best friend is getting married in July next summer (6 months away) in Nova Scotia and I’d like a week off to attend the wedding.  He has asked me to be best man.”  Because I was focused on the task at hand, without really thinking about it, I said “yes, no problem, go ahead”.  In hindsight, I thought, all he would have had to do was plan is annual holidays around the wedding.

Three months later and 3 months before the wedding, again I’m busy doing my work and again Justin pops by my office and says“my friend has decided to postpone his wedding by 2 months to September.  Is it still OK if I take the time off?  Assuming he meant that he would be taking his holidays around the wedding, I said “ sounds OK to me”.

In mid August, Justin passes by my desk again and says “I just wanted to remind you that I’m going to my best friend’s wedding in September and you said you were OK with it.”  I said “hold on a minute, you’ve already had your holidays in July”.  He replied “You promised me time off for the wedding”.

We were both annoyed – I was annoyed that Justin wanted extra holidays, and Justin’s annoyed that I changed my mind.  Justin wound up going to the wedding, and as airline schedules would have it, it requires him to take two extra days off.  Unfortunately while

Justin was gone, we were in the middle of producing construction documents for our biggest job of the year.  The whole team had to work overtime to make up for Justin’s absence.

How could this situation have been mitigated and a solution satisfactory to both Justin and I found?

These types of failure occur frequently in a small offices when there are no management systems in place.  Lack of systems causes pitfalls in communication, leading to misunderstandings and acrimony.  If the business is recently formed, and employs just 1 or 2 people, then a lack of systems is not as harmful.  However, as the number of employees grows, the complexity of management responsibilities of an office grows exponentially.

Why most architects offices are small.

This complexity is best managed by creating a systems culture.  As the office grows, the accountabilities and responsibilities must be reviewed and adjusted.  To get on the right track from the beginning when an office is formed, leaders should implement 4 basic systems to improve communication and remove doubt from the many office interface situations.

1.      Standard Office Procedures (SOP)

SOP’s are a list of specifics about the office, such as work hours, payday, holidays, statuary holidays, time sheets, coffee time, dress codes, sick days, time off, etc.  Each team member should have a copy of this list as a quick reference at his desk to quickly refer to when in doubt about any detail of how the office operates.

2.      Day, Week & Month Plans

Before beginning any work, each team member is required to make a list of tasks for the day.  The first half hour of each day is dedicated to this task.  At this time the team member can communicate in a meaningful way with fellow team members and the ‘boss’ to fill up their task list for the day.  This system minimizes the number of interruptions throughout the day.

3.     Request form

This a form that requests items pertaining to the time worked such as time off to attend family matters, extra time off on weekends, and for overtime for pay, etc.  This form is presented for consideration and is approved, adjusted or denied.

4.     Key frustrations process

From time to time situations arise where difficult or annoying situations arise.  In this process, the team members involved the situations meet and undertake a conversation where the situation is discussed in detail.  Ultimately, all the impacted parties agree to the solution.  The proceedings are recorded in case the situation needs to be when the solution is not satisfactory.

When these 4 basic systems are in place they will make the day-to-day life in the office much smoother and your team will work together more effectively as the rules of the game are clearly understood by all.

Once these fundamental systems are written and become culture in the office, you can move on to the development of additional systems to manage al of the other aspects of the office.  Together, these systems become an effective office management structure, especially in a smaller size office like yours.

                 10 Benefits of Systems

                 How to Write Systems

                 Rolling out Systems

NORBERT LEMERMEYER

Phone: 780 490 8831

Email: norbert@architectureplusbusiness.com

Website: architectureplusbusiness.com

Twitter: @archplusbis

Blog: Architecture+Business Blog

Author:  The E-Myth Architect  

 Why Most Small Architectural Firms Don't Work and What To Do About

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