A Season of Understanding

crewcall-lg-1015I love the holidays. Even though they often come as a mixed blessing, combining some welcome time away from the office with seeing the relatives that I didn’t necessarily want to see. I really enjoy this time when people make an effort to smile a little more, to contact old friends and, frankly, just to be a little easier to live with. And, especially this year, I think we all need it.

So now let’s talk about the problem that most of us will deal with: how to use the downtime that tends to come around the holidays. Every company I have ever worked for, and, since then, every company I have led, has had a plan to use the holiday downtime. Sometimes the list of work to be accomplished is even more ambitious than my Christmas list, which has included a Lamborghini every year since I was 14 years old.

So, every year, the various crews within the business, led by ambitious department managers, make lists of the things that they want to accomplish during the downtime. The field crews make lists that include things like reorganizing the vans, doing check-in and maintenance on gear, reorganizing the warehouse and building a new soldering bench. The office personnel make lists that include preparing receipts and paperwork for tax season, updating company records, taking inventory and sending out the annual letter requesting tax exemption forms.

Now, certainly, all of these things are valuable things to accomplish. All of them pay off later in the year when we are too busy to even attempt them, but let me suggest to you an option that could pay off even more.

Have them exchange lists. Or, at the very least, exchange crew members for some of the tasks.

If this is to truly be a season of understanding, one of the things that would pay off most through the year is for the various parts of the business to have a better understanding of the needs of the others. All too often, the office crew complains about the activity of the field crew, how they never document things or turn in receipts, etc. The field crew whines about how busy they are and that the office crew simply doesn’t understand that there really isn’t time to actually document the hours spent on a job.

Here’s the other reason for a list exchange. There is an old saying that a change is as good as a rest. And, let’s face it, the things that we put on these lists are chores — or, at least they are for the people who made the list. Because of this, often things like holiday parties, fruitcake, and just general goofing around push some parts of these lists off, Because frankly, well, they are chores. But, as with Tom Sawyer getting his friends to whitewash his fence, people who don’t do them every day might take more interest in them.

On top of this, they might learn something! Just recently, our accounting manager learned the definition of “PTZ,” which enabled him to explain the bill to a client without having to contact the tech in charge. Time saved. Some understanding gained.

But there are other important business reasons that taking this time for some temporary change in duties can be valuable. For instance, asking the field technicians to help update client records can involve them inputting client preferences and contacts into the records. If you’ve been reading my columns for very long, you know that I’m a proponent of a cloud-based project and information management system called Basecamp. It’s a very simple, web-based system, (which we have been using for about 10 years) and it has gotten more valuable with every year as the office staff put in information for use by the field staff (credit records, who can approve a charge, etc.) and the field staff put in information like hours, projects, and customer requests and comments. This system enables any of our people to brief themselves about a client and their projects before speaking with them. However, getting the system going was a major chore, especially establishing the need for field people to contribute. This kind of a slowdown time may be the time that you can actually get a system started.

The final reason: promoting a useable basic technical understanding — such as having the ability to call the office staff and asking them to find a four-output HDMI distribution amplifier and get it down to the convention center. Nobody likes these incidents, but the flexibility of having non-technical employees execute such chores when necessary can be valuable.

As an afterthought: this could also be fun, and help build some personal understanding between the members of your staff. And, in this “season of understanding” what could be better than having a better understanding of the people that we work with day-to-day?