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Simple steps improve accuracy and efficiency

Distractions can cost you a lot. A few simple guidelines can solve those problems.

Tasks such as rectifying accounts, creating health papers for animal shipments, doing intricate lab tests and other highly-detailed, crucial functions require an extra level of attention to accuracy.

A client of mine ships animals to foreign countries on a regular basis, and a 13-step process is required to ensure all the health papers, inspections, individual animal ID’s and other information is accurate to the smallest detail. Any inconsistency and the entire shipment may be rejected on the spot.

Some problems developed as the frequency and size of shipments increased. Minor mistakes were beginning to occur and employees were getting frustrated with the process—and each other.

We reviewed the steps they used to ensure accuracy. The process was very detailed and included checklists, timelines and the standard operating procedures that one would assume would result in complete compliance.

As we looked at the errors that were being made, they were often very simple. Transposed numbers on ID’s, missing dates on forms, inconsistencies from one form to the next for the numbers of animals in a group, and so forth. The process was appropriate. The implementation needed to be modified.

Seeking ideas

We discussed the results of an architectural and engineering firm’s research on accuracy and efficiency for project development. They found that their professional staff was replying to messages, answering phone calls, attending non-essential meetings and other activities throughout the day on short notice. It was creating inefficiency and frustration, as well as minor mistakes in specifications, omissions in reports and other oversights. The constant interruptions caused a lack of focus that resulted in un-forced errors.

Their solution was simple. They told all staff that they would not be required to take calls, respond to messages, attend meetings or any other interruptions from the start of the day until 1 p.m. Mornings were reserved for them, and all other activities could be done later in the day. The staff enjoyed this level of privacy so much that many came in an hour early to maximize that time. Vendors learned of the new structure quickly and did not attempt contact in the morning. Efficiency skyrocket and mistakes were minimized, with a significant reduction in employee frustration.

Real cost of distractions

Of course, we can’t sequester our clinic staff for an entire morning, but the lessons are still applicable. Their research showed that it was the interruptions and distractions that caused the errors. As an example, after a 30-second phone or personal conversation, a person needed five minutes to regain their previous level of focus. A five-minute interruption required up to 20 minutes.

The producer’s staff was being interrupted as they were compiling all the forms and data needed for international shipments. These interruptions seemed important and innocuous at the time, but being in a cubicle arrangement with other staff and technicians allowed too many opportunities for distractions.

We now have the compliance staff go to a separate office where they can close the door, hang out a "do not disturb" sign, and allow uninterrupted focus for the three hours that are needed to complete the activities with high accuracy. The rest of the staff respects this level of privacy because they know that everyone wins when the shipment goes without errors.

A better system

This has worked so well that now the accounting staff has developed guidelines for their office. If their door is shut, that means do not disturb. If the door is just ajar, you may knock, and you will have a couple minutes to ask your question and they will quickly address your issue. When the door is open, come on in. This department has increased their accuracy and reduced their frustration through this simple communication method and guidelines.

If you are experiencing inconsistencies in inventory, oversights in ordering or difficulties in the accuracy and timeliness of financial records and reports, consider allowing those responsible a private space with uninterrupted time for these crucial activities. It may reduce the level of frustration throughout the organization and improve client relations, overall efficiency and employee frustration.

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