Use the Right Tools

This is the second post in a series covering the 3 keys of a healthy organization, which are:

  • Do the right things, with the right tools, in the right conditions.

Once you have your organizational strategy in place—which includes why you’re doing somethingwhat you’re trying to do, and the style in which you’ll do it—it’s time to find the right tools for the job. There are three types of tools we’re going to look at:

  1. Device-type tools
  2. Policy-type tools
  3. Human-type tools

Despite the title of this post, we’re not going to walk through a 3-step plan to find all the perfect tools for your work place (that’s a complex process that could never properly fit into a blog post). However, I want to focus on the balance of our tools, and doing that will help us to find the correct tools as well. Let’s get an overview of each type of tool, and then take a look at what happens if we have too many or too few of each type.

Device-Type Tools

Device-type tools are, perhaps, the most obvious kind of tool. It’s technology. It’s a pencil, or a computer, or a tool belt, or a vehicle, or a piece of software. It’s a thing you use to do work more effectivelyOr at least that’s the idea.

Too Many Device-Type Tools

In this age of accelerated technological development and easy access to tech tools, it’s easy to accumulate technology in our work places. Creeping over the too many tools threshold could be easily missed. Here are a few signs that you may have too many device-type tools:

  • Employees have difficulty maintaining their knowledge of all the tools they use
  • Maintenance of tools falls behind
  • Overhead costs are higher than they should be
Too Few Device-Type Tools

Technology may be abundant and easy to access, but it can also be expensive. Sure, new computers for the office would be great, but you just haven’t been able to squeeze it into the budget. Or maybe you have an old-school streak in you that whispers we don’t need these silly tech gadgets to do what used to be done with simple paper and pencil! Maybe there’s some other reason; but if you don’t have enough device-type tools in your work environment, you might experience:

  • Inefficient use of time (ex. someone collating papers for two hours instead of having a copy machine do it automatically)
  • Increased error (human, mechanical, and otherwise)
  • Sub-par quality of production (because the quality of your production will be compared to the rest of the world using improved technology)

Policy-Type Tools

Policy-type tools are established guidelines we use to do work. Written policy is an obvious example of a policy-type tool (hence the name). But another equally-important part of policy-type tools is the processes and workflows of a work environment. They’re not written down, but they’re an important part of being able to get work done. Processes and workflows should not be left to chance, but rather planned carefully as a team. Without careful consideration, we can end up with:

Too Many Policy-Type Tools

We have created numerous phrases we use when too many policy-type tools are in place. You know them, but you may not have thought about it in these terms. “Red tape.” “Jumping through hoops.” Whatever you want to call it, we’ve all felt it; and whether or not we realized it, it’s a tool problem. Implement too many policy-type tools and you’ll get:

  • Too much time required to complete tasks
  • Employee and client frustration due to lack of efficiency and agility
  • Lack of enforcement of policy due to the difficulty/expense of enforcing increasingly complex policy
Too Few Policy-Type tools

In order to assess this problem accurately, it needs to be approached from two perspectives: policy and process. It’s uncommon for an organization to have too few policies (new or small businesses sometimes being the exception), but some organizations struggle with having too few or inadequate processes and workflows. If that’s the case, you’ll probably experience:

  • High rate of employee “error” (if they don’t know the correct process or policy, the chances of them following it are slim)
  • Liability (without adequate policy, enforcing consequences can be difficult, and can even be a legal issue)

Human-Type Tools

Human-type tools are, well, humans! Usually this is labeled as Human Resources (because no one likes being called a tool), but for consistency, and to maybe help us think about it a bit differently, I wanted to keep Human-type tools. How do we use (or misuse) people as tools? Are we overworking them? Are we maintaining them? Are we using them for their intended function? Are our tools up-to-date? Those are really important questions we need to be asking. But what about having too many or too few?

Too Many Human-Type Tools

Having too many people on-board might seem unlikely, because it’s expensive; but it can easily hide behind too many policy-type tools (red tape), or too few device-type tools. For example, if you have too many policy-type tools, you need to bring on more people to deal with the “red tape.” It feels like you need those people, but it’s an illusion caused by dysfunction. Furthermore, if the “red tape” is legally required, the dysfunction is on the part of the law, but it’s dysfunction nonetheless. If you have too few device-type tools, it may seem like you need more people to handle the work, when in reality, you just need to enable the people you already have to work more effectively. If you have too many human-type tools in your organizations, you might see:

  • Wasted time (many hands make light work. too many hands makes no work)
  • Monetary stress (people are expensive, and even if the company is financially healthy, having too many people on payroll is going to cause a financial burden somewhere, even if “only” for the consumer)
Too Few Human-Type Tools

This is usually a conversation about budget. Of course, we would like to hire more people to ease the workload, but it just isn’t in the budget. I’m not going to argue that this isn’t true or often legitimate. However, sometimes an illusion of too few employees can be caused by improper allocation of those people, or by not equipping them to work more effectively. Nonetheless, if you have too few human-type tools, you’ll probably hear about:

  • Stress from overwork
  • High turnover of employees (high turnover can be caused by any of these problems, but overwork will be a strong factor)
  • Lower-quality production (We can’t have our cake and eat it too. There is a trade-off between allocated resources and the quality of the product.)

What To Do

The examples listed in these scenarios are by no means complete or without exception. The above symptoms can be caused by numerous other problems inside an organization, so we can’t use this as an evaluative tool. But it can be used to get us started asking evaluative questions about our work places. Ex. Our employees are constantly asking for more training. Might we have too many device-type tools, or is it something else? From there, we either need to dig in hard and try to develop improvements in-house, or seek expert help from an outside source that can truly assess the situation, paint a clear picture, and create practical solutions.

So, how are you doing with your tools?

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