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Post-Its are ectoplasm

Don’t get me wrong, they can be useful. There are those workshops where people slap them around on walls with words like ‘OPTIMISM’ and ‘EMPOWERMENT’ scrawled on them. I am sure that can help but it’s a bit earnest for my taste. I prefer quiet reflection with a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive to oil the thinking cogs.

Anybody who knows me will be familiar with this neurosis. With some people it’s peas or tomatoes, with others it’s spiders. Mine isn’t a phobia, it’s an intolerance and sometimes it just helps to talk about it. My first anniversary at Fireco was celebrated by my car being covered with Post-It notes, a sure sign that a certain lack of balance is at play. So what’s this about, I wonder?

My theory is that when these things are scattered around in the work environment, they are an ominous sign. A screen surrounded with little coloured notes shows that the user of the screen doesn’t know how to use it. To them, it’s the black bit in the middle. A despatch area running on Post-Its is likely to be sending the wrong stuff to the wrong person on the wrong day. A receptionist passing messages by Post-It will lose more customers than they can ever get back by being polite and friendly on the phone.

The Post-It is not the problem, it’s a symptom. It is the remnant of the spirit of disorganisation, the ectoplasm of the ghost of chaos. In companies, these visitations are very costly, so exorcising them should be a good manager’s preoccupation. When I started at Fireco, I did all in my power to facilitate. We have the miracle of what we call The Google, a mix of G-Suite, including Google Apps, Drive, Google app engine and a Google hosted database all knitted together within our own domain. But how does it help?

Two years ago, in my first months at Fireco, I reached a crisis point with our Quality Management System. I thought it overblown, irrelevant and frankly an ocean-going nuisance. It was not helping the company, it was holding it back. Michelle, our Operations Director agreed and she took the initiative. She slapped a non-conformance on the whole thing (no, not a Post-It) and set about redesigning a completely new QMS. She worked to the new 2015 version of ISO9001 and last year we were one of the first companies in the world to become accredited to the new standard. Michelle used The Google extensively, linking documents together in a structured way, using Google Forms to collect data and Google Sheets for live KPI dashboards.

The external auditor who came to do our three year renewal last week was impressed. Mainly this was down to Michelle’s thoroughness and competence. He did also mention that he liked our systems and that for every question he asked from whomever he asked it, an answer would pop up on a screen somewhere within seconds. He could not find even minor non-conformances. “I can’t even make any recommendations for improvement,” he said.

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