I was sitting in a meeting today and the subject of service-level agreements came up. I’d heard about service-level agreements before. When I worked in a production department, I’d been briefed on what type of service our customers were expecting: so many days to complete a project at a certain level of quality, using certain words in any outward-facing messaging. These were contractual, legally-binding agreements that our company had agreed to fill. Sounded reasonable enough to me. When I choose overnight shipping from the postal-service, I expect to receive my package the next day, undamaged–not whenever the shipping clerk, package handlers and delivery drivers decide to deliver it, half-opened and smashed.
However, what interested me about this particular discussion of service-level agreements was that we were discussing defining and implementing service-level agreements between internal departments—essentially making a contract between each department and employee outlining what services, projects, problems a specific team covered; the process for interdepartmental communication; and to what degree each department will handle said services, projects, or problems.
What a novel idea! Make expectations clear so that everyone understands what role they play in the company.
It seems like common sense, but it amazes me at how many companies fail to set even basic boundaries and expectations for each of its employees.
This method of setting clear expectations and then training people on how to meet those expectations has been put into practice with very successful results. At Webster Elementary in San Diego, principal Jennifer White was appalled at the violence, suspensions, and absenteeism occurring at the school when she arrived in 2000. By implementing a program that actively taught students proper student behavior, principal White turned the school into a happy, thriving learning environment.
Building on Buguey’s initial efforts to improve discipline, Jennifer White and her teachers crafted the Webster Way, which teaches “scholarly behaviors” such as eye contact, cleaning up your trash, and greeting teachers by name. Such skills are usually expected but not actively taught, White said…
It sounds elementary, and hardly radical. Yet the results have been dramatic. Webster has seen suspensions plummet and test scores surge since instilling the Webster Way. Only 10 students were suspended last year. Test scores ranked Webster in the top echelon of demographically similar schools statewide.
“Schools assume that a student will come in, and just know what to do,” school psychologist Steve Franklin said. “At Webster, teaching a student how to be a student is really important. We don’t expect them to already know how to read, to do math or write. So why aren’t we teaching these things, too?”
I often hear a lot of griping about how young workers are “incompetent” and “don’t know how to do even basic things.” Frankly, I don’t know too many universities that offer classes on how to work a fax machine, operate an espresso machine, or how to make 2-sided copies collated and stapled. Companies just assume that since you’re over 18, you must know how to do those things.
I doubt that most baby boomers entered their first jobs knowing anything more than how to answer a phone and type on a typewriter. As newer technologies were introduced, they were probably given formal training by their employers on how to use that new technology since, obviously, no one had ever used it before. Now, however, faxes, copiers, and multi-line phones are staples in most offices and very few companies take the time to train new employees on how to use them.
I’m not arguing that we need better training on office technology (although most people do), but rather that by combining a clear set of job expectations (it’s Suzie’s job to make copies, Rob’s to deliver the CEO’s daily latte) and giving each person the right training and tools to do their job successfully (Suzie spends an hour reading through the copier manual, Rob is shown how to grind the coffee beans and gently stir in 1% skim milk), employees will be happier, confident, and more productive since they know exactly what is expected of them, how to accomplish it, and don’t spend wasted time and energy squabbling over who jammed the copy machine or forgot to put the coffee filter in the machine.