Lazy employees are good

dmv2Talking this afternoon Jim said to me “Lazy employees can sometimes be the most useful.

How so?

Imagine,” he said, “someone sitting and doing exactly the same task every day. They do it for a year: filling in a form, clicking a box, maybe a different form or a different box but it’s pretty much the same thing..

There are some people who are fine with this. They switch off, do a days work, and go home at 5pm. Well I’ve spent some time in the DMV and Christina had the good fortune to have to spend a few hours there this morning. “Why are they like that?” she asked when she came out, describing the attitude of the staff at the counters. “It should be a fun place – it’s full of excited kids getting their photos taken, their first licenses..” That first freedom and the opportunity to do it in your Dad’s car I guess.. but anyway, I agree – most transactions in the DMV are straightforward. A license, a renewal, etc. So why do they seem so miserable / unhelpful? If it was the money surely they’d look for another job – most of the staff look like they’ve been there for a good few years.

dmv3I guess it’s a mentality – they are doing the minimum required to get the job done. That’s not to say they’re not working hard – after all, the queue is out the door. When we arrived at 8am this morning people were queuing right across the front of the building and back again. So, the mentality is to battle on with the forms, grimace at each “customer” who asks for you to do more work, and quickly read the response from the card when asked a question. And if you’re not careful, people like this employ people like themselves and so on. They’re working hard, but they’re not getting any better at it, and as you pile on the customers/work it just gets worse.

So why don’t they improve?

Yes, you could employ driven, passionate people – but they tend to be expensive and aiming somewhere else. So how about lazy people? Not the kind that just want to sit on the couch at home, or the kind that stand around gossiping while forms go unprocessed, but the smart kind who see that if they were to make improvements to the process they would have to put in less effort.

You want people who start asking “Why?

Why isn’t this automated?

Why don’t we let people do this online?

Why can’t the person at Counter 12 also handle the form from Counter D?

In our industry there’s always too much to do. To many features to implement, too many bugs to fix, too many phones to test. We could work 20hr days and still not do it all – hey, some do work incredibly long hours – but unfortunately that passion and drive will burn out fast. Sometimes you need to step back and ask questions. Why are we doing it this way? What if we spent a couple of days automating this task? Can we let our customers do this themselves? Do we need to do this at all?

So let’s be lazy. Let’s figure out how to do more with less effort by taking that step back and asking some questions. If we can make changes that would make our job easier while delivering the same results for our customer then let’s do it. Don’t start complaining that “we don’t have time for that,” or “that’s not how we do it round here..” Make the change. Be lazy. It’s amazing how much you can get done.

Thanks go to Jim for the original discussion that triggered this post.


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