Improved observations: the starting point for better building performance

If you want to achieve significant building performance improvements today, consider this long overlooked and often underappreciated area of operations: employee observations. And not the same old observations, where you just have two or three general questions that apply to everyone, regardless of role. No: I’m talking about well-designed, SOP-centric, function-specific observations that ultimately result in better building performance—up to 12% better, in our experience. 

Here are the keys we’ve identified to create an observations program with more meaningful activity and consequential outcomes for everyone involved.

1. Success starts with SOPs. 

Ideally, observations should be first and foremost a means of checking that standard operating procedures—SOPs—are followed in the warehouse or distribution center. In this context, a successful observation is based on prompts that are specific to roles and job functions and the SOPs that govern them. Once an SOP is established for a particular process or function, the real work is in making sure people adhere to it. After all, holding the line on SOPs is what makes it possible to operate smoothly, maintain quality and ensure safety. Without an SOP enforcement component, facility performance in all those areas is going to suffer.

2. Collaborative coaching is key.

Out on the front line, performing observations is much like coaching a sports team; the activity creates powerful opportunities for leaders and associates to learn from each other in ways that benefit the organization as a whole. A successful program will set out specific goals for associates, equip leaders with the tools and data to help guide associates, and provide support for productive engagement. One of the benefits is increased retention, because both leaders and associates are working in an environment that encourages and supports their pursuit of success. 

3. Metrics matter.

We’re living in a time when data and metrics are more available than ever as tools for improvement, and observations are no exception. Where adherence was once typically measured based on yes/no answers to just a few not particularly well-defined prompts, we can now design gradations into the process to observe more precisely how well people are performing. That also means leaders can provide more specific guidance to associates for improvement. 

The bottom line: A well-designed observations program will improve, morale and retention—and those improvements in turn will pay off in significant improvements in overall building performance. 

I was speaking to a senior leader last week, and he said “Observations aren’t gotchas; they’re about helping people.” Next time we’ll talk about what happens once you’ve built a great observations program: the day-to-day of running a program that will pay off in employee development and building performance year after year.