(Re)Learning Habits

February 3, 2009


cw-checklist1By Corina Wong, Order Fulfillment and Customer Service Representative, The Tatham Group

When I first started working at the Tatham Group, I didn’t really understand why everyone in this company seemed such a stickler for following process.

First, let me provide a bit of background: my job involves a variety of different tasks, including maintaining all inventory, creating sales brochures, and printing and laminating takeaway packages. So you can understand how grateful I was to have the Production Guide – a handy binder filled with detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to do each task.

My general approach to following instructions is to read it all over, understand the gist of it, and then go hands-on. I can’t speak for the wider population, but I do know that the majority of my family and friends take this approach as well, whether its setting up a new computer, building an Ikea desk, or even following a recipe.

However, this was not the approach the Tatham Group wanted me to take. I was told to read and follow every single step as outlined in the Guide. As you may well know, step-by-step guides tend to be long and very detailed. So I must admit, the strict adherence approach just seemed like tedious rule following to me! At first, I did follow every step as outlined. But since many of the steps included seemed pretty obvious, I still assumed that the usual approach I had been taking all my life would work out fine and produce the same product in the end.

By not always following the steps as outlined, I inevitably ended up with mishaps. Minor details can easily be forgotten or overlooked, but may result in adverse, unintended consequences. An example of one such consequence was the time I broke the laminating machine…

After the third time replacing the laminate on the laminator machine, I began to get confident in my previous instruction following experiences. My rationale was, why bother to again (re)read one step, carry out the step, go back to (re)read the next step, carry out the step, go back to (re)read the next step, et cetera, et cetera? It seemed much too time consuming and redundant for something I already had experience doing.

So the next time I went to replace the laminate I had the Guide open by my side, but that ended up being just a sporadic reference to the whole process. But unfortunately for me, by not making sure I read the steps closely enough, I accidentally replaced one of the rods in an opposite direction. This simple directional mistake ended up causing one side of the laminate to completely stick to the machine.Consequently, the machine broke and cost us $300 in repairs! It was indeed a lesson learned.

Now I know it actually makes my job easier to carefully follow the fool-proof steps. And I realized that I could help make them better. By closely following them, I saw which steps could be explained in clearer and simpler terms. In fact, through repeated experience with completing a task, I might even realize that there is a faster way to do it. Thus, following the detailed process actually enables me to see areas for improvement, and I can help make the step-by-step instructions more concise and efficient for myself and any future Production Guide user.