When you see people at work, you can’t always be sure they’re working

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REY ELBO

REY ELBO

HAVE you seen office workers at their desks, appearing to be hardworking behind a mountain of documents, but are actually doing some things other than their supposed tasks? Sadly, the impression is that many of this kind of people can be found in government offices. How about the private sector? It’s difficult to know for sure because many of their non-value added work processes are invisible.

Two Fridays ago, I went to a local PLDT office to file an application to terminate an unutilized, extra landline service. Knowing that its office will close at 5:30 p.m., I clocked in at 5 p.m., as I opt to do with government offices after I discovered it is the best time for me to do my business with them because there aren’t so many people around anymore by then.

Lucky me. I was number three behind a woman-millennial and another woman belonging to Generation X. But that’s another story.

My number was called and in less than 10 minutes, my transaction was over. That includes accomplishing a one-page request in a printed letter-size form, with details filled-in by the customer service assistant. My only participation was to display my intimidating appearance, sign the form with my trademark kilometric signature, and submit my ID to establish my identity as a proud holder of a Pag-IBIG loyalty card.


Presto! I was out of the PLDT office in about 13 minutes.

Three working days (or five calendar days) later, a woman with a bit of masculine voice called to ask: “Sir, we would like to know if you want to terminate the landline service?” My executive assistant who appears and talks like me replied: “But, of course! And your call is not even needed to disturb our busy schedule. In the first place, why doubt a written request over a telephone verification canceling a P250 monthly service?”

Can you imagine, a conservative estimate of 100 workers deployed in different PLDT branches around the country, and regardless of their employment status doing this non-value added work step every day? Assuming the average minimum wage is P400 a day across the country, then that means P40,000 a day or about P800,000 a month, for a whopping P10.5 million a year, including the 13th month pay, but excluding the cost of the employees’ statutory benefits.

That’s a lot of money to be saved, if only its ma nagement casts a critical eye on its operations—to see and understand invisible wastes. Theoretically, under Lean Management, handling a transaction or a process more than once is called extra-processing, or doing more than what is actually needed—an evil practice in world-class organizations practicing operational excellence.

In PLDT’s case, telephone verification is an unnecessary step that irritates customers. Outside of PLDT, we see the muda (waste) of extra-processing happening everywhere, every day, and done by everyone. Look at these plain sight examples:

One, traffic enforcers briskly waving their hands (if they’re not doing dirty dancing) to guide motorists despite an operating multi-million peso worth of traffic lights at street intersections. Two, security guards dutifully doing the paper-and-pen recording of the plate number of vehicles as they enter and exit a parking lot with an expensive automated boom system. Three, library clerks manually checking books if they’re properly checked out by students before a sensor can do its electronic inspection.

No, it’s not a battle between man and machine, but an intellectual discourse between value-adding versus non-value adding propositions. Take this example of a mindless transaction by a recruitment manager who requires every job applicant to submit as many documents at the first step of the hiring process.

Why can’t he simply limit such requirements to the top five short-listed candidates? Maybe the manager is better off requiring applicants to make hilarious intestinal noises with their armpits to showcase their other talents.

Times must change. We need to pay attention to details, particularly when people annoy us with unnecessary phone calls and charge such poor customer service against our bills. But since many organizations spend millions of pesos in advertising, it is unlikely they will spend a portion of it on training people to do some problem-solving, because they can’t afford it.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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