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Over specialised?

In today’s economy businesses have had to learn to make do with less so one would think that they would try to ensure that their staff can turn their hands to do a number of things rather than becoming too specialised. That way they could keep their costs down by reducing the number of employees they need to operate the business.

Last week I went into a bank to pay my credit card bill. When I hit the door I almost left because the line was snaking all the way from the tellers towards the door. There were about 25 to 30 people in the queue. Fortunately for me I was able to go to the Gold Card Customer line and there was just one person in front of me.

When I looked at the teller station I realised the reason for the ridiculous line. There was one teller dealing with the commercial customers, one dealing with Gold Card customers and there was only one dealing with the rest of customers. Now it was around lunch time so I don’t know if the other tellers were at lunch or if there was a sick out. It was unbelievable.

What was even more unbelievable was the fact that there were two people sitting at desks behind the teller stations who just continued to do their jobs as if there was not a huge line of customers waiting to be served. I know that one of them used to be a teller so it wasn’t as if he did not know the teller’s functions.

Granted that in companies, banks especially, separation of duties is important but have they become so specialised that staff members can only do their job and nothing else?

If there was in fact a sick out, what was the backup plan? Were there no other members of staff that could be deployed to help out as tellers in this emergency situation? Isn’t the time that customers have to spend in a queue important to the bank? Just asking.

Of course there are the ATM machines, so I would hate to think that anyone in that line could have gone to the ATM to do their transaction but did not. If so, they obviously had the time to waste.

I also had a flat tyre last week and my husband, being the wonderful man that he is, took one look at it and told me I would need a new tyre so he took it to a well known tyre sales and repair business.

He came home from that experience and told me that I need to send a proposal to the company to do process improvement. When he compared the process he went through to get the tyre, to the simple process that his dad used when he ran Gardiner Austin years ago, he was amazed.

First of all he parked his vehicle, went in and reported his problem. He was then instructed to bring the car into the lineup area from which someone drove it away for the problem to be assessed. That person then came back to him to report that he needed a new tyre (which he already knew).

My husband asked which tyres they had in stock and the prices but that particular man was unable to tell him. He had to get a lady who was in the workshop area to come and check the stock on the computer. Was he not trained to do this or was he just not comfortable doing it?

Once my husband had selected the tyre he wanted he was sent to the cashier to pay. On returning, he then presented the paid bill to the first customer service person he had seen and then the car was delivered with the new tyre. That was a total of five people, including the man who changed the tyre.

Being an auditor a lifetime ago, I know the importance of separation of duties, but I can’t help but wonder if we have become over specialised and are therefore using more people to do the same processes at a time when, more than ever, we need to increase our efficiency.

* Donna Every is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA who worked with Ernst & Young for ten years before starting her own Business Advisory practice, Arise Consulting Inc. She has written four books including What Do You Have in Your House?, Surviving in Times of Financial Crisis and the newly released novel The Merger Mogul.

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