What I Wish I Had Told My Manager About Workflow Systems

Working at an ecommerce startup on the creative team, it seemed that everyday I was putting out fires or addressing mistakes that had nothing to do with my job: copywriting. While I appreciated working in a dynamic environment, and I’ve always enjoyed wearing many hats, I found that on a daily basis my ability to be productive was hindered by not being able to access files, editing the wrong version of a file, or having my team work on the wrong assignment, only to learn after the assignment was completed that it was no longer needed.

How did this happen? Was it gross mismanagement, terrible leadership, lack of initiative or drive? None of the above. I had an extremely competent team and an informed, workaholic manager. What we didn’t have was support from upper-management. Though we voiced repeatedly that we needed a new workflow system, the time that we wasted was not seen as valuable enough to address the problem.

Looking back, I realize that this wasn’t just an isolated incident. Often, creative teams do not have the buy-in of decision makers that can help them to become more productive. We creatives often feel like we work on our own island, separated from everyone else, yet expected to work on tight deadlines, and to drop everything for whatever last-minute projects come up. This creates an “us vs. them” mentality that is fundamentally destructive to any company.

So, what can be done to prevent this from happening in your business? Here are some steps that you can take to empower your team to work smarter.

Listen To Your Staff: They See Problems Before You Do

The needs of every department are different at every company; one size does not fit all. While the general questions are alike for each organization, the processes are often different. Ask: what files or images does your team need access to? Who needs to sign off on their projects? Who should be able to edit or give comments? Get feedback from each team about where their pain-points are and ask what they think could be done to make their workflow more effective. By doing this, not only are you gathering requirements to find the optimal system for everyone’s needs, but you are showing that you care and are invested in each team, which makes everyone invested in the outcome.

Support Staff Morale

Every manager is cost-sensitive, and they should be. However, often the long-term value of a system is overlooked because of the initial price. Meanwhile, creatives spend hours a day trying to find the right files, which has a financial impact and adds stress to your team. It is extremely frustrating to waste time on tasks that could be easily be automated, or at least facilitated, with the right system. The overall effect on the team is demoralizing, and makes team members feel as if their time and work is not valued. This is not just about productivity and ROI but also impacts the quality of work and employee retention.

Address the Weakest Link: It’s All Connected

If one team doesn’t have the systems they need to be efficient, this has a trickle down effect throughout the whole organization. It can also cause resentment and misunderstandings between teams, which breaks down effective communication. Find their common pain-points, and bring them together regularly to discuss their intersecting needs. This will help your teams learn how their processes impact each other, and how each team getting the support that they need benefits all teams.

As a manager, it is easy to overlook what at first appears to be a small problem in one department, without seeing how it snowballs into a much bigger problem throughout the organization. I wish those who had decision-making power had listened to the creative team, included us in more planning sessions, and understood our interdependence within the broader framework. If we had a better workflow and a system to support it, we would have had a cohesive department, getting our tasks done quickly and been a more valuable asset to the company. Providing each team with the tools they need to succeed builds an organization that works together as a unit, combining and sharing resources for the benefit of everyone.

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