Do you know what your coworkers do all day? Sure, you probably have a sense of their inputs and outputs: what they ask of you and what they produce. You know how they behave in meetings or the jokes they make in the — metaphorical these days — break room, but when they go back to their desks and sit at their computers, what are they doing?
To take it a step further, do you know what you do? Clearly, at some level you have a sense of your job and the tasks you do, but could you explain them in detail, step-by-step, to others? Have you written down those steps?
Corporate America — especially the world of white collar knowledge workers — suffers from a chronic case of illegibility. We, along with our managers and colleagues, may know the product, but we have little sense of the process.
In our workplaces, there tend to be few how-to guides after HR onboards new employees, documentation and SOPs are out-of-date, and people working in the same role may perform the same task in radically different ways, with varying results. This is true of nearly all the companies I’ve worked at and those I’ve observed as a vendor and a client.
We’re all worse off caped in this shroud of illegibility. To start with the obvious: it makes training new employees slower, important steps can easily be missed, and best practices spread slowly — if they spread at all. If Sally comes up with a new, more efficient approach, it may take months or years for her colleagues to learn from her innovation.
There are also important second-order consequences. A task that is not well documented cannot be automated. While there is plenty of creative, high impact work done by knowledge workers, there is also lots of repetitive button pressing and form-filling that can be handed off to software. Needless to say, these are often the tasks that lead to burnout and, ultimately, reduced productivity and employee attrition. Yet these tasks cannot be automated if they are not first understood and documented.
The structural changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated this deficit as well, as companies struggle to rapidly scale processes everywhere from customer service to loan application review. In a legible company, adding more capacity is fluid, as workers can pick up existing processes and get to work. In an illegible one, business continuity is constantly at risk.
"Since we implemented the Standard Operating Procedure, our company has become more legible. We've been able to communicate our expectations more clearly to employees, and as a result, they are more likely to follow through on their commitments. The process has also helped us to improve our customer service, as we now have a clear understanding of how each department works. Overall, the SOP has been a great success for our company." - Milosz Krasinski, CEO of Chillifruit Consulting.
At Cursive, we’re making the corporation legible. With the release of Scribe, we’re making process documentation and codification as easy as doing the task itself. Just click record, do the task once, annotate, and share. If you share our goals, I’d love to chat about how we can work together.
To a more legible future.