Yep. That’s right. A good leader looks for ways to make his or her job obsolete.

I recently called our company financial customer service line since I received an automated email telling me I had an expense I had not yet reconciled in our employer financial system and the due date was coming past due. I pride myself in being efficient and on time with most things I do so this email came as a bit of a surprise to me.

The first individual I spoke with didn’t have “access” to help me ascertain the problem which prompted the automated email. She said someone with access would call me back. To my surprise, someone did call me back about 30 minutes later. That individual, after putting me on hold for a few minutes, reassured me that their was no issue and things should “process” soon. I wasn’t convinced so I kept asking questions which resulted in her asking if she could call me back after looking into the issue further.

After another half hour or so I received a call again informing me that because I had submitted my expense report too soon the transaction was caught in limbo and I would need to do a couple of things to correct it. “So the problem was I was too quick and efficient with my reporting of this business expense?” I asked. “Well, yeah, I guess so. You should have waited a few days for the purchase “to clear” before submitting it. But it shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Let me walk you through it.”

“Okay.” (I said with some snark and frustration.)

Here is where it gets interesting and the impetus for this post about good leaders looking for ways to eliminate their jobs.

As the agent and I spent the next 10 minutes trying to walk through the different screens, buttons, and lists to correct my mistake, the agent ultimately came to the conclusion that we couldn’t do this over the phone. “Really?” I asked. “Well could I share my screen with you so you could drive the mouse and help me see what I am apparently not seeing?” The agent responded, “why don’t I set up a time with you to come to your office tomorrow to walk you through how to fix the issue.”

“Oh, no.” I said. “Surely we can find a way to get this done now, over the phone.” I think she thought her response would calm me down, but it only aggravated me more… “Oh, it’s no trouble at all to come to your office tomorrow. It’s part of my job! No problem at all.”

(long silence on my end of the phone as I tried to reconcile my perspective on effective customer service and hers.)

I told her that I found it unfortunate that our online system was not intuitive enough for me to correct the problem immediately on my own. I was frustrated she thought it was a good idea to wait a day and take up more of my time to correct the fact that I had submitted the expense report “too soon.” She didn’t see the issue. She thought I should be grateful that she was willing to come to my office… tomorrow. Oh, and after spending time figuring out when we were both available for this quaint meeting, she also asked me to take more time to reach out to my line management to make sure they didn’t approve my problem expense because that would just make it more “complicated” to fix.

There is a principle, not well known I am finding in business, called the Zero Overhead Principle. Not much is written on it, but the basic idea is that processes and systems that require training, walk throughs, or hand-holding are a waste of time. That in this day and age products, processes, and protocols that are not intuitive enough for consumers to figure out on their own create unnecessary and costly overhead for both the consumer and the business. Good leaders- great leaders- are those who are constantly looking for ways to mitigate or eliminate administrative overhead. Great leaders are those who are looking for ways to eliminate aspects of their job for the sake of the consumer. Chipping and wittling away at “it’s part of my job” so that we all have a more efficient and effective experience.

I pride myself in the fact that a few years ago, when it was time for me to leave my last position and move on to a different opportunity the office in which I worked ultimately dissolved my position. I wore it as a badge of honor that after several years the industry had changed enough, and I worked hard enough to eliminate systemic impacts for the office to come to the conclusion I had put myself out of business. My position was dissolved and I saw it as a huge success story where we eliminated or modified antiquated business processes, policies, and protocols in such a way to no longer justify the salaried position I previously held. We arrived at a point of zero overhead in that case. No more “It’s part of my job! No problem at all” statements. That is a success story in my opinion.

Published by Jerrod Guddat

I love learning, collaboration, and improving workplace performance. You can usually find me reading a book or opposing points of view on the internet. I typically assume my ideas are flawed until proven otherwise. :-)

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