I complained to the Philippines’ Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) that a mobile phone seller didn’t honour the terms of a promotion in which I was entitled to a PhP 3,000 allowance to buy smartphone accessories. The DTI responded that I have to fill out a form before the department would respond. No form, no action.
Many systems are trigger-dependent, that is, they don’t work until a prerequisite is satisfied.
A pizza parlour, for example, won’t deliver until there’s an order from a customer.
An usher won’t let patrons into a movie theatre until they show their paid ticket stubs.
A contractor won’t start building a house until the architect and the homeowner approve the plans.
A warehouse won’t let a truck out without a signed gate pass.
A vendor won’t deliver without a purchase requisition.
For many enterprises, system triggers are important if not essential. Operations won’t proceed unless there’s authorisation or an order. Manufacturing operations won’t run until the accomplishment of needed activities beforehand such as the refining of raw materials prior to the manufacture of finished products. System triggers ensure control and clarity in the running of processes.
Auditors target the absence of triggers when they check operational deviations. Was there a signed customer order before an invoice was printed? Was there authorisation to release cash for payment to a supplier? By pointing out the absence of triggers, auditors can check for possible malfeasance as well as point out where managers can improve process controls.
Managers and their subordinates, however, can become dependent on the triggers. Managers like control and some won’t permit subordinates to start something without permission, authorisation, or order. But as both managers and subordinates become so dependent on triggers, they may lose their sense of initiative. They both become people who wait for things to happen rather than making things happen.
In a factory that was fabricating various metal products, for instance, a supervisor instructed workers not to start work until she gave out their written job orders. The factory opens early at 7am but the supervisor gives out the job orders at 9am at the earliest. Asked why it took two (2) hours to prepare the job orders, the supervisor said she had to wait for a planner at the main office to tell what products to make for the day. The main office opens at 8am and the planner in charge of sending the day’s production schedule had to wait for the managing director to approve it. The managing director arrives daily at the main office at 8:30am.
An answer to improving productivity for the factory is for the main office and managing director to approve the production schedule the day before so that the supervisor can already have job orders ready first thing in the morning.
But a better answer is to give the planner the authority to prepare and forward the daily schedule to the supervisor without having to wait for the managing director to approve it. The planner instead could make out an earlier weekly production plan which the director can approve. The planner would notify the managing director when there are changes in the plan during the week in question.
In this scenario, the planner and supervisor are given the power of initiative; both get autonomy to schedule the manufacturing of metal products more productively. They both gain some leeway to flex production timetables as long as they don’t end up delaying targeted delivery lead times to customers.
Trigger-dependent systems assure control and efficiency. But they don’t help productivity if the systems encourage people to wait rather than act.
Enterprise executives invoke trigger-dependent systems because they want to control operations such that they comply with standard procedures and policies. The trouble with trigger-dependent systems is that people may end up too dependent on triggers that they end up waiting for them instead of acting with initiative. People aren’t machines; we have the ability to learn and improve and to decide what would be best for our employers as long as we understand policies and we agree with our superiors’ standards and strategies.
It’s nice to have triggers but it’s better if we can trust the people we hire to pull them.