Re-engineering the Santa Queue

I mentioned (last time out) that my kids no longer believe in Santa. It’s a real dilemma because I still get a kick out of the whole Santa thing. So, this year I rounded up a couple of younger nieces and nephews and we headed into Arnotts, in Dublin city centre.

The timing was somewhat unfortunate. We’d been out for the Tandem Consulting Christmas party the night before so I was somewhat delicate. In stark contrast, the 4 kids were wild with excitement. What had seemed like a great idea a couple of weeks earlier didn’t seem like a winning formula on the day.

Real Santa: The Santa in Arnotts is brilliant. A real beard and really good with the kids. No presents, just £10 for 2 photos so affordable for most people. The problem was it took over 2 hours as the queue moved forward at the rate of 4.7 inches every 30 minutes. For me, queuing is on the same attraction scale as kidney donations; it was a nightmare.

At the half way mark, having run out of I-Spy, Standing Statues and every other kids game we could think of, I went up to the desk in desperation. Now, without wishing to boast, I’m a graduate of several trips to Disney parks and know all about queuing. There were at least two aternative options. Firstly, the staff could give people a number and tell them to come back at a certain time. The likelihood is that they would then spend the available time in the store actually buying stuff and not just standing around. The second method uses technology. You get a beeper, wander around the store and get beeped when your consultation with Santa is ready to kick-off. To make sure that people come back, everyone pays a non-refundable deposit either for the photos or the bleeper. If they don’t come back, the store keeps their money. Simple.

Free Consulting: Armed with this technical know-how, I told the kids “Stay there. Don’t talk to anyone. I’ll be back in a minute”. Happy to pass on all this great consulting advice to Arnotts. I laid out the diagnosis and the range of possible solutions to the duty manager. The response was as follows: “We tried all sorts of things, but nothing really works. Don’t worry, you’ve only an hour or so left. Do you want more lollipops for the kids?”

Change Resistance: Within organizations a similar dynamic often occurs. The existing processes (or ways of working) may well be time consuming and non-productive. But staff just can’t see it or have gotten used to it. While organizations are typically aware of ‘unleashing the power of people’ (through various forms of staff engagement) they are less clued into the power of process reengineering. And there is huge potential in this area. In a recent assignment in a financial services institution, we were able to remove 30+% of the time it took to process orders. A similar time saving would have shaved 40 minutes off the Santa queue (but, as stated earlier, I think it would be possible to completely eliminate the queuing and improve in-store sales, a real win-win).

Wider Applications: So, is this about the Santa queue in Arnotts needing to be re-engineered? Hardly. In a time when we are all charged with ‘doing more with less’, absolutely everything needs to be put under the microscope. And if you want to seriously improve organization performance, a great place to start is fixing key processes – the foundation of organization productivity. This is not a ‘new’ idea (industrial engineering has been around in one form or another since the 1920’s); in the words of Marie Antoinette’s Milliner: “There is nothing new, except what’s been forgotten”. Yet the core issue is not new versus old, it’s whether an idea has productive potential. Business process re-engineering (regardless of whether this is labeled Lean Manufacturing, 6 Sigma, Operational Excellence or something else) is a potent productivity improvement tool for 2011 and beyond.

Enjoy the Christmas break. Put the feet up. Take a breather and refresh. Because the next half of this game is just about to get a lot tougher.

Paul Mooney PhD.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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