Starting this fall, we are using time management software that we wrote ourselves to operate Mill 180 Park.  The software, which is called Ophanim, uses an online application that lets everybody working at the Park collaborate on setting short-term, medium-term, and long-term priorities.  It then assigns tasks in the way that best reflects those priorities.  Every four minutes, Ophanim evaluates the current state of the Park – including what we are all doing – and reassigns the tasks as appropriate to keep us on track.  Ophanim is intended to help make the Park financially sustainable by making us more efficient.  It also furthers our bigger mission of using technology to improve the way people live.

One of the hallmarks of a truly successful organization is that everybody is trying to achieve the same goals.  That means that employees’ interests need to be aligned with the organization’s, which is difficult to accomplish.  You don’t have to be Karl Marx to realize that work is often very unsatisfying and lacking in purpose.  We are using the Park as a laboratory to test whether our software improves this situation.  Just as the Park provides a physical space to strengthen Easthampton’s sense of community, Ophanim can strengthen an organization’s cohesiveness and sense of shared purpose.  Well, that is the idea.

Although we are a park, not a restaurant, we do run one.  And a coffee bar.  And a real bar.  We thus face many of the same staffing challenges that stand-alone food service businesses face.  Restaurants are notorious for their inability to keep employees happy – or even to keep them as employees.  High turnover is not good for anybody.  We thought that we could solve this problem by making all of our staff salaried employees; by prohibiting tipping; and by encouraging employees to work in all areas of the Park rather than, for instance, having a dedicated dishwasher.  Over time, though, we learned the same thing that other restaurateurs who have tried to eliminate tipping have learned, namely that tying compensation to performance serves two important purposes.  First, it incentivizes employees to work when things are busy.  If you are going to earn the same amount of money on a quiet Wednesday afternoon as on a crowded Saturday night, why would you volunteer for weekend shifts?  Second, it makes you want to ensure that customers’ experiences are pleasant so that they reward you by leaving high tips.

Notwithstanding this revelation, we are not going to start allowing tipping.  Our biggest problem with the practice is that customers who are generous tippers wind up subsidizing customers who are not.  Tipping also tends to reduce employee-employer interaction to a purely financial relationship.  We continue to believe that there must be a better way.  With Ophanim, management and employees jointly define what tasks the employees will be expected to perform in terms of:

  • each task’s relative importance to the organization;
  • the amount of time each task should take;
  • whether each task needs to be performed immediately or can be delayed if a higher priority task comes up;
  • whether or not each task can be abandoned if time is short; and
  • the bonus points an employee should get for volunteering to perform each task.

The idea is that this ongoing exercise will get all of us to reach consensus regarding not only what we are trying to accomplish, but also the best way to do that.  We will keep you posted on how this all works out.

NEXT OPHANIM POST: How Ophanim manages our hydroponic farming.

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