Best line of last month’s National Association of Court Managers (NACM) Mid-Year Conference in Savannah, coming late on the last day, as everyone with return flight connections through Savannah or Charlotte (essentially, everyone who wasn’t from Savannah) remained riveted to their flight status updates on their smartphones, universally finding their flights cancelled:

Speaker: “You know what this means, don’t you?”

Silence. Wait for it…

“Underwear rationing.”

Yes; these socks can surely last another day or so…

Which has almost nothing to do with Enterprise Content Management except this: The speaker was relating his state’s experiences with e-Filing, and his second and third most memorable points (to me) were:

1. Far and away the best decision they had made was to go to universal (as opposed to voluntary) e-Filing; and

2. As a result of going to paper on demand, they were

a. ABLE to fully cross-train staff; and

b. REQUIRED to cross-train staff.

We hear the former statement from just about every court that has gone through the paper on demand implementation lifecycle. Indeed, the very term “paper on demand” implies that all documents are managed in electronic format, even if paper is sometimes used. Thus, courts generally find themselves impelled, sooner or later, to electronic management of all documents.

We don’t hear so much about the cross-training point. Not because it isn’t universally true (it is), but because it is often so unexpected that no one thinks to ask. And, once a court has fully implemented paper on demand, the folks really don’t think much about the time when a large portion of staff were required to be fairly specialized and a single absence, even if just a coffee break, could bring an entire functional area to a halt.

I, however, thought back to my 2012 visit to the Ottawa County, Mich., court. [See the October, 2012 Order In The Court posting “After the Dust Settles“.] One of the main points District Court Civil Clerk Laura Catalino emphasized was that, prior to implementation of paper on demand, it was difficult for her and her team to be away from their desks, as only one or two (and sometimes no) other staff knew the desk’s job well enough to fill in. Even scheduling breaks was a challenge; leave aside vacations or illness.

But once paper on demand was in place, automated workflow made cross-training easier and freed up staff time to get cross-trained. Furthermore, other staff could fill in without leaving their own desks, as it was now unnecessary to physically “go to” the files and documents on the desk to be covered.

From Laura’s standpoint as a clerk, the improvement was obvious. The NACM speaker articulated what to me is another compelling reason, as seen from the management perspective: They HAD to cross-train staff in order to equalize the workload across the organization. Had they failed to do so, benefits would have been much more localized and disparate. Some areas would have benefited; while others would have been put under added stress.

As it happened, cross-training resulted in synergistic benefits: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And another–again usually unanticipated, and perhaps counter-intuitive–result occurs. Staff who are cross-trained in numerous functions tend to report greatly enhanced job satisfaction, with commensurate improvement in both productivity and quality of work.

More later on a few interesting observations from the conference. For now, suffice it to say that it was well worth the winter travel adventures and “rationing.” And, Savannah isn’t a bad place to be stranded.

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