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2016: The Year of the Process

At some point every business needs to take a step back in order to get a more holistic view of its operations. Which business processes are really working and which aren’t?

To get critical business processes back on track, start by recognizing that documentation alone is not going to fix things. Instead, teams within your business need to find ways to truly collaborate so that continual process improvement becomes a fundamental part of your company’s culture.

Seeing the need to change versus being told to change

To ensure that this happens across the organization, begin by instilling a sense of urgency. It’s essential for teams to understand and be committed to the need to change, rather than just being told to change. They must also understand that work on reaching this goal must begin now, not at some distant date in the future.

A great example of this is often cited by change management expert JP Kotter. He tells the story of a senior purchasing executive who was concerned that his organization was wasting money because of its decentralized purchasing process. When he reviewed the purchasing process, he learned that his company was purchasing 424 different types of gloves for staff working in its 14 factories.

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The executive immediately saw that changing this situation would result in significant savings. To instil that needed sense of urgency, though, he waited until the next meeting of the company’s senior managers, then piled all 424 gloves onto the boardroom table. The executives, of course, were shocked at how much money was being wasted on such a simple item, motivating them to take immediate action.

Once that sense of urgency has been established, identify the most important processes that exist within your business, and then work through each of them in turn. First and foremost, make certain that process documentation is easily accessible. No matter how good your information is, it will be of little value if no one knows where it is located and – as a result – your staff never bother to look at it.

Deliver and communicate benefits fast

As changes in processes are identified, they should be introduced immediately, rather than at the conclusion of the entire review. As the resulting benefits become apparent, it will be far easier to achieve positive buy-in from everyone in your organization.

Just as important, recognize that process information can become outdated easily. Because of this, you should never consider your data to be static. All information must keep pace with changes that occur in the organization as a whole. Regular updates mean that users will have ready access to current information, and also ensures that they develop a level of trust in the validity of the information you’re providing. Bottom line, if they don’t trust the information, they won’t use it.

Complexity creates confusion and lack of engagement

Beyond regular updates, one of the biggest inhibitors for business improvement is complexity. A complex and confusing workplace leads to people feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and unproductive.

To avoid this, key business processes should be assigned “owners.” These owners must be given the authority to change processes that are inefficient or unnecessarily complex. Working together, process owners and their teams can ensure complexity is removed and processes become as simple as possible.

Admittedly, ease of use will vary by user group. While one group of users may require very detailed, step-by-step instructions, a high-level process overview may be sufficient for another group. Given these differences, it is important to present information in a format and at a level of detail that is required for specific user groups.

Establish governance to maintain momentum

Finally, business process improvement is something that requires sustained momentum. Processes must be put in place that will ensure teams continue to collaborate and find ways to boost productivity and effectiveness. Over time, this has to become an integral part of your organization’s culture.

Here there is an important role to be played by the executive team, which must communicate the importance of the process management activity. To help achieve this, some companies are appointing Chief Process Officers to lead activity across the business.

Above all, regular communication with all business teams is vital. It’s important to explain the reasons for the changes you’re making and highlight the benefits that those changes will deliver. Having a positive feedback loop in place will ensure buy-in from all involved.

Following these steps will ensure that business process management and improvement becomes an element of everyone’s job. Rather than putting up with (or ignoring) inefficient and ineffective processes, staff will feel they can contribute to real change.

Why not make 2016 the “year of the process”? The result of this effort will be improvements across your business that will deliver benefits for years to come.

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