Friday, 15 January 2016 14:24

A different New Year's resolution: process health

A different New Year's resolution: process health

It's the time of year when our thoughts turn to fitness, weight loss and losing bad habits. However, the new year also provides a great chance to think about how your business can be improved during 2016.

Last year I interviewed Ivan Seselj, CEO, Promapp, and was impressed at how this Kiwi business was taking the tedium out of business process.

He has written the following article that I felt may appeal to CTO, CFO and CEOs.

The first few weeks of the new year - before the pace of business ramps up again - is the perfect time to take a holistic view of your operations. Of all the processes that make up your business, which are working well, and which are not?

Are those detailed process documents that took months of work to compile languishing in a filing cabinet and being ignored by staff? What changes need to be made to overcome this situation and get critical processes back on track?

In many cases, problems with business processes arise because their management has been undertaken behind closed doors - often by people who are uninvolved in day-to-day business activity. As a result, the processes they conceive do not achieve their goal: improving business function and outcomes. With no buy-in from the staff who need to use them, the processes become nothing more than words on a page.

Yet there are ways to avoid this situation. Here are five steps you can follow to ensure 2016 is the year your business processes deliver real value to your organisation:

Reset your goals

The start of a new year is a great time to set some new goals for your business. A key goal should be to shift to being an organisation in which teams collaborate and work together, and where continual procedure improvement becomes a fundamental part of the culture.

Writing procedures for the sake of having them is a complete waste of time. While creating process management manuals is an important part of the process, documentation alone is not going to fix things. Once management procedures have been confirmed, they have to be put into action.

To ensure this happens across the organisation, consider what needs to be done and then add these items to your list of goals for the year. Once everyone understands what needs to be done, they can begin working towards them.

Begin with a sense of urgency

Instilling a sense of urgency among staff is a key principle for successful change. Teams need to understand and be committed to the need to change, rather than just be told to change. They must also understand that work on reaching this goal must begin immediately.

A great example of this is often cited by change management expert Professor JP Kotter. He tells the story of a senior purchasing executive at a large manufacturing company who was concerned his organisation was wasting large amounts of money because of its decentralised purchasing processes.

As part of his review, he became aware that the company was purchasing 424 different types of gloves for staff working in its 14 factories. He could see that changing this situation would result in significant savings.

To instil a sense of urgency about the matter among the company's senior managers, the purchasing executive went to an executive team meeting and piled all 424 gloves onto the boardroom table. The executives were shocked at how much money they were wasting on such a simple item, and were motivated to act immediately. The same approach was used with other groups across the business to get the message across.

Choose your pace and the scope of process

Start the improvement project by making a list of all the processes that exist within the business and then work through each in turn. As changes are identified, they can be introduced immediately rather than waiting for the conclusion of the entire review. Once the resulting benefits can be seen, it will be far easier to achieve positive buy-in from everyone in the organisation.

Keep it simple

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

This approach also means that process management can occur in multiple places within an organisation concurrently with teams being able to see the benefits of changes immediately.

It's a bit like cool new electronic gadgets or software packages. The best ones are those that don't require the user to first read a 50-page instruction manual. Rather, they're intuitive to use because of their simple yet effective design.

Sustain the momentum

It's often quite common for many new year's resolutions to slide after just a few short weeks. Like any new resolution, business process improvement is something that requires sustained momentum. Processes need to be put in place that ensure teams continue to collaborate and find ways to boost efficiency. Over time, this has to become an integral part of the organisation'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, you could even consider appointing a Chief Process Officer to lead activity across the business.

Above all, regular communication with all staff is vital. It's important to explain the reasons for the changes being made and highlight the benefits that those changes will deliver. Having a positive feedback loop in place will ensure buy-in from all involved.

And in summary

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

Indeed, why not make 2016 the 'year of the process'? The result of this effort will be incremental and sustained improvements across your business that will deliver benefits for years to come.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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