By: Jonny Baker, Senior Manager, Strategic Management Consulting Services
The following is the first article of a four-part series on business process management, which includes the need for clarity, proper design, appropriate communication, and commensurate monitoring.
We meet with executives and owners of small to mid-size businesses daily, and often we hear things such as, “We have communicated the process, but it still is not being followed.” For instance, one department makes commitments without communicating to another department that is critical to customer delivery, leaving the delivery team disgruntled, overbooked, and frustrated, and the customer feeling the effects. Or, the collections process for past-due customers has continued to drag on, resulting in lost cash flow, even though management has reviewed the expedience of the issue at hand, ad nauseum.
When you work with people, you have processes not being followed. This creates inefficiencies and ineffectiveness that hit the bottom line both on the financial statements and company morale. Some might say these issues are being driven by human behavior seeking the path of least resistance, and others might say the employee(s) should be let go. When consulting with our clients, time and again, we see that 99% of the time the problem is an operational issue and not a people problem. We have the solution: design it, state it, monitor it, and reward it.
A CLEARLY DEFINED PROCESS BRINGS THE PARTS TOGETHER
An organization is effectively made up of people, agreements, and processes. The fundamental driver of connectedness within any organization is a clearly defined process; when teams are disjointed, working in silos, or lacking clarity regarding company goals and mission, the process breaks down, and fingers start pointing.
The question we first ask our clients is, “How have you designed, communicated, and monitored your processes?” The answer proves quite informative, as it usually highlights where the process breakdown has occurred. Process breakdown is the overarching term to define a process that is not working, and the specific breakdown point can be identified within one of the three key categories–proper design, appropriate communication, and commensurate monitoring for process effectiveness.
The proper design requires the business process to be melted, reformed, and refrozen (Kurt Lewin Change Model- https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_94.htm). The initial or current process must be fully understood through performing walkthroughs with key team members and visual mapping. Both of these procedures allow us to understand where potential issues and breakdowns may occur. Next, the ideal process is identified, documented, and formalized; the new process is visually mapped looking for any potential holes created or any lingering issues from the initial evaluation that were not fully addressed. Finally, once the team(s) are comfortable with the revised process, and objectives have been met, it is time to refreeze the process in its newly minted condition. Before a process can ever be followed, scalable, or replicated by a team, it must be formally and clearly documented. Many organizations are lacking formal documented processes, leaving the company in a high-risk situation if something were to happen to that key individual or if that key individual decides it is time to leave, possibly even for a competitor. Without formally documented processes that are referenceable, there is no hope of moving into the communication and monitoring phases effectively.
There are other organizations that have process designs and schematics well documented and worthy of the Smithsonian museum; the problem is these processes are never followed or even respected. What went wrong? Likely, the schematic designer or process writer failed to obtain the appropriate buy-in from the team using the process, and thus ownership of the process fell to the individual who drew it, rather than to the end-user. Other times, the team has been considered and even had significant input into the design, but the communication process was mishandled. If the appropriate emphasis is not placed on the necessity for the organization and its constituents to follow the process, the best-case scenario would entail the team having had a good time meeting together. Oftentimes, the communication process is mishandled when the primary communication is handled over email, which is the worst form of communication for many things, especially for processes.
Other times, the design is immaculate, and the communication is flawless from buy-in to rollout; but the excitement that once captivated the team wanes, and we find the team back where they started. What happened? It is likely that monitoring was lacking, or worse, non-existent. Without enforcement, including incentive, we cannot expect teams to follow processes that add internal control infrastructure, save them time in the long run that cannot be seen in the near-term, or allow their work to be easily followed. This does not have to be carrot or stick; dependent upon the company and process, the monitoring should be tailored accordingly. Sometimes the monitoring of the process necessitates daily review, other times weekly check-ins, or possibly a monthly deep dive team review; regardless, the monitoring process must be consistent and persistent so that expectations are clear for those involved.
There are many reasons processes are ineffective, and almost always the breakdown is in either the design, communication, and/or monitoring phases. It is the responsibility of leadership to take the time, allocate the resources, and set the expectations for their teams to be successful. A good start is to revisit the procedures in place for process management and ensure the proper design, appropriate communication, and commensurate monitoring components are included and followed.
We are ready to work on process design and redesign, which will be covered next. Thank you for reading. Look forward to part two of this series on process design next month.
KHA Management Consultants is a boutique consulting firm based in Flower Mound, Texas, and is always looking for key clients ready to take their business to the next level. If you have a desire to improve, take the first step toward success with the process experts, and contact us at 972-221-2500.