If you have ever downloaded any tools or other resources on our site, you know that we usually ask you about your Biggest Business Challenge in our forms. In response to your feedback, we are featuring a blog series on your biggest business challenges! This post is a response to the challenge “establishing processes that scale and add value."
With all of the process improvement tools and methods available, it can feel like a big and difficult undertaking to even begin to contemplate standardizing and documenting your processes. Most small companies have very few documented processes, and this is one thing that helps them stay nimble, adjust quickly, and remain flexible and successful. But, as your company grows and you approach a ceiling of complexity, you will inevitably find that what used to work just isn’t working anymore. Once multiple people are involved in a task that used to be relatively simple or straightforward, you will probably find that you need some more formal processes in place to manage your business effectively.
Even if you have clearly documented processes, you may still find that they just aren’t as effective as they used to be as your company has grown. If you are trying to grow with purpose and only invest energy, resources, and time in activities that will lead you closer to realizing your long-term strategic goals, making process improvements that will eliminate waste, add value, and scale as your business grows becomes essential.
Here are some steps to help you establish processes that scale and add value:
- Start with your pain point. What bugs you? What is causing wasted time or rework, or what is a bottleneck that slows your team down? What is just not working anymore? What do your customers complain about or your employees hate doing? Answering these questions is a good way to find out what processes are broken or inefficient.
- Begin with the end in mind. If you want to build a process that will scale as your business grows, you must begin by knowing what that looks like. What will your bigger company need? Writing an objective statement will help you get clear on what you are trying to accomplish by tackling the process improvement and what your end result should look like.
- Get the key players involved. The likelihood of your newly established process succeeding dramatically increases when you involve the people who will be impacted by the change in the creation of the new process. Understanding their current workflow and frustrations, hearing their ideas, and collaborating to build, implement, and continuously improve the right process is the best way to ensure that your new process will add value. If you don’t take this step to involve the right stakeholders early in designing the new process, the people who need to use it might not adopt it.
- Examine the current process and think about ways to innovate. When you have the right team assembled, take the time to understand how the current process is laid out. Then, look for any waste in the current process. Is there wasted time on mistakes and rework that can be avoided? Is there surplus production, extra inventory, unnecessary waiting time or extra motion involved? Are there steps that don’t add value anymore (forms you just keep filling out because you always have even though they are now redundant)? In addition to eliminating waste in the current process, brainstorm ways that you can innovate and do things differently. Don’t be limited by the current way of doing things. Are there new technologies or software applications that can help? Are there other departments or industries that have solved this problem creatively? Can you combine this process with another one to move even faster? Spend adequate time and energy on this brainstorming phase where you are open to all ideas, even the crazy ones.
- Document the new process. Once your key stakeholders have brainstormed potential solutions and discussed, debated, and agreed upon the right process for your current and future needs, the next step is to document that process carefully. Ensure that it is documented in a way that anyone can come behind you, read it, and understand and execute the steps successfully. It should be simple and repeatable. You may want to use pictures, screenshots, or even record a short video to illustrate the steps involved.
- Train the team to implement the new process. Once you have the process documented, train the team who will be implementing the process. It isn’t enough to document the process carefully and send it in an email. If you want the new process to stick and for people’s behavior to actually change, you will have do a bit more legwork. Have an in-person or virtual training meeting. Catch everyone up on your pain point and your objective statement for the new process so that the change isn’t coming out of nowhere. When the team understands the why behind the change, demonstrate what you expect them to do differently from now on. Provide the skills and tools they need to be able to implement the new process. Be sure to save time in your training to answer questions and hear concerns. This is an important step to help the team feel heard and invested in the new process. Then, you may need to reinforce the training by scheduling follow up sessions either one-on-one or in smaller groups. In these follow up sessions, you might observe team members following the new process and offer feedback. Other ways to reinforce the change include putting visual reminders in their work areas. If you have a one-page documentation with illustrations of the steps involved in the process, post these for employees to see. If not, find another more creative way to keep the change top of mind. For example, if the new process involves a new web-based application, you might have everyone put that page as their home page so they see it first when they login as a reminder.
- Inspect what you expect. After the training period, ensure that the new process is “sticking” and adding value. Are your team members consistently following through on the new process? Are you seeing the results you planned to see from this new process? You may find it helpful to put a few KPIs on a Custom Dashboard to track the metrics that this process impacts to ensure that you are getting the results you had planned. To help keep the team accountable to the change, you may require that everyone in the company tracks their implementation of the new process as a KPI in Rhythm. This will give you visibility into whether people are using the process and whether you are getting results. Be sure to reinforce adherence to the process by praising people who are consistently Green and to increase motivation to stick with the change by sharing any positive results from the new process with the team.
- Continuously improve the process. It has been a lot of work to get to this point, but it isn't time to put your feet up and relax just yet! Ensure that you have a mechanism for collecting feedback on the new process. Maybe you use the Employee Feedback section in Rhythm, or you could periodically send out a survey or meet with a focus group or ask that people informally submit feedback via email. Continue to meet with your process team and make tweaks to the process as needed. Of course, any changes should be clearly and repeatedly communicated as well. The trick to having a process that scales and adds value is that it is never finished. Process improvement is a job that is never done. If you are able to cut the time or cost it takes to do something in half, great! Then, you should be asking how to cut it in half again.
Hopefully, these steps will guide you in your journey to grow with purpose. If you are serious about process improvements, it is important to make this a priority by encouraging all of your employees to make small improvements everyday. You might also invest in hiring a consultant or having someone on your team who is expert at Lean or the Baldrige Performance Excellence framework or another process improvement system to guide your efforts.
Best of luck!
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