Processes, and Their Role in Your Business
It’s difficult to get specific about this topic since every organization has different processes for different and valid reasons. So let’s begin by talking about certain high-level processes that are present in most organizations. Here are just three examples.
- While some organizations use other words when referring to “sales,” if you provide a product or service to others, there’s likely a process that you follow to make it happen. That process usually includes how you find potential customers, what message you deliver to them, how you communicate or follow-up with them regularly to keep them happy, and many other processes. Of course, there could be hundreds of other sub-processes to sales, like fulfilling orders, shipping those orders, preparing invoices, and collecting payments.
- Another typical process is how you create the product or service you sell. In a manufacturing company, there are countless processes for producing a product, and in a service company, there are detailed steps that must be followed to effectively deliver that service.
- Recruiting, screening, interviewing, and selecting the right employees requires a well-documented process to make sure you create an effective team and maintain a winning culture in your organization. Once the right people are in place, you need a process to develop and retain them or, in some cases, move them out of the organization if they no longer fit.
Here’s a very important point to remember. Average employees can follow good processes, but only strong, engaged employees will recognize when processes are no longer effective, or know how to improve them……….hence, the reason why PEOPLE come before PROCESSES on the WOW Racetrack.
If you looked closely at a WOW company’s processes, here’s what you would find.
- Their processes are in alignment with, and driven by, the company’s strategic plan.
- They’re well-documented so that an employee can refer to them whenever necessary.
- They’re clear, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
- They’re repeatable, which increases accuracy and improves quality.
- They’re followed to the letter, enhancing accountability at all levels.
- Job descriptions are linked to them which makes it much easier to assess an employee’s performance compared to specific expectations.
- Incentive compensation is aligned with them. The more closely the processes are followed, the more likely it is that an employee will earn incentive compensation.
- Employee training and development are built around them. The training for each employee includes specific instructions related to the processes for that job.
- They are continuously re-evaluated to make certain that they’re still the best processes in light of things that may have changed (customer demands, technology, competitive pressure, market pricing, etc…).
- Someone in the organization is fully responsible, either full or part-time, to make certain that all of the above requirements are being met.
To organizations that are NOT in the “WOW!” category, these things might seem like too much work. However, in “WOW!” companies this third “P,” processes, is actually a logical outcome of the first two “P’s,” a perpetual planning process and having the right people in the organization for two key reasons. First, a perpetual planning process generates a list of the work that needs to be done in the organization, all tied to the expected outcomes specified in the plan. And second, the structure and people skills required to implement that plan include clear expectations for each job (as defined in the job description). So with all of these things already in place, processes then outline specifically HOW the work is to be done.
Consider the real-life manufacturing company that lost more than 50 percent of their business due to abrupt and significant drops in market pricing from offshore competitors. The leader of the organization was absolutely and totally committed to becoming the most efficient manufacturer in the industry so that this would never occur again. He began by involving employees in the solution, aided by an outside consultant who was a process expert. The company began by videotaping one department in the factory to observe the current processes, and then had everyone in that department watch the videotape. They hated it! But they soon began to see how they could streamline processes and reduce costs by significantly more than they had originally targeted. In addition to the cost reductions, the employees found they were not working nearly as hard, but much smarter, with the result being a dramatic improvement in efficiency. As word spread across the plant, other departments wanted to be next! In less than two years, the total dollar sales per employee nearly tripled!
As demonstrated by the relentless drive of the leader in this real-life case, the most challenging part about processes is making sure that someone in the organization is formally responsible and committed to overseeing them and making them better. In addition, it’s crucial that there are purpose-driven people in the organization who have the necessary skill sets to recognize when the processes are becoming outdated or inefficient so that they can implement the changes necessary to keep them current.
Many companies have made great strides over the years in documenting their processes, particularly manufacturers who have achieved various “quality certifications” as prompted by their customers. The potential downside is that these well-documented processes often become inefficient or obsolete if not continuously monitored and improved to meet changing customer needs.
What are the signs that a company may have issues with their processes? Typical symptoms include customer complaints about quality, delivery, accuracy, or customer service. In addition, there may be employees who express concerns about complicated and cumbersome processes that delay deliveries to customers or add unnecessary cost. The bottom line is that most processes can be corrected and improved by qualified employees who are focused on doing things better, even if it means making changes in processes, but there might be occasions when the help of an outside specialist is appropriate.
Bill Matthews is Co-Founder of The WOW Business Advisory, LLC, and author of Five P’s to a “WOW!” Business. Copyright 2012-2016 by The WOW Business Advisory, LLC. All rights reserved.