This article originally appeared in CM Crossroads.
Improving processes isn’t just about creating new flowcharts and Word documents; it’s about improving the consistency and quality of execution, increasing efficiency, and facilitating innovation within your organization. They’re the guidelines and workflows that, when managed effectively, can define and improve how your company operates, from the C-Suite to the server room.
Unfortunately, not all process improvement efforts are created equal. Efforts that fail to get buy-in from staff and leadership, fail to link process adjustments to long term goals, and fail to create an ongoing culture of improvement are doomed to cause more frustration than positive change.
When done right, process improvement can be transformative. Here are 6 often overlooked factors that are critical to the success of process improvement efforts in any organization.
1. Be proactive
Don’t wait for things to go horribly wrong before you improve them. The day that a DoS attack takes down your client’s server is not the day to start thinking about security processes. Being proactive about process improvement means planning to improve, looking for issues with your processes, and working to fix the root causes of process problems. Management by heroics is not the best approach.
2. Let your staff lead the way
Your frontline staff know your company’s processes better than anyone else. A tech support rep probably knows how to handle customer complaints better than your CEO. So it makes sense to get these staff members involved and make them the drivers of change. Of course, you absolutely need support from management and senior leadership as well.
Putting your people in charge of change means:
- They’re genuinely involved and more likely to be engaged with process change
- Your staff can use their knowledge as an advantage; they know what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change to provide a better experience for your customers
- Attitudes around change tend to be more positive when staff feel involved
- Capability and knowledge is improved – because your people improve their own processes, they don’t need to be trained on them
3. Link improvement to the long-term
Process improvement should always be linked to strategy and your long-term goals – if it’s just about putting out fires, it’s not going to make much of a long-term impact on your business. You can’t make things better without knowing where you’re going. Figure this out first, and then leverage process improvement as a tool to achieve your long-term goals.
4. Integrate, integrate, integrate
Include all functions of your business in process improvement. While functions like Risk and Health & Safety are often seen as separate from the main work of your business, they’re actually key to your success. Integrating Health & Safety and risk management into the improvement plan makes these tangible to your staff – the processes will become something everyone does in their everyday work, not just “something that Kevin takes care of.”
5. Be flexible
Whether it’s Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizen or another alternative, it’s great to find a process improvement methodology that works for you – but it’s also important to be flexible depending on the situation and organization. Be open to other ideas and learn from people. Methodologies should form a toolbox for you to choose from, rather than you being married to one.
Your business might require a different approach. The more you can make sure your approach to improvement works for your business – and becomes a part of everyday business — the more likely you are to be successful.
6. Make improvement the standard
Process improvement should be ongoing. It shouldn’t be something you do once and then forget about. Improving your processes must become part of your company culture and it must be ongoing – something you and your staff think about and do every day.
Establishing a culture of improvement means measuring and celebrating success, rewarding ideas (even if they’re not used), linking improvement to organizational goals as well as KPIs, and making processes visible and accessible to everyone in the company.
Fail fast, or slow and steady?
How fast should you implement process improvements? Some companies argue that the startup mantra ‘Fail fast and learn’ is the way to go, while others favor a more cautious, considered approach. Depending on the situation, a mix is probably right – analysis and planning are important, but waiting for perfection can hold you back. Because process improvement isn’t something that’s ever going to be finished, the most important thing is to actually start. When it’s a built in, ongoing part of your business, little mistakes along the way become opportunities for growth, rather than failures.
Process improvement shouldn’t be mysterious – it’s about planning ahead, getting staff involved, integrating it into everyday operations, being flexible, and – most importantly – making a focus on improvement a core component of your business culture.