Module 7 - How to accelerate improvement
...Their software deployment hadn't gone very well, it turned out, because they wanted their historical data to be loaded onto the system before it was shared with users (who happened to be senior board members) and our team had not scoped or included this as part of the project.
Having reviewed the situation, we agreed that in future – as part of the initial fact-finding exercise when we took on a customer – we would ask them about any requirements concerning historical data.
By offering that service as an additional chargeable piece of work for the client if they wanted it doing, this would add value for the client and create additional revenue for us. The key point from a process perspective, though, was that we agreed to build this into the client scoping process, so that this would be offered as standard for every customer going forward. The problem was fixed once and for all.
We took the action straight from the meeting and implemented it into our existing process. That’s not rocket science but what was so important about having a process was from then on, we knew that step would be carried out ad infinitum, or at least until we made a proactive decision to change it.
Before we implemented the software now known as beSlick, only about 60 percent of the changes we agreed at senior leadership team meetings were still in effect six months later. The other 40% just got dropped and forgotten and no one really could explain why. But by being able to incorporate the current action within a living, breathing, documented process, the new step could not be ignored or scrapped without a deliberate decision to remove it from the spreadsheet. If that did not happen – because the new step had positive results – the change stuck until a proactive decision otherwise.
It’s important not to create too many barriers that might prevent employees from improving process. But if you do decide to go further than a spreadsheet and implement process-checklist software, you will gain useful controls around who is permitted to add or remove steps to/from a templated process. It is far better to give staff the ability to constructively change and evolve a process than it is to risk curbing their creativity, so consider any controls carefully before potentially complicating matters.
In conclusion, whether you approach process consistency via a spreadsheet or via checklist software or indeed using paper checklists, what’s important is to provide the tools for everyone to see what needs to be done and a requirement to log activities as being completed. Linking in additional guidance, shortcuts to relevant resources and the latest information will turn these tools into something indispensable that employees want to use because it makes their job easier and removes the stress of trying to remember the subtler nuances of how to complete tasks well and where to find resources.
The most important action really is just to get started.
The gap between theory & practical application
Of course, there are a great many revelations that are powerful in theory, but when you come to applying them in the real world, their potential doesn’t always transfer.
A simple analogy is telling an overweight person they need to eat less. It's fairly obvious to me that if I want to become more svelte in appearance, I should eat less and exercise more. The difficulty is not educating me about the calories in the food, or that drinking too much alcohol is going to tip the scales, or even that exercise is going to make me healthier – everybody knows that. But knowing isn’t the same as doing!
The difficult part is actually how you motivate someone – yourself, even - to get out of bed every morning at 7am and go for a run, and to do this routinely, not just for the first few days of January after renewing the annual pledge to get fit.
Business process is not all that different. Team members might say, “Oh, we should be doing the customer on-boarding in a different way.” So, they go and try something new for the next three customers, before inertia wins and they revert to old habits.
If you're going to implement new ambitions and make lasting changes, you need a methodology to embed that change – something beyond good intentions.
Why use process software?
So our spreadsheets are working and delivering value. Why would I look at anything else?
Spreadsheets are pretty good, and certainly better than nothing for instilling a bit more rigor around how things are done. But process-checklist software also offers a means of control over how process is implemented.
If you have a spreadsheet everyone can edit, add to or reduce, there’s nothing really to stop someone simply wiping your process altogether. You can keep a backup of it, of course, but if an important step is inadvertently or deliberately deleted, you might not notice for months, and the consequences could be profound.
One of the advantages of the beSlick software is that it allows people to feed into the template process, but the leader retains the right to approve or veto any proposed changes. You can still encourage feedback, and collate this easily, but it’s up to you to determine what happens next.
The three options are:
You will ignore it
You will make the change suggested
You will do something differently
The key is having some structure around ongoing process innovation and transformation, and strong process software will facilitate that.
The additional advantage of a purpose-built software solution is the added scope for collaboration and rules-driven workflow. With a spreadsheet alone, there is nothing to prompt people to actually perform any activity, whereas with purpose-developed software like beSlick you can set up alerts and notifications to be sent to designated people, either to prompt them that their activity is now due, or that a problem has arisen with a previous step. Rather than a process stalling, targeted action can be taken in a timely fashion.
There are other, subtler controls available too. For instance, you can set permissions so that certain people don't see certain processes. This can be very useful for an HR department.
Software can also manage broader work requirements. Not everything you do is a repeatable process. Some things are one off processes and others are just simple one step tasks. A good software solution will help manage all of your work in one place, not just repeatable process.
Most employees don’t see processes - they just see a list of tasks. For example, if you sit in a finance department, you don’t see a customer onboarding process you see invoice the client. And you don’t see employee onboarding as a process, you see the task set up payroll for new employee. And you don’t see the process of monthly management accounts, you just see the activities you have to perform which may be to say perform some sort of export.
In essence employees see tasks not processes and so most process checklist software will provide a facility for users to use it as their personal task management system.
There’s also the potential to integrate the process software with other systems – so that your accounting system triggers a payment chasing process when an invoice settlement is overdue, for example. Or, when you recruit a new employee, this activity could automatically generate a record in the company’s HR system.
With a spreadsheet, the scope for analyzing, tightening and transforming process will be quite basic. With beSlick, by contrast, there is the potential for powerful insight and reporting into whether and how tasks are being performed, where any issues are arising, allowing additional rules to be put in place. A straightforward tick-box can’t systematically provide for those tweaks; there is nothing to stop people skipping steps or ‘lying’ to say something was done when actually the opposite was true. Process software like ours builds in scope for exceptions management – that is, for staff to log when a step wasn’t possible, or was bypassed, and why – providing a useful audit trail along with constructive feedback from those involved, recorded in real time, creating valuable information for those in charge.
The final point I would make is that spreadsheets are a really good way for you to push out processes to your business. However the benefits of process really start to exponentially deliver when your employees start to adopt a culture of embedded process. Where they see a job that they do either on their own or collectively and think if only we wrapped a process around that it would help us add in and remember and the small little nuances that could make us even better.
This is when you have achieved a process culture where people are doing the opposite of what you thought process might mean. Process isn’t locked down but rather they are constantly innovating and improving the way your business works and you are sat back watching amazed and paying compliments.
To instil this process culture you really need a software platform to help employees.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading and digesting this content, it means you are a leader who wants to improve and believes that the collective brain power of their team is the fastest way to get there.
That is the type of leader that people want to work for, that ensures a positive workplace, and in my humble opinion will make the world a better place.
The kind of leader that we need more of.
I’d love to meet with you, please do get in touch.
At my old business 'eShare' where I created this, we used to have weekly senior leadership meetings, as part of which we would spend an hour resolving challenges within the business.
Each week, we'd typically get through four or five issues.
The most powerful aspect of those meetings was the process changes.
During one session, for example, we discussed an issue with a customer who was unhappy...