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Making Process Changes Stick

Many organisations that need to document their processes immediately jump to trying to modify them. If you want change to stick, you will need to take it slow.

Hands on keyboard showing workflow / process

When we roll out our product, we know that for a client to be successful they need to start using a process even if that process is not thorough or perfect. Only once a process is in use and being followed can you start improving things. In practice, though, things are pretty different. People come in (founders, owners, managers), and the first thing they want to do is redesign the entirety of their processes. They want to change everything about the way their organisations run, top to bottom, and we have to stop them from trying to do that and explain why their approach will not work.

If you want your organisation to improve and evolve, the first thing you need to do is to have processes people actually follow. Only then will you be able to implement change. Here's why.

A Hundred Things You Cannot Make Stick in Your Business

When our clients implement our solution, the scenario we typically encounter is this: First, we ask them what their processes are. And almost invariably, what happens next is that they start going down this rabbit hole. As soon as they try to explain what they currently do (“We do this and this…”), they jump to what they should be doing (“Oh, but there’s this other thing that we should, and this other one…”). This happens almost every time.

Basically, what they want to do when faced with the question of how they do things is to redesign the whole process - the whole business even. And that opens another entire discussion where everyone has different ideas of what else could be done and needs to jump in and clarify. The result is a hundred and one suggestions for how to improve the existing process, and very little information about how things are done.

old way new way dice

The problem is that this approach is a barrier to implementation. Firstly, because no-one can document the existing process if they can’t agree on what they are doing now. As soon as they are asked to attempt this, they jump straight on to trying to improve the way things are done. And because there’s still no way to make these process changes stick, the conversation gets stalled.

What this means is that they are trying to do two things at once and typically don't succeed at either. When they say, “This could be improved this way or this way…”, what they are highlighting is that they have no actual process in place. Instead, there are hundreds of things in their business that they want to happen. However, they are unable to make them happen because they have no process. So, we walk in with a method for making them happen, and there’s an issue from the get-go. Because, overnight, they are trying to redesign all of their processes.

Where to Start Improving Your Processes

The first thing that needs to be done if you want to improve the way you work is to understand what your processes are now.

If you don’t have a process in place (not just written down, but actually followed) there’s a massive waste of cost. There can be a hundred things you know you should be doing to improve things, but the business just isn’t behaving that way because they are not happening. In many cases, these ideas are stored in someone’s head - and not known by the rest of the organisation.

So, the first thing you need to do to start implementing change is to make people follow a process. Then, you can think of changing it.

process success dice

When you see all of the things people think they should be doing differently, you get a good insight into how their business really is doing. If you have 100 things you want to change and have been unable to, that is a massive hidden cost to the business in terms of lost opportunities.

All this does is highlight the fact that many businesses are completely unable to take advantage of all the great ideas that people have. They have so many things they cannot get people to do, and the whole situation frustrates everyone involved. That's why they all jump at the possibility of changing the processes when given a chance. However, you cannot change a process without having it, first of all, embedded and actually being followed. But also, you cannot improve anything if all you hear is noise coming from a hundred-and-one different directions.

It feels like every single thing they do needs to be changed in every single way.

What this issue shows is how big of an opportunity is being wasted; all these improvements people can see and want to make and how they have no way of making them stick. People just can't handle a hundred things at once; that's a long-proven fact. What you need instead are small incremental improvements you can make stick. And, unless you have people following the process, you need a platform to have the mechanism for achieving it and changing things efficiently.

Conclusion: How to Make Change Happen

Let's sum up. The best way to make improvements to any business is to first put a process in place and get people to follow it. Only then will you have something you can actually start working on. Create the process, figure out what's working and what's not, and then add incremental optimisations. Start with a baseline, see if the process sticks, and then move on to the next change.

You need to have the processes in place (embedded and followed), then you need to document things, and lastly, you can add the mechanism to make change happen. You won't change it all overnight, but you can change things slowly so they actually stick, and you can keep moving forward.


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