Focus on process early to avoid challenges later

By: Stan Corner

With all the pressure on us today, from margin squeeze through to increased competition, it’s not surprising that business process is a hot topic. In the age of ‘do more with less,’ there are many forms of business process tools, tips, and technologies out there designed to help you streamline a process.

While it might be a hot topic, it’s certainly not a sexy one. Process can often be one of those topics that is easily put to one side, thrown in the proverbial ‘too hard’ basket. Until of course something breaks. Then the mad scramble happens to firstly fix the problem caused by the process not working or to placate the customer/partner/employee that has been affected.

Don’t wait for something to happen

If you’ve read my previous posts on process, you’ll know that I’m a huge believer in building formalised business processes. Recognising that a process isn’t working is a start, but there’s a hell of lot less pain involved if you begin with a process mindset upfront.

The challenge in having no formalised processes comes in the form of what is considered the norm. It becomes a little like ‘Groundhog Day’ i.e. you spend every day reinventing the wheel, which leads to you delivering different outcomes each time. This, therefore, becomes the norm; everything is an exception. No consistency in approach means processes are not repeatable or measurable. And that, in itself, is a challenging way to operate.

Knock on effects from a lack of process can come in many forms. It might be seen in tension between employees or even between different teams, leading to higher staff turnover. It could be shown through a sales downturn and a loss of clients…you name it, the knock on effects can be harsh.

It’s not a one-time exercise

It can even happen when you have documented your processes. There’s a term I like to use to describe this called ‘unofficial drift’.

Think of it like this: You’ve got a process, it’s been developed, agreed internally, well documented and successfully implemented. You’ve seen some really good results, but over time it drifts and you lose consistency. This drift is often caused by a lack of review.

A business friend of mine once said to me: “There’s only one way to coast - downhill backwards and that’s a very dangerous activity!” That’s why being process driven is so important. It’s a journey that you constantly evolve and learn from. Even the best process needs to be tweaked and reviewed as you learn from the experience of actually delivering it. The more you deliver a process, the more knowledge you accrue and that, in turn, can be applied to improve the way you do things. It’s evolution that keeps you on track.

Feedback is a good thing

The key tip I can give you is that feedback is a good thing, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Responding to negative feedback is easy in that it prompts a quick response - you receive something negative and look to the process to see how you can fix it immediately. But positive feedback can also be a great motivator to keep you looking at how you can improve.

One way to think about it is like this: when an elite athlete delivers a personal best (PB), whether it be a record time or some other indicator, do they sit back and relax? No, they look at what they’re doing and where they can improve further to set another PB in the future. To me, it’s the same in business process; even when you’re delivering something well and receiving praise from customers, employees and stakeholders, it doesn’t mean you should stop reviewing or looking to improve.

If you stay the same, you’re really going backwards. Always engage with your staff and look to what you can do to set new benchmarks. I promise you that you’ll see the benefits.