Process clarity is critical to business success. Move your business effectiveness forecast from cloudy to clear, by intentionally, carefully and thoughtfully involving employees in process improvement.
Clarifying and improving business processes is a good idea. Reviewing customer and stakeholder input and involving employees in that endeavor is also usually a good idea. Whether fixing a problem, ensuring employees have a good grasp of company values after onboarding, or performing an ‘annual check-up’ to ensure a process still makes sense and works efficiently, process improvement is worth the investment.
From private airline passenger scenarios to governmental policy roll-outs, we’ve heard a lot recently about process/procedural mishaps and confusion; resulting in public relations, customer service and employee morale issues—and often a loss of profit. Employee and public opinion about what went wrong and how it should be rectified is abundant. It’s clear that it would be much more beneficial for businesses to evaluate, test and adjust their procedures, training and measurements before a problem occurs.
Process improvement can do more than prevent losses. When applied in a balanced fashion and in accordance with company values, it can create incredible savings. Stop for a minute and do the math. Quantify just one potential process improvement in your organization. For instance, if your team was able to reduce manufacturing time for one product by 10%, what is that figure? Or, if your team was able to increase employee retention by just 1-2 employees per year, what is the dollar amount of training and re-recruitment savings?
Since poor processes can yield drastic negative consequences and excellent processes can yield incredible savings, what’s preventing leaders from embarking on process improvement efforts?
First, tyranny of the urgent often prevails. Leaders barely have time to resolve problems that are apparent, let alone problems that are discreet, complex or span various departments. They surmise that the potential future gain of process improvement is not worth the immediate diversion of resources. Hence, managers apply resources toward certainties rather than potential savings. The solution? Do the math and encourage yourself and other leaders to clarify or improve at least one process.
Second, due to time constraints, leaders often try to fix processes by themselves--reviewing data, observing and assessing what might need to change, and perhaps asking a few questions of employees; but more or less making the improvements in a vacuum. Yet, it’s nearly impossible for one individual to know the full body of information and experiences you’d get if you asked employees, customers and other stakeholders. Without gathering this information, it may mean the process is being evaluated based upon incomplete or imbalanced information. Most importantly, it is the very act of involving employees that makes them more likely to support the solution and implementation—which in turn increases their motivation and sense of purpose at work. Hence, the wisdom of seeking employee/customer input and perspectives.
Resist the temptation to resolve the process problem on your own. By involving your team in process improvement, you can work around your blind spots, steer clear of the infamous iceberg of ignorance, improve the process, and even build employee trust, customer satisfaction and profits while you’re at it.
Even though it is beneficial to involve employees in process improvement, it can be more complicated than you’d imagine. It likely involves risk of some sort—whether the risk is of a safety, financial, legal or business nature. Therefore, it calls for some evaluation in advance. For smaller, low-risk processes and industries, getting input from employees and making small changes ‘just to see how they work’ might be warranted.
For larger-scale efforts or areas with complex procedures where a process change could be risky or disruptive for a large portion of the organization; more planning and assistance may be necessary-- including securing appropriate approvals and possibly enlisting the help of a neutral party, industrial engineering intern or impartial, trained facilitator. This frees you up to concentrate on the content and allows you to engage in the process alongside your team.
Here are some basic process improvement steps* for larger scale efforts:
1. Select a process to tackle. Ideally, it would be one that employees or customers have voiced concerns about in the recent past, and that you have direct authority to change.
2. Get management buy-in, union approvals and any other necessary agreements. Ensure you understand your budget and any constraints.
3. Select the employees/stakeholders needed and the decision-making methodology you’ll use. Attendees will need to feel safe to contribute/critique the process, and be assured that no negative repercussions will occur from sharing their honest opinions.
4. Design the meeting or workshop. Draft the agenda. Collect necessary data and ensure attendees can review it before the workshop. Consider asking an internal or external facilitator for assistance in designing and facilitating the workshop.
5. Conduct the workshop.
7. Review and record performance measurements. See how much improvement was achieved and ensure all company values are still being honored. Check and adjust the new process as needed.
8. Be sure to celebrate with your team. Taking the time to involve employees in improving processes is hard work, but it’s worth it!
* Since each organization is unique, these steps should be considered basic suggestions only and should not be construed as tailored advice given for a specific organization.