5 ways to promote a process culture

Change can sting. Whether it’s implementing a new system, moving to new premises, or introducing new staff, for all the excitement and potential that it offers, there’s also the possibility of growing pains as everyone adjusts and maintains momentum on the organization’s vision.

That’s never more true than when you’re trying to develop better business processes. The pursuit of continuous improvement and process excellence takes determination and patience and can be stressful for some.

Here are five ways you can sell the benefits of your process management initiative, get your teams on board, and make it more effective.

Plan your processes well

Cliches about the relationship between poor planning and failure exist for a reason. Still, how much planning should you do? Process specialists know that the first step to ensuring your process management efforts are successful is by implementing a process improvement framework. But not everyone has access to those experts, and often companies are unsure what they need to set up to get started or don’t lay an adequate foundation.

Start by identifying the right person or people to lead the effort. They need to take responsibility for pushing ahead, and work with senior management to resource and prioritize the steps ahead. You’ll want someone who knows your business and can think analytically. Process experience will be a big plus.

One of their key responsibilities will be to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to talking about process. They need to define the common vocabulary, making sure that everyone understands that a policy isn’t a process and then uses the right terms in the right places. Shared definitions save time and effort, and make sure discussions and decisions are clearly understood by all.

Another important task for them is setting up the procedure for maintaining your processes. They’ll decide and outline approval steps, documentation, tools, and access. This lays the foundation for how continuous improvement will be managed, measured, and reported.

Setting up a solid foundational framework will prevent a lot of chaos, and create a firm footing for the rest of the process improvement initiative. Take time to set this upright, and you’ll save time and trauma further down the track.

Get experimental with processes

Continuous improvement thrives on agility. That can only exist in an environment where there is flexibility and freedom to experiment. If you want your teams to try new things, assess the results, and roll out or roll back changes, they need a culture that values and encourages these behaviors.

Part of that comes from an executive team that doesn’t look for blame at the first sign of a misstep. Rather than pointing a finger at those who are exploring new ideas, try looking at the root causes and addressing where the processes or systems let the teams or organization down.

There are numerous case studies of businesses that successfully incorporate experimentation within their everyday operations. Google sets aside resources to fund new ideas, and HP gives staff time for ‘pet projects.’ These initiatives signal that the organization values intelligent risk-taking and encourages innovation. That message permeates the culture and allows people to start looking at their work creatively. That’s when process improvements will start to bubble up.

Cut out the clutter

When businesses operate over numerous sites or units, or across product groups, it’s not unusual for processes to vary from place to place, even for the same function. When you add in regional differences and customer segmentation, there can be even more complexity in something that should be relatively simple. While process variations like that may be necessary, they can introduce confusion and issues with compliance across the business.

The best way to deal with process variations is to map out the global standard process, then create the variations that need to exist. There will be key differences, but this makes them easy to spot and manage. If local teams or sites want to vary the process further because of unique requirements, get them to document those changes against the standard.

Ask for the specific laws or contract conditions that demand the different approach, and why the existing process doesn’t suit. Justify the changes with quantified costs (or savings) and review it against what other centers or operations achieve with the standard process.

Oftentimes, when called on to justify the changes, business teams find the standard process is actually very workable. Where they want to insist, those facts will help clarify if the changes really need to be made. Overall, the process remains clearer and the variations can be reduced for a smoother, less chaotic operation.

Lead from the top

It goes without saying that if the senior management is disinterested in developing an effective process culture, not many others will make an effort. Those at the top need to be fully committed to making the change if they expect it to take hold. That starts with communication.

People need to understand why the project has been kicked off, and how it will affect them. Staff will be more on board with a change that they understand, and when they grasp the impact it will have on their day-to-day activities, they can commit to implementing the program. Those messages and assurances need to come from the executive, as without them the project will struggle to gain traction.

Know who you’re working with

Teams will be more likely to engage when they understand their place in the program and have a good sense of how it will improve not just their work, but the organization overall. Still, don’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic.

Experience shows that about 20 percent of employees will jump at the chance to get involved. They’ll be excited to help and embrace the changes. Harness that enthusiasm, and point to these positive performers as examples of the difference that can be made. They’ll help with the next group you’ll likely encounter.

The majority of your employees – about 60 percent typically – won’t object to implementing good process management, and will be capable participants, if not cheerleaders for it. A little education, guidance, and reassurance will keep them on board as they find their way in the new culture.

The final group – the last 20 percent – will likely never come on board. They’re the critics who will adopt a negative attitude that is very difficult to shift. Phrases like, “We tried that once,” or “We’ve never done it that way before,” are clear indicators that they don’t want to change. The best thing to do is let them filter themselves out or come to terms with it by pursuing positive change that will benefit the entire business, not just their preferences.

Introducing change into an organization is always challenging. There are unique pitfalls in every context, and sometimes they’re hard to spot. These five steps can help alleviate the most common pain points, and smooth the transition into a culture of continuous process improvement for everyone.

 

 

To learn more about the benefits of initiating a process culture, talk to Nintex today about how Nintex Promapp® can empower your business with process excellence. Get in contact with our team today.

 

 

Thomas Kohlenbach

Thomas Kohlenbach is a senior product specialist at Nintex, the global standard for process management and automation. He has over 12 years’ experience implementing initiatives related to continuous improvement (Kaizen/Six Sigma), change management and system integration, across automotive and financial services industries. Thomas is a passionate business improvement advocate who has helped organizations around the world to decrease operational costs and drive cultural change.

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