Having the ‘process’ conversation with your staff

When trying to work out how to improve your business, the first place we start is always with your staff – they know how your business runs on a daily basis, often better than you do.

When was the last time you asked your staff exactly what they do? What actions do they take to complete their work over the course of the day? What are their pain points? Do they take work home? Can they?

A usual indicator that you need to look at your processes is if someone has been in the job a year or more and is still using the original way of working – either it was a perfect process (bravo if this is you!) or, more likely, the job gets done without any consideration if it’s the best way of doing things.

As management, we typically hear either of large-scale disasters or smaller issues like computer problems. Bugs that stop people working in their usual way are always the first to be raised, but there are more mundane processes that impact your business daily and increasingly stop your staff from doing the work that affects your bottom line.

How to identify bad processes within your organisation

Bad processes linger for numerous reasons:

  • A lack of skills or training. People don’t always know the best way to use existing technology, whether it’s managing a booking system or simply using Ctrl+C. Usually, these issues are minor and you don’t necessarily know there’s a problem unless it’s obvious, but the impact builds up over the course of time. Some members of staff often wear their lack of knowledge on their sleeve, even going as far as explaining to anyone who will listen that they don’t know how to do something – this is where a lack of training can be readily apparent outside of your company.

  • “It’s the way it’s always been done”. The next step up on the training ladder is knowing how to do something without knowing why – or being able to identify improvements within the process. While these tasks are often performed quickly, outdated processes can often mask significant inefficiencies, either by involving more peoples’ time than is required, or by using insecure methods that should have been retired long ago. Processes that have existed for several years should be seriously considered for improvement.

  • You’re not using the latest, or best, technology (for your budget). This is often an outcome of the “It’s the way it’s always been done” problem. This relies on an outdated piece of technology or process that made sense when it was written three or five years before. It’s worth regularly reviewing the tools and techniques you are using. Not only are new systems and products released all the time, newer systems target more specific issues. This means that it’s highly likely the solution you’re using that was originally pieced together across multiple systems can be replaced by a single product that solves the precise issue you have. Often this will be cheaper as well as more efficient.

  • You’re using different tools to solve the same issue throughout your company. As with the above, unless there has been a singular digital approach within your company, tool usage will typically have been left to the individual. So while it’s likely that your company mandates using either Google Apps or Office 365 and uses standard tools like Dropbox for files, or Facebook and Twitter for marketing; beyond that, the tools, frameworks and systems that are introduced are normally based on a person’s preference and get brought into a process over the course of time. Where there is more than one tool in place for the same process, this lacks consistency, meaning staff often need to learn to use multiple tools and ways of working. By having staff doing this in different ways to solve the exact same problem, the training requirement is higher, along with the overhead and the inefficiency of staff not being able to support each other to complete their work.

  • “X does that”. These statements really help identify a potential bottleneck. It’s quite likely there are some processes that can only be done by one member of management – for example, approving a Purchase Order or introducing a new piece of equipment. But if the process is required daily and is a blocker across numerous teams, this task should be decentralised and appropriate training introduced to enable a larger pool of people to take on the work.

  • The process itself is boring. There are usually many of these within an organisation and while most of these tasks occur regularly, some build up and require dedicated effort to resolve them at the expense of other, often more rewarding work. These ‘boring’ processes can drain staff morale and usually get put to the end of the list, either causing delays or, in some circumstances, a failure to complete the task altogether. For many of these processes, consider whether it’s possible to automate them – reporting and administration are two essential tasks that can often have aspects automated. At the very least, these should be identified and any required procedure subsumed into another process where it can be better handled – or else completely eradicated from the business where possible.

Solving the problem of bad processes

Finding out which processes fall into which category above – and resolving the issue – can be incredibly rewarding, both for your business and your staff individually.

We’ve found staff actively support this measure, as it’s far more likely to bring improvement to their job than to leave them without a job to do.

And back to the part about speaking to your staff. How can you know what’s going on if you don’t ask your staff directly?

Management often think that admitting to staff that they themselves don’t know the best way of doing something is a sign of weakness. In fact, the opposite is usually true – being able to embrace new processes and methods for completing underlying tasks can have significant rewards within a company, particularly in improved efficiency, reduced overheads and enhanced staff morale.

Assuming responsibility and creating solutions

Bad processes cause significant frustrations for staff. With these processes, people usually feel like they’re working hard and putting in significant energy, but without seeing any real results as their energies are expended in the wrong place.

It’s your responsibility as management to identify these areas of weakness and provide solutions – not just once, but on an ongoing basis. Technology changes all the time and processes should be updated with this change – the best way to do something two years ago is by no means the best this year.

We often work with larger companies where there is little cross-over of function – despite having many staff, individuals’ jobs are siloed to the point where it’s impossible for them to take a leave of absence without impacting their role. This often leads to a number of the issues outlined above, as people in this environment don’t often share working knowledge, which can make it difficult to understand what to improve and how to improve it.

However, there are key roles and personnel within your organisation with significant knowledge you must utilise:

  • Your sales people know what your competitors are doing. They may not know why – the underlying business model may be completely different from yours – but they will know that people are talking about your competitors when discussing why they should work with you and not someone else.

  • Your marketing people will also understand this as they see what your competitors are doing and how they are presenting themselves to the world, across their website, social channels and online advertising. They’ll have seen it first hand, and viewed the key challenges for your company in a way that you won’t have.

  • Your new employees often have a background in doing something a different way – whether they are recent graduates or more seasoned experts, their fresh eyes could give you a new perspective on old issues that have already been solved by other companies.

Taking a critical approach to analyse your current processes

It’s important to be critical here – introducing a process just because it’s working for someone else can be misleading as what’s good for their company may not work for yours.

A key example would be shifting from Office 365 to Google Apps or vice versa. There are good arguments to be had for doing this either way, but it’s an upheaval that will impact your staff at countless points throughout their day; from opening a spreadsheet to creating a presentation – you will need to be able to migrate their processes smoothly to the new approach or else it will be doomed to fail.

Making the right decision in the wrong way can be detrimental, so you need to ensure you are using an implementation plan to identify training and key dates for migration between processes.

If you haven’t had one recently, it makes a lot of sense to have a process conversation from top to bottom within your company, to identify any issues and key areas of weakness.

Through our Technology Tune Ups we offer an opportunity for senior business leaders to look critically at their current operation to identify any inefficiencies, weaknesses and outdated ways of working. To learn more and understand how it can impact your organisation, simply sign up for our free, no obligation consultation.