Refining Business Processes 101

Business processes are one of those strange things a newcomer to the team muddles through, more experienced members are accustomed to (whether they like it or not) and are created by people who probably aren’t using them anymore. Some people rely on them, some people work around them, and to the disgust of others, some people tend to ignore them. Regardless, they are generally disliked by most people. Why is this so?

Beyond the knee-jerk and highly individual reaction, the fact remains that most business processes are annoying to the people who have to use them. Surprisingly, the core reasons don’t change as much as you may think. Time, opportunity cost, amount of stress created, and the hoops that need to be jumped through…do these issues sound familiar?

Then people begin to discuss refining the existing processes and the situation starts to look even worse. Now the company is half on one system and half on another. Existing processes begin to fail and new processes are still strange to the majority of people. And lots of things are not getting done. But the issues behind the original problems still exist and they are still not fixed. Many companies and people get stuck in this kind of cycle. How do you get out?

Understand the root cause

Why are you making these changes to begin with? Who wants them made and why? Who doesn’t want them to be made and why? How large of a change is really needed?

It is easy to proclaim a massive change and begin to gather everyone together to get behind it. It is significantly harder to follow through on it, particularly if the solutions are not solving the issues. Understanding the unique root cause of your issues will go a long way to setting the stage for success.  

Treating the disease before the symptoms

Be sure to move forward from a good understanding of the underlying issues that are causing the need to refine your processes. Make sure to treat them and not just their results. A good example would be allocating extra time to stamp newsletters or promotional items to go out in the mail. Why are you hand stamping them in the first place?

The symptoms of a problem are generally what are mentioned first. They actualize the pain points and point to the main issues. But if they are the only things you focus on fixing, the real problem will surface again and again, just in a different form.

Listen more than you think you need to–then listen some more

No matter the situation, we all have opinions. Naturally, we seek out people who will share these thoughts and ideas so that we feel validated. After the initial round of talking, we may be firmly convinced that we have everything set and ready to go. In actuality, this process or new way of doing things may only benefit a very small subset of people.

Have you considered all the people this will impact? Have you asked a selection of all of them about it? What do they think? You may find that the people on the front lines of the work have very different ideas about it than you did!

Define the objectives/desired results

You and a few others may know exactly what you want to do and how you are going to make things better. Does the rest of the team understand the announcement that you made or the email that you sent? Do they know what you expect them to do now?

Consider what the immediate changes to the day-to-day life of the company will be and notify people of them as you make the initial moves. Though the changes will never be completely seamless, clear directions and a simple process will help immensely.

Stick to the change.

At the end of the day, refining business processes will always be difficult. Change is hard to bring about in any size of organization or in even the smallest processes and ways of doing things. Don’t let people slip back into the old ways when the vision becomes hard to see and the new ways seem worse than the old. Keep the momentum going and soon the new processes and habits and the employees will all be working together again.

Mistakes will always be made and no one really likes to change. But at the end of the day, slow, clumsy, and/or useless business processes need to go. And that at least is something everyone can agree on.

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