In order for a company’s marketing promises to be true, the company must deliver a high quality of service through every interaction with a customer. Companies can enable team members to succeed by continually refining their business processes.
I used to dislike process… a lot.
If I’m honest, it’s still not my favorite, but I get it these days. I understand its significance in getting important work done the way that you really want it done.
When I went back to get my MBA, I had a strategic marketing class that really challenged me on a few core concepts. I came to think of myself as a “strategy guy” over the course of my career, which meant that I was all about the big ideas. Let someone battle through the implementation and measurement of those ideas.
Yes, I know I was wrong, and school really clarified that for me.
The ideas are vital, but they really are only the beginning.
The hard part is taking lofty notions and refining them over and over at every level of implementation.
Benefits of Fighting through Process
At P3, we’ve been working on a lot of service offering improvements, and the way that we’re finding it can get done is by refining our processes. Sometimes, in order to really improve, we have to scrap what we had and start again to create the service offering that we really want.
Now, I see the vital role that process plays. Here are 3 reasons I’m focusing on process.
- Enable team members to be able to help
- Reduce the number of repeated issues
- Create a new level of strategic thinking and efficiency
Let’s dig in a bit deeper.
Enables team members to be able to help
If you never document what work needs to be done, then that means you are stuck performing the work repeatedly, or you’re having to coach people to get the work done one step at a time. Your coaching will either turn in to micromanaging or into a free for all. Without documentation or process, you’re the sole conduit of knowledge. Your teammates will either benefit from it or be left to figure it out on their own.
Conceptually, this all makes sense, but we seldom realize the extent of the impact. Within the past year, we ran into this issue on the sales side. We have a salesperson, and we have staff that helps administer client communication. How hard could it be to get sales communications completed? The answer is, it may not be terribly difficult IF the communicator has enough time, all of the information is available, and the communication frequency is planned. Without a plan, it turns out that sales communication can be quite difficult.
We took the time to list out all the steps required for a successful sale and recognized that the process could easily require a significant amount of time if we had any level of real sales volume, which, of course, we were really hoping for! We hired a person specifically for this process, and we’re now much more efficient at sales communication—and at closing sales. (The danger with this is that you may be left wanting to kick yourself for not implementing the work sooner.)
Reduce the number of repeated issues
It’s likely that repetition of a task will help you eliminate errors, provided that you have a good feedback loop and that you are the one performing the task each time.
Of course, we can’t always assume these conditions will hold true.
If your teammate tackles the problem, he or she may run into the same pitfalls unless you help prepare the rest of the team.
Create a new level of strategic thinking and efficiency
To give ourselves credit, we weren’t seeing the same mistakes over and over. We kept finding different points of service delivery breakdown. We were having issues pop up at different points along the way, causing our design team to have to go back and redo work that could have been planned much more effectively.
It wasn’t until we listed out our current process and then talked through various issues that we’ve spotted over the past year that we got to the real heart of the matter. As a company (and a small one, at that), we were coming at the project from drastically different viewpoints. One viewpoint that focused on efficiency guided us towards working quickly at the overall site build while another viewpoint focused on providing the best patient experience (the end-user experience for our services).
Both of these viewpoints are meaningful, but they were not in sync.
By understanding this internal disconnect, we are able to align our efforts to focus heavily on patient experience in the planning, implement the design and coding efficiently, and then make minor updates to ensure quality.
We are getting better at realizing that our process issues are deeper than surface level thanks to our full review of sales processes I described above. Leadership identified that we needed additional staff because we tackled the underlying beliefs in the steps of sales process. We recognized communication consistency as a necessity because it’s far too easy for our customers to get distracted by the many demands of their job. If we did not help keep the conversation going, then our customers’ needs would go unmet.
Formal Process Review Is Necessary for Small Companies to Grow
You don’t recognize what holds you back until you dig in. Our natural tendency and our culture bends more towards taking more and more on each individual rather than stopping to tackle the issue behind the issue. We end up treating symptoms and never directly taking on the disease that’s holding us back.
Thankfully, lots of other folks have written very detailed ways of tackling process. Here are a few examples.
Start with Measurement
I had the opportunity to attend the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives (AAOE) annual meeting for the first time this year. One of the key needs I saw expressed in a few different ways during the sessions was that organizations had to start measuring.
Need to be able to prove that you’re keeping patients on the phone too long so that you can justify modernizing your services? You need to measure first.
Need to improve your reimbursement structure from patients depending on the payment model? You have to measure.
There are more examples, but you get it.
We’ve started down the difficult path of getting measurements in place. We opted for the Balanced Scorecard method as I find that it does a good job of not only measuring your financial results but also your processes and your company culture. I’ve included a few resources below, but the very quick pitch is that the scorecard says that the various metrics of your company are interrelated. You can’t have the finance piece without the culture piece or without the processes to support it.
The Scorecard allows you to outline what you hope to achieve as a company, and then you go through the tougher task of mapping out real measurements to gauge whether or not you are moving towards those goals.
Here are few links to get you started:
Prioritize Your Battles
You can’t solve all of your issues at the same time. In fact, you may be surprised to figure out how long it takes to solve any of them.
What we’re finding is that we are picking up momentum as we go. Yes, the list of challenges at first seemed overwhelming, but picking our most pressing needs and creating resolutions is helping us move positively on our scorecard. Keeping that sign of progress visible is critical to the matter.
It’s all too easy to feel like we are just fighting battle after battle only to hold our ground. And sometimes that’s actually the case. If we have no strategy and no clear sign of where we’re heading, then it becomes a victory just to hold your current position.
With visible progress, the next challenge becomes less intimidating.
Involve Enough, but not Too Many, People
In the article Executing Strategic Change, the authors spoke of how change often fails to take root in a company because leadership cannot or chooses not to bring in enough “managers across all functions at an early stage of strategy execution.” While bringing a cross-functional team together feels like it would slow down the whole process, the real benefit is that the meeting creates buy-in from a much larger group at the very beginning of the process instead of having to try and secure it at the very end.
More managers could feel as if they were part of the improvement instead of just being handed a set of new regulations that they had to blindly follow.
For a small company like ours, we focus more on the function of each person’s role instead of the exact title, but the concept is the same. We need buy-in, and we need critical details that each person brings to the table.
Once we have the details, that doesn’t mean that we need everyone involved in each step from then on out. We can be selective as to when we need to reconvene, but any new questions or any updates to processes do not come as a complete surprise.
Change Is Always Necessary
If the disruption of several industries over the past 20 years has taught us anything, it’s that companies must be aware of their surroundings and that the must be continually improving.
Just because a process is working today does not mean it can be ignored. All of us have to keep looking for ways to improve our offerings and our level of service. As consumers, do we expect any less?