work process
A healthy process culture means everyone is involved in an ongoing discussion around meaningful business priorities PHOTO: Crew

In the new world of work, when job seekers look for new opportunities, they evaluate company culture as much as they do an organization’s stability and compensation policy. 

And this modern-day focus on ‘what’s in it for me’ puts businesses under pressure to provide an environment that attracts and retains sought-after talent.

Strong Process Cultures Create Energy and Engagement

Although it may sound obvious, when an organization has a strong process culture, its focus on continuous improvement becomes part of its cultural bedrock.

What does a strong process culture look like? Teams from every department are empowered and equipped to develop ideas that improve quality and consistency, enhance customer service, reduce waste, streamline effort and make the business operate more efficiently. Processes are documented, acted upon, referred to and improved on a continual basis.

The benefits resulting from this process discipline generally include more motivated staff, better customer relationships and overall improvement in business performance. When you walk into the offices of companies that are getting it right, you can feel the energy and engagement.

Then there are the organizations where process improvement efforts have been less successful. At companies like these, by contrast, writing or revising procedures gets viewed as something akin to undertaking a painful audit exercise. Any initial benefits to creating new processes have long been forgotten, and eventually, even the value of trying to manage existing processes gets called into question.

Why do some organizations get their process culture so right, while others experience failure? Why do some teams seem to embrace process and improvement, while others just seem too busy for it all? I believe there are three major reasons for the differences:

Why Process Improvements Fail

1. Companies view documentation as the end-game

A fundamental problem with business process management projects over the last three decades has been the shortsighted belief that process improvement is synonymous with documentation. This emphasis has given rise to the misguided notion that if companies are three quarters of the way through documenting their processes, they must be three quarters of the way towards realizing the benefits from their efforts.

However, this attitude is an example of aiming at the wrong goal post. That’s because, if the processes are inefficient or poor quality to begin with, simply writing them down won’t change a thing. What’s more, compiling lists of better processes won't change anything either.

To gain real benefits, process management must be intimately tied to improvement by making it a continual, living, breathing part of everyday business.

2. Processes don’t reside with the right people

While many organizations like the idea of establishing special groups, such as quality teams, to be responsible for processes, there are risks to establishing this kind of ownership. In fact, the only people in the position to update or improve processes are those who really know how those processes work on a daily basis. Those are the people who can define processes in ways that resonate with staff because they have been the real process owners all along.

That’s one reason why process owners in a company need to step up, take responsibility for owning their process knowledge and make that knowledge readily accessible to other teams that require it. Organizations need to invest the time and discipline to ensure that their process information is relevant to enhancing collaboration, innovation and improvement.

3. Constant agitation works against sustained process improvement

Just because smarter processes have been developed, does not guarantee that those new, improved processes will be executed consistently enough in the future to ensure sustained benefits. Organizations must find ways to maintain team engagement in the form of ongoing awareness and conversation around the right way to do things. Companies must constantly encourage teams to agitate on behalf of improving existing practices. This doesn’t just happen: it requires process information to be stored and managed in ways that work for individual teams.

Process Management Is a Journey, Not a Destination

Business process management (BPM) is an ongoing state of being, a journey, not a destination. When BPM is done right, there’s no ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Processes provide templates for activities but those templates are constantly changing and being updated.

So rather than relying on the knowledge of experienced team members who say, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” or “Don’t worry, things won’t change that much,” improvements must be systematically documented to capture and note them for the benefit of all.

Evolving Your Company’s Process Goals

Sustaining valuable process knowledge takes ongoing effort and requires a plan. Yet, all too many organizations under-resource their BPM plans and try to go it alone without appointing a chief process officer to drive the process improvement focus from the top down.

Process improvement success begins with knowing what outcomes you should be chasing. An organization can't change or improve things if nothing is written down and agreed to by its teams. But that’s only the beginning. A healthy process culture means everyone is involved in an ongoing discussion about process goals such as ways to provide better customer service or facilitate more effective teamwork.

Invest in Process Improvement 

The organizations that gain real benefit from process management are those who pursue improvement, and are committed to creating successful processes that become ingrained in their cultures, enabling agility and fostering competitive advantages. These organizations think of process improvement as an ongoing investment, a state of mind that requires the same sustained commitment as their core technology platforms.

With the right attitude and investment, a process culture can set your organization apart. It can boost engagement and team collaboration and bring market-changing benefits. By making process management a living, breathing part of your everyday business, your organization can actively engage its teams in meaningful ways to create a winning business culture that improves business performance and appeals to astute job applicants.