For decades, business surveys and management textbooks identified strategy execution as one of the top challenges facing CEOs.
The problem isn't the quality of management strategies: It is the difficulty carrying them out. Beautiful ideas don't make a customer happy. You have to be able to deliver on those ideas to turn them into the reality of greater value for your customers and greater returns for your stakeholders.
Almost invariably, this requires change.
Processes and Execution
The role business processes play in change has evolved through the years. Most organizations now recognize process management as a key component of change management.
More recently, however, the traditional methods used to communicate processes have come under the spotlight.
A growing number of organizations are starting to examine the impact these approaches have on team execution and innovation.
The Disappearing Processes
Getting processes right is important. For this reason, many companies are engaging external specialists to document their processes for them.
Process, quality and improvement specialists study an organization's ways of working, look for waste and potential for improvement, then work with teams to develop and document agreed flows. They then communicate these new and improved processes back to teams.
Unfortunately, this is the point when the “process of process improvement” usually breaks down. Teams will resist new or updated processes if they feel they are forced on them.
Adding to this, the status quo over the last two decades has been to file the process documentation on a shared drive or print it out in hard copy and never look at it again ... at least not until the next auditor visit or the next specialist is brought in to update the documentation.
Do Processes Even Matter?
Even without up-to-date or easily accessible documentation about procedures, companies still manage to roll widgets out their doors and serve customers all over the world every day.
So is a lack of process documentation or outdated documentation a problem? Does it really matter?
The issues arise when we look at control over execution and the impact on collaboration and engagement.
Without critical measures in place, only mediocre CEOs would be content with subjective assessment of execution rates. With no agreed upon platform to deploy and track strategic ability, the outcomes are being left to chance.
It's the same story when it comes to a process owner's ability to drive collaboration and innovation to truly own a process. When no agreed process is recorded, how do you deal with repeat problem resolution? How do you encourage and enable incremental improvement?
A lack of agreed process makes it that much harder to elicit ideas from stakeholders across the business. And when you need to make changes or improvements, action relies on building a temporary consensus on how things are done through often inefficient forums such as emails and meetings.
Process management is only now being pulled into the 21st century for many businesses.
Rather than investing time and money building processes that are destined to become irrelevant, more organizations are shifting this platform for strategic execution into everyday conversation. They are encouraging teams to suggest and implement continual improvements by making process information simple to find and readily accessible to everyone across the organization. They are even including process execution tips, videos and guidance online.
Process Conversation Breaks Into Everyday Activity
By establishing a platform for process management, process owners now have a database of structured, searchable knowledge. When it’s easy to access and improve this knowledge, teams are able to develop new and better ways of doing things, and can easily capture and share the new processes.
As a result, more business teams join the process conversation, where in the past these conversations were held behind the closed doors of technical specialists and auditors.
Even better, simple communication tools are helping to embed these conversations into everyday business activity.
Terms such as “process owners” and “process champions” are changing the traditional thinking about who needs to be involved and how.
What This Means for Strategic Execution
One of the top challenges for CEOs — as well as for strategic execution — is now tangible and traceable.
As for all those beautiful ideas, they stop being ‘ideas’ as soon as teams across the organization agree exactly how to execute them in a systematic way. If processes aren’t meeting customer expectations, teams can readily identify and critique the problems and opportunities. In other words, the processes gain currency.
Rather than becoming the subject of a boardroom assessment following yet another failed strategy 12 months down the line, an organization's processes need to become part of everyday discussion, capable of being examined, altered and improved in ways that deliver maximum benefit to customers and the business.