Every organization has countless processes. You have marketing processes that attract people to your organization. You have sales processes that convert customers and create revenue or that deliver your service to your constituent. You have process that make your product or execute your service. You have processes that manage the finances of the organization. You have processes that protect your organization by ensuring compliance to legal and regulatory requirements.
You have processes whether or not you write them down, standardize them, or make them “official”. For some industries, such as manufacturing or medical, having captured processes are critical to ensuring quality. For other industries, such as small restaurants or publishing, captured processes seem less important.
It is hard to manage, improve, or repeat something that doesn’t exist. Every organization would benefit from some level of capturing processes. When a process is captured, it is natural for a team to try to create the best process possible. It also creates a “place” where training for new people can be done, standards can be held (creating accountability), and improvements can be made.
Great organizations have strong process systems so that they can operate at the most efficient, effective and reliable way possible.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Standard Operating Procedures are very common in manufacturing and can become very detailed. However, most organizations can get away with a much simpler version that simply outlines the process at a relatively high level. Too much detail the SOP’s makes them difficult to upkeep and harder to use.
SOP’s should generally not be created by management. When employees create their own processes (with management input and approval), they add their own insights. Plus, they will buy-in to the process they help to create and may even offer improvement opportunities.
SOP’s should be easily accessible, although highly regulated industries will need to implement some form of version control to prevent unintended changes or the possibility of following an outdated SOP. Still, most organizations would benefit from a simple shared folder that contains 1-2 page overviews of common processes.
SOP’s are particularly helpful when launching a new product or process. By writing down the process, it keeps everyone clear about the direction and creates a place where improvements and ideas can be implemented.
Just because you have a process, it doesn’t mean that it is working properly. We once did a quality check for a restaurant and discovered that customers at one location loved the pizza while customers at another location hated it. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the one location (the bad one) wasn’t following the process properly. The process itself isn’t enough to ensure quality. It is important to systems that periodically check quality.
The most common quality system is gathering feedback from customers. The simplest feedback system is called a Net Promoter Score or NPS, but there are lots of ways to gather feedback through focus groups, interviews, or surveys. Listening to your customers is critical to your success. Sometimes we fall in love with our product when we should really be love with what our product is supposed to do. Feedback helps us maintain that distinction and make continuous improvements.
There are other types of quality control that are more proactive and prevent failures from reaching the customer. These in-process quality measures are especially powerful because they keep your team focused on the process and prevent problems from reaching your customer. For example, good restaurants have an “expo station” where someone inspects every plate of food before going out to the customer to make sure it is the correct food and that it is up to quality standards. In-process quality is very common and might just be simple supervisor oversight.
The last type of quality control, which is mainly used in critical processes, are predictive quality measures. Predictive quality utilizes statistical methods to look into the future to model potential failures. An example of predictive quality measures include Six-Sigma practices. These quality measures can virtually eliminate defects, but can be intrusive and expensive to implement. This level of quality often isn’t necessary for many organizations.
Processes often fail because the people who run the process aren’t properly trained (or trained at all). When someone new starts in a job, it is probably because you needed that person to do the work. This makes it tempting for organizations to put people into “on the job” training situations where they have to hit the ground running. The problem is that this approach often slows down the time it takes to get the employee up to full productivity. Plus, this approach frustrates the new employee and their team while also creating unnecessary quality issues.
Good training requires three major components. The first component is the training material itself which should be a more detailed overview of the processes that the employee will need to learn. The second component is the trainer, who should be both knowledgeable in the process and trained in how to effectively train people. The final component is a roadmap for the employee. The roadmap is a high level list of things they are expected to learn and a rough timeline or expectation for when they will learn it. It serves as “you are here” guide so that they (and you) can track their progress.
Training should be part of any good onboarding system as it not only gets people onboard more quickly, but it also establishes a culture of performance. In addition, training should be a regular part of your seasoned employee’s experiences. Ongoing training might include refresher training on existing processes to help remind employees about the right way to do things, or it might include workshops to build advanced skills. Training can be conducted on both hard skills (how to do things) and soft skills (how to work with other people).
Every process can likely be improved with a little focus and effort. Creating deliberate time and places where these improvements can be made should be a part of your culture. Ideas might flow through new employees who have fresh eyes or they might arise from pain felt within the organization. This is where good Communication and Process Systems can intersect to work together. Department meetings and Core Team meetings are opportunities for new ideas to be identified and implemented.
Sometimes management makes the mistake of thinking that their job is to create improvements in processes. This is natural as managers are often focused on the high level process rather than being pulled into the day to day noise. However, it is critical to involve employees in continuous improvement opportunities early. People own what they help to create. Plus, your front line workers have a perspective that is invaluable to making effective and realistic improvements. Working together to improve processes will create a culture of collaboration and innovation.
For a better idea of how these systems work together, check out our High Performance Culture page or download our eBook on the impact of a High Performance Culture. In the coming weeks, we will be addressing Management, Process, and Strategy in more detail.
As part of a series of articles, I am creating an overview of the five sets of systems within our Cultural Framework. This Framework helps you keep a high-level perspective on how systems can work together to help you drive a culture that both empowers and aligns your team. The five sets of systems in our Framework includePeople,Communication, Management, Process, and Strategy. Your Communication Systems get your people the information they need.