An organization is more than its buildings, technology and corporate assets. It’s about the people who work there and create company culture. An organization can’t achieve process excellence, then, without consulting the people who use processes day in and day out and evaluating their experience.
Whether hip like Pepsi or quirky like Southwest Airlines, the companies that survive and thrive are those that put their people — and processes — at the center of their culture. Organizations that prioritize their people open lines of communication and foster a collaborative culture focused on continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement and operational excellence go hand in hand because excellence requires effort. Operational excellence forges a company culture in which “management and employees are invested in business outcomes and empowered to implement change.” While operational excellence initially might appear to be a lofty, intangible goal, it is a mindset driven by two specific actions: communication with employees and analyzing processes.
A Culture of Process Excellence
Processes, the steps by which a task gets done, involve people. Process excellence examines a procedure’s steps, determining what each step does, why it exists and how it can be improved. Process excellence requires a collaborative company culture, in which everyone unites to make processes efficient, but more importantly, effective.
In such a company culture, people who use a specific process openly communicate their honest feedback because they understand that a process’s efficacy contributes to the ease of their work environment and that of their colleagues.
The way people communicate and work with each other directly impacts how well a process functions within your company. Building a business process excellence culture requires a commitment to consideration. If people think about their colleagues as invaluable assets, they will consider the impact of their own choices on others. In other words, “How will doing this thing differently impact Bob? Will it make his job easier and better? Will it make the company more successful?” Instead of thinking individualistically, people in your organization will think about how their actions impact others.
Self-reflective questions are the foundation of business process excellence. By continuously seeking ways to do things smarter, faster and more thoughtfully, organizations can build a healthy company culture, which will in turn provide better services to others.
However, this shift in thinking doesn’t happen overnight. Process excellence requires a coordinated effort and a strategy, like a process excellence program, which can accelerate an organization’s success greatly.
Approaching a Process Excellence Program
There are two approaches to process excellence programs, one triggered by a team, the other by leadership – but both driven by people. Process excellence programs, whether built from the bottom-up or the top-down, require experiments in flexibility, rethinking the way you do things and a willingness to change to improve individuals and the organization as a whole.
Scenario 1: Start with projects that grow into a process center of excellence.
Process excellence programs usually don’t happen organically. They require someone to initiate a process improvement project, such as improving onboarding processes. A team would consult new hires and their hiring supervisors to ask about their onboarding experiences. After learning that new hires find it hard to understand their position, let alone be productive, the team analyzes the current onboarding processes.
Discovering the procedures are lengthy and disorganized, they set goals to eliminate onboarding bottlenecks, reduce unnecessary paperwork, and improve the clarity of their expectations for new hires. After implementing the new onboarding process, the team monitors onboarding over the next several months, frequently checking in with new hires and hiring supervisors to see if they can make any further improvements.
As a process improvement project such as this grows, people begin to realize the ripple effect of just one process on employee experience and company culture. Seeing improved results, directors and executives request more process improvement projects, eventually leading to a process center of excellence program.
Scenario 2: Start with a process center of excellence, but stress organizational change management and executive support.
Other times, an organization uses a top-down approach. A leader realizes that if their organization doesn’t change its ways — and quickly — it will ultimately fail. The leader declares that they are building a center of excellence (CoE) within your organization but does not yet identify the processes they want to improve.
Establishing a process-first mindset without any prior experience requires change management, a detailed approach that helps individuals and teams transition from the current way things are done to the desired process-based environment. People drive process initiatives, and ensuring an easy transition to a center of excellence requires a strong team of individuals to introduce and foster a business process excellence mindset within your organization.
For example, the newly appointed CoE team explains to various sectors what process excellence is, and then they invite individuals to communicate any ineffective processes they encounter on a day-to-day basis. After listening to their feedback, the CoE implements a process improvement project, such as the onboarding project mentioned above. After witnessing process improvement in action, more people will champion the CoE, and process excellence culture thrives within that organization.
The Three Components of Process Excellence Programs
A process excellence program is only as good as (you guessed it) its processes. For a comprehensive strategy such as process excellence to succeed, it needs a team of people who prioritize people and processes that equip continuous learning and improvement.
1. Center of Excellence
The center of excellence (CoE) is a group of individuals who champion communication and process-first culture. They identify areas of improvement, define responsibilities and establish process governance standards.
Promoting continuous improvement, the CoE executes process initiatives, develops documentation, processes rollout procedures, and communicates plans and key performance indicators (KPIs) for success. After initiating a project, the CoE provides support, guidance and input, communicating how the project will impact individuals and the organization as a whole.
2. Change Enablement
Process projects inherently bring about change because they affect all your teams, from sales to supply chain to finance. Ensuring the successful adoption of a process improvement program requires understanding the landscape of various teams’ tasks before introducing the project, so you can communicate the project’s potential impact on the team’s future day-to-day activities.
After implementing the project, your CoE team should invite individuals on various teams to communicate the project’s effect on their daily work because involving employees and keeping them informed about company-wide initiatives contributes to their success and morale.
3. Technology Enablement
Once your CoE has implemented its business process improvement project, it’s important to determine whether teams are adhering to the newly established processes. If they are not, it might be because the process instructions aren’t clear or easily accessible. To ensure easy adoption, document the process on paper. Create instruction manuals or work aids, then assign process leaders to each team to explain the changes and how to implement them.
Enterprise technology solutions can also assist in project adoption and adherence. You can automate many manual tasks, relieving your employees of monotonous assignments. And workflow management systems provide a digital platform to assign, manage and monitor processes. Additionally, technology can collect data in real-time to provide KPIs and other analytics, so you can see how your new process impacts your organization.
Having a strong process excellence program is essential to an organization that wants to achieve operational excellence. Coaching and mentoring your people — your most valuable resource — is the only way to understand how well processes work and how your organization can perform better. But before you begin on that journey, you need to know where you are. As Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”