In today’s competitive market, you, or we,  would be hard pressed to find executives who do not want their companies to be better organized and more efficient. Most C-level leaders pepper their speeches and memos with messages that implore employees to find smarter ways of working, techniques that will maximize their business process improvement efforts and reduce or even eliminate repetitive tasks. The hope is that somewhere between “working smarter” and “a validated bottom-line improvement” some actions will occur that make that vision a reality. Unfortunately, that middle ground between desires and outcomes is usually where the best laid plans often go astray.

Our corporate leaders  have demanding jobs and, as a result, normally do not get too involved with the many projects required to carry out their vision and strategies. Rather, they hope their ideas and exhortations will drive the actions of their staff — and encourage people to take the appropriate risks to deliver on their vision. The identification and execution of those tasks, however, often gets lost somewhere after being “announced” in a PowerPoint presentation. The reason the delivery of a mission fails to happen has a lot to do with execution — or lack of it.

There is nothing wrong with a CEO who demands a better way of working. His or her credibility is often based on the ability to set a course of action based on articulating the vision. One of the keys to achieving goals lies in creating a foundation that is process-driven. Given the right preparation, employees can take management concepts and devise a plan that will  deliver results. The link between strategy and delivery is execution — one that is based on a repeatable, understandable set of systems and workflow processes.

To implement a vision for the business (irrespective of who is demanding the change), organizations must have a core belief in the value of “process.”  And it is forward-looking companies that recognize and lend their support to the impact of process within their organizations.

Even for those that already do recognize the value of change, it is still worth the time to look more closely at how the company views its business processes. Are employees operating according to uniform, yet flexible, processes — or do they forsake logic and hope that a tool (even a great BPM software) will do the work for them?

The good news is that even companies that fail to follow a rigorous business process can, with some discipline, operate more efficiently. The principles that establish a successful process mindset include:

  1. Operating according to established rules: Without a framework for action, a lot of time can be spent creating a new process each time a task needs to be accomplished. Process-based organizations have defined rules for how activities are handled, who is responsible for what, and how approvals are handled. Relying on these rules means that employees can focus on outcomes, rather than on process itself.
  2. Change is valued: Many executives are good at identifying activities that provide quantifiable benefits, especially where incremental business process improvement (BPI) is not a huge challenge. Executives choose where to focus, putting energy into tasks where there’s a reasonable expectation of success. Some, however, recognize that victories of the repeatable type are important but do not necessarily drive business forward. Implementing the types of activities that both initiate and drive “process” will help the organization to be more successful. Change can be embraced because there is confidence that established processes will prevent operations from being derailed.
  3. Execution is decentralized: Organizations that operate with a top-down approach may stall when trying to implement a process. When Lines of Business managers and directors are given the authority to decide and implement business processes (done so, of course, in accordance with accepted organizational rules and best practices), the results increase dramatically. When the “process mindset” is embedded into the thinking of managers and employees, execution  improves significantly.
  4. Risk is inherent in doing business: Certainly there is some risk involved with implementing new ways of doing business. New ways of thinking run the risk of causing dissension, distractions, and sometimes simply fail. Some organizations are also risk averse.  Those that are not, however, embrace the changes that result from implementing better business processes. They recognize that risk is inherent in doing and growing the business — and they believe that improving their processes will provide a competitive advantage.

When you begin thinking about “process” and how to drive your business to the next level, self-evaluation is crucial. Does your company value and understand the benefits of process? (Automating, streamlining and becoming more efficient are the most frequently cited benefits.) Do you have a process mindset? If you can answer affirmatively you are on your way to process nirvana (well, maybe not quite). Those who are not yet “there” need not fear. We will look more closely at what that mindset looks like in part four of our series.

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