3 ways to streamline your business and overcome process erosion
According to research from Harvard Business Review, 86% of business owners reported that their business processes and decision-making had become so complex that it was stunting growth. Half of those surveyed felt that they had strategies to manage complexity, but a quarter admitted that these had failed.
While some degree of complexity is inevitable, a lot of the time it’s avoidable. One of the biggest causes of business complexity is process erosion. When you started out, you probably decided to do things a certain way based on best-practice or to avoid errors or fines. But as you’ve grown, the processes that exist to keep your business operating efficiently start to evolve organically.
Over time, you stop focussing on things that aren’t written down and documented; if someone in your team finds a particular task too time-consuming, they don’t know how to do it, or simply can’t be bothered, they’ll stop doing it. Then that person leaves and the task is never performed again. Or perhaps someone starts performing a new task you haven’t asked them to, or is unnecessary to helping the business achieve its goals.
Eventually you end up with a lot of busy people, who are all doing things differently and achieving different outcomes, and you’re frustrated because you thought that everyone was doing things your way, and now you have no idea what’s going on.
It’s rare that business leaders will sit down and evaluate all their business processes to identify those that are redundant, could be improved or that need re-thinking altogether.
Process erosion is impacting your organisation’s efficiency, productivity and competitiveness – not to mention the resulting stress and sleepless nights. But with the erosion being a slow growing challenge, do you even realise the scale of the problem?
Identifying the signs of process erosion
Take a second to think about your organisation. Do you suffer from any of the following:
- The sudden discovery that the important steps you thought were carried out aren’t
- Those steps haven’t been carried out for years
- A person puts forward a great idea but you had that great idea 5 years ago and thought it was happening
- Someone writes a document and you know there’s already a document out there
- After all these years, the client complains or leaves because service isn’t good enough
- The contract or document people are using is not the latest one
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, process erosion has already set in, making your business unnecessarily complex.
Time to take back control
If you feel like every day you’re fighting fires, wasting time following inefficient procedures and feeling like you’re never getting any closer to your overall business goal, you need to streamline and improve your business processes. By doing this you can make it easier for your employees to do their job, which increases productivity and boosts your bottom line. Let’s get started:
1) Start using simple process again
Create some really simple processes in a spreadsheet and track it to ensure people are following them. Only include what’s important and what people might not already do as that’s when they’ll see the value. People aren’t going to thank you for bogging them down in complex process, nor do they need to be told what they already know. The airline industry is the best at this; in a crisis their checklists are as short as possible and it never says ‘return to the nearest airfield and land’ – in a crisis a pilot knows that and doesn’t need to be told.
2) Make them indispensable
Build documents, links, usernames and helpful hints into your processes, so that they’re focussed on helping the user, rather than controlling them. It needs to make you feel like the only way I can onboard a new member of staff, complete end-of-month or retain clients is to use the process. The process needs to be so useful that people won’t want to do it any other way.
3) Now make them better…and better and better…and better!
Research shows the key thing employees want from a job is the ability to make a difference – so give it to them. Encourage people to suggest changes and create a culture of improvement. Then once you have feedback, act on it – it’s the only way your organisation can improve. If you ignore feedback, the feedback will dry up. But if you listen and act on it, you can sit back and watch your business improve before your eyes.