Staff reductions are typical targets for controlling costs in tough economic times. This can be particularly challenging as you attempt to balance responsible fiscal management with fluctuating sales while maintaining customer expectations for quality, support, and customer service. The answer to this dilemma involves embracing a return to basics, i.e., examining your business processes and understanding the role they play in getting your product or service out the door.
Business processes are the means by which work gets done. Many businesses however, view business processes as a “this is how we do it” mentality, rather than a systematic way to understand how work gets done. Processes exist in our heads. Ask an employee how a particular process is carried out and, typically, you’ll get his or her interpretation of the process. Not surprisingly, that interpretation will vary from person to person.
By closely examining “how” work gets done, you can uncover ways to improve your business operations. In most cases, we know where our inefficiencies exist. The key is to objectively and creatively find ways to streamline these processes by combining or eliminating unnecessary, repetitive, or duplicate tasks. The best way to achieve this is by bringing together all stakeholders involved in the process to allow them to contribute their ideas and suggestions. Typically, those involved in the day-to-day business activities are in the best position to identify ways to make their jobs or tasks more efficient. By clarifying and gaining consensus on the way things are presently done, staff can then focus on ways to determine how things should be done. The following steps will help you work towards this goal:
1. Define the current the process. Bring stakeholders together to develop an accurate description of the way the current process works.
2. Deconstruct the process. Question why current tasks are performed in a particular way or why workflows follow a particular path.
3. Reconstruct the process. Focus on identifying improvements that lead to enhanced quality of service, better throughput and response times, and lower processing costs. Solicit the input of customers in this effort.
4. Take advantage of technology. When deployed effectively, technology offers opportunities to automate manual and repetitive tasks.
5. Make process improvement part of your business culture. An ongoing, continuous effort ingrained in your business culture is the key to sustaining process improvement. Encourage employees to identify other key business processes for analysis and continually seek volunteers from all parts of the company to participate in this endeavor.
Experience has shown that successful businesses understand the importance of process. Address your need to do “more with less” by taking a serious look at the way work gets done in your organization. The results can have a significant impact on your bottom line. For small businesses, it’s an essential business survival tool.
About The Guest Author: Walter T. Geer is President and CEO of the CA Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. He is the author of the recently published book “What Lucy Taught Us: A Business Fable About Improving Your Business One Process At a Time“. Free copies of the book are available from the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.