Processes surround everything we do in business but how often do you find that the process you are expected to follow just doesn’t makes sense because it’s too complicated or simply wrong? If your answer is ‘yes’ then you are not alone, many people get really frustrated with inappropriate processes or ones that just don’t make sense.
If we look at what makes a business process useful we can perhaps start to identify why some just don’t make the grade.
- Appropriate – a process needs to be appropriate for what it’s intended to achieve. It needs to be defined to a level that the majority of people who have to use it can understand what to do and NOT down to the nth degree with loads of unnecessary detail. At the same time if there are obvious stages that need to be understood then include them and don’t wrap them up into one item that might be miss-understood.
- Understandable – touched on above but well worth bringing out separately. A process that works only works because it’s appropriate to the needs of the job and is fully understood by those who operate it and are touched by it, e.g. customers. If employees can’t really understand why parts of a process are as they are then they can’t be expected to explain to customers and suppliers why things are as they are.
So, if good processes are appropriate and understandable, how are they developed? Use the expertise you have within your organization to develop or re-fresh your processes, after all your employees are the ones who know their pitfalls and the ways round so that things get done regardless of process – yes, this really does happen! By all means bring in external assistance to help facilitate the development of processes and input suggestions but it’s your organization that needs to decide what a process needs to be and own it, not an external consultant.
‘good processes are appropriate and understandable’
Once your new process is captured and people who need to know about it have been suitably informed and/or trained (the process will fail if your employees don’t know things have changed) then it’s time to try it out in anger. You may have trailed it and used simulations but don’t be surprised if the first time it’s used for real things don’t work as anticipated. Not to worry about this, just build in a little time to refine until the process works as smoothly as can be expected, in other words the process is appropriate.
Of course nothing lasts forever and as other elements of your organization and business environment change it’s highly likely that your process will lose it’s appropriateness and need amending. Don’t wait until you find out about this through a failure or complaint, build in regular process reviews, say annually just to check that all is still well.
‘build in regular process reviews’
Oh, and don’t forget that if you trust your people they will still ensure that your business operates seamlessly in the eyes of customers even if your processes aren’t quite right. What you want is for those self same people to feel confident in coming forward and saying they bent the process for the good of the organization and the process needs to be modified accordingly.
So what is it that makes understanding business strategy so difficult and confusing for people? If a business’s strategy is so fundamental to it’s growth and indeed survival surely it should be crystal clear for everyone who needs to know about it.
So, who needs to know and fully understand what the strategy is about and what it means? Think of all the stakeholders involved in your business whether you are public or private or listed or not-for-profit. If you list someone or a particular group as a stakeholder then they need to understand your strategy. Does the way you communicate your strategy differ depending on who you are dealing with? Well, it ought to but it must say the same thing – different audiences need different styles of communication.
If you list someone or a particular group as a stakeholder then they need to understand your strategy
Don’t be tempted to bring in an outside organization to produce your strategy for you. It’s only you and your people who know everything there is to know about your organization; where you want to get to and the way you intend going about it. There are many consultancies out there who have a great deal of expertise in this area given that they see many businesses but if you do want to engage one of them make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and use them to help facilitate your strategy development process.
Once your strategy is nearing completion you should be able to test it for usefulness. It should be readable and understandable to all stakeholders and it must hold their attention. If it looks as though you will end up with a huge strategy document full of management cliches that no-one really understands but sounds good then you know that somewhere along the line the development process has gone off track. Take the opportunity to correct it before going public both internally and externally and make sure you can answer the ‘What does that mean?’ question for each element of your strategy.
Your strategy should be readable and understood by all stakeholders – it must hold their attention
A good strategy is one that is implementable and furthers the growth of the business, it’s not just a glossy that sits on the low tables in reception. Having said this, in order to assist in the furthering of growth it is as much about communication as anything else. If people in your business don’t understand it then there is no way you can hold them to account if their actions and decisions are not aligned with the strategy.
A good strategy is as much about communication as anything else
Two simple checks of whether your Strategy is effective
- Communication is key – Can you explain your Strategy in words of one syllable to others including board-members, co-workers, investors, suppliers, journalists and others. It’s not their fault if implementation is not as expected or if confused messages get out if the Strategy wasn’t simple enough to understand.
- Implement and Refine – A great Strategy is only great if it can be implemented when needed. If your development process takes months and months and the big announcement is delayed so that you can publish large and complicated strategy documents then chances are the strategy will already have passed its ‘sell by date’. Better to develop – implement – refine on a regular basis rather than spending 12 months or more coming up with something that is perfect for last year. If your strategy needs to be refined then refine it and implement it, don’t wait around for an annual review.
Having an understandable strategy that people can implement within a business seems like a simple thing to aspire to yet all too often the development of the strategy becomes an academic exercise that few can comprehend. There is nothing wrong in business with explaining things in easily understandable language and the more you do so the better the chances that your people, customers and investors will know what you are talking about.