If you’ve ever been given bad news by a doctor, chances are your first question was, “How bad is it?” You wanted to know where you stood among the rest of the people in your bad situation. Are you going to die? Are you going to be in the hospital? Will it be painful? Will it require surgery? Will it require major life changes? Is treatment going to be expensive? All those questions and more run through your mind in a fraction of a moment.
As an executive, when we receive information about processes or procedures that are no longer producing effectively for our organization, we go through a very similar set of questions. How bad is it? How many of our members/customers and employees will be impacted? Are we going to survive? How long will it take for us to come back from this? Will it require major changes to how we’re operating today? How much is it going to cost us to fix it?
Just how bad is it?
There is a level of comfort human beings get from conformity. We want to know that we are not the only ones who feel discomfort or pain. This extends to business as well. This is one of the most often-asked questions of the consultants on my team. Executives want a diagnosis of the problem and then are often looking to be reassured that they are not alone in their pain. There is a reason the support group industry is a billion-dollar industry – there’s comfort in the idea that you are not alone. It can be painful to recognize that you have inefficiencies (or have them pointed out to you). You start to question your team and your own decisions: just how did we let it get this bad? But the truth is, you’re not alone. The challenges you face are common:
- Paper Consumption
Electronic content management systems have come a long way. Imaging systems these days offer robust features. However, imaging systems are expensive, and they can be a beast to convert. It takes a well-run and dedicated team to make sure your new imaging system gets set up properly to take advantage of all its bells and whistles. Oftentimes – even if you have the best of the best – you may have suffered implementation fatigue and may not have finished implementing all the super awesome pieces you saw during the sales demos. Or, maybe you had an incredibly successful imaging migration and conversion and you have a beautiful new imaging system … but your training wasn’t reinforced and your employees haven’t been held accountable for using the new system. Or maybe, at one point, there was a communication to staff that they should use paper while you worked out a bug, but no one ever told the staff the bug was fixed. For all these reasons, your staff is still using paper.
- Doublechecking Processes
Measure twice, cut once. That works well in sewing but makes for inefficient processes. Many inefficiencies are born out of processes that were designed out of a lack of trust for the system. What started as a testing or quality assurance step turns into someone’s daily task forever. When end-users “don’t trust the system,” there’s either something fundamentally wrong with the process or with the data. You should check both. Continuing to put double- and triple-check processes on top only compounds the problem.
- Saying, “We’ve Always Done It That Way”
In a legacy bank or credit union, change tends to be slow moving. Staff may have been in the same roles for 10, 20, or 30 years. However, managers who ultimately made the decisions to drive these processes could be long gone, or the reasons for them could be long forgotten. Or, processes are supposed to be temporary, but a staff change occurs during the temporary period and no one remembers why it’s being done so everyone is afraid to stop doing it.
Yesterday, I saw a post on LinkedIn claiming that “we’ve always done it that way” are the most dangerous words in business today. Some commenters agreed, some didn’t – and it occurred to me that they were all right. We tell clients answering this way is perfectly acceptable if that is truly the answer. It is completely feasible to assume that there are situations where there’s been turnover in your organization and you may have no idea why decisions were made to process in one way or another. The dangerous part of this scenario is what you do AFTER you learn that “you’ve always done it that way.” If you can dig into a process that you have been doing forever and determine that it still makes sense and it is the most efficient, then change for change sake isn’t a good idea. If, however, you dig into a process and realize it’s not the most efficient but you’re going to keep doing it that way anyway, then you could be setting yourself up for future pain. But, admitting you have a problem is the first step.
The path of least resistance is, after all, a straight line. Right? Process improvement doesn’t often take a straight line, but rather a jumbled mess. Mapping processes requires an objective eye, someone who is impartial and not afraid to challenge the norm. Sacred cows can and will drastically slow down a process and in some instances eliminate the opportunity to automate or improve. Identifying them is integral to any process improvement initiative. Once your organization has permission to talk freely about the sacred cows, it will be much easier to start to look for processes to map in a linear fashion. You have talented and intelligent people on your staff. Let them champion your change initiatives.
How did things get this out of hand?
Turnover, compliance, regulations, innovation, day-to-day life. Take your pick. How many of you are still operating today with the entire staff that you converted with? How many of those employees have photographic memories? It’s OK that your employees don’t remember every bit of their training. Heck, that’s expected. Besides, if they’re still processing the way they were at conversion, one, three, five, 10 years ago, that too would be cause for concern. You want to know that your staff has grown with the organization and the service offerings, not remained static. It’s not uncommon to see an organization that will redouble efforts on “the basics”. Making sure that everyone on the team has a good handle on the core tenants that made them successful in the first place. This is a good first step in resolution. Holding your staff accountable for their actions is a good next step, and instituting organization-wide change and process initiatives that get everyone involved will help as well.