Are You Getting Down & Dirty To Make Your Business Processes Work?

July 29, 2015

We all know that every company needs business processes no matter how big or small. But often these processes are baffling and leave you wondering who on earth was responsible for putting them together. Generally all of the business processes are done too far up the food chain and don’t consider real life situations.

I was talking to the MD of a £5m manufacturing business recently when he was covering for his Factory Manager, who was on holiday. The MD was loving the chance to get back on the shop-floor, get his hands dirty and catch up with colleagues he first met many moons ago. Whilst he was there they encountered a situation where they had to get a delivery out at very short notice and rather than diving in feet first he took a rather different approach. He decided to:

  • Let the guys on the shop-floor work out how best to meet the deadline through tried & tested business processes. He was aware that this is what they do on a daily basis so they knew better than he did;
  • Support the team by removing blockages and providing the necessary resources. They knew where he was and that if he was needed at any point that he was available and approachable.

I had to salute him for his management common sense. As an MD he isn’t supposed to know everything, so diving into the situation with a “command and control” attitude would have messed things up big style and he would of lost the respect of his team which wouldn’t have been good in the short or long term. He had confidence that the business processes in place had been created by the people who knew the job inside out.

Spookily at the same time I picked up the following article from the Harvard Business Review which endorsed the MD’s approach:

  • When managers set the way business processes work they are at risk of creating inefficiency and possible disaster;
  • Involve workers at all levels to help in the business processes design and testing – then “thinking about making the job get done better” becomes part of everybody’s job;
  • The example at the bank to me shows the common problems, one of which is that organisations don’t get down and dirty on the front-line and apply real life common sense to their procedures.

If you are a boss or manager and want to involve the front-line in making the job get done better, but don’t know where to start then try out these first steps:

  • Pick a part of the business that is small in terms of people involved and impact on the business;

  • If the people in that team are known to you and are up for working with you then even better;

  • Invite them to join you for an hour in one of your meeting rooms;

  • Buy a big roll of brown wrapping paper and a load of Post-it notes;

  • Put a length of the paper up on a wall – get about 2-3 metres length if possible;

  • Ask the team to use the Post-its to describe how the current business processes work in reality in their part of the business (not how it’s supposed to work);

  • Use pens to join the Post-its in the right order.

    Business Processes

Once the process map is complete and the team are happy that it’s a reasonable picture of how the job gets done, ask the team the following questions:

  • How could we make things happen quicker?

  • Where in the business processes do things get stuck?

You will get ideas flowing from the team. The next step is to work out how to make changes happen but bear in mind the shop-floor are there to help you.

I hope this blog has given you plenty of food for thought. If you are really looking to go back to basics and assess where your business is at then why not take our 4 Discipline Check?