5 ways to build a killer process culture.

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‘Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.’ These wise words were spoken by Benjamin Franklin more than 200 years ago, and today they still ring true.  

To grow and advance, an organization needs a strong process culture that doesn’t just focus on tools and methodologies. It must also support the people factor in improvement. Teams should be encouraged and empowered so they become excited to facilitate change, growth and improvement.

How to diagnose a weak process culture

In an organization with a weak process culture, morale is generally low. Consider this: according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace, 60 percent of employees agree that it’s very important to them to be able to do what they do best in a role.

Yet when employees don’t feel empowered to suggest process improvements, they can’t do their jobs to the best of their ability. In organizations that have a weak process culture, teams spend more time putting out fires than working constructively — and that comes at the expense of both employee engagement and performance.

In a weak process culture, teams are often siloed, with little to no collaboration. This hinders the sharing of possible process improvements, so initiatives for change often fail.

What causes a weak process culture?

Often the exec team doesn’t clearly — or authentically — support process improvement. Bringing in external experts to promote change can also discourage employees. A change initiative might yield good results initially, but if it’s not supported consistently from the top, it will eventually lose momentum. When this happens, people become less motivated and they eventually just go back to doing things the way they used to.

For example, let’s say a company wants to empower employees to suggest process improvements. It creates a loose framework for doing this, and initially some employees step forward with suggestions for improvement. The most relevant of the processes are adopted, and employees begin to feel empowered.

But if the management team fails to consistently respond and follow through on employees’ suggested improvements, those employees will sooner or later become disenfranchised and disengaged. As a result, progress will eventually stall.

How to revive a lacklustre process culture

Fortunately, a weak process culture is a challenge that can be overcome. The following steps will help you build a strong process culture, regardless of your current state:

1. Get leadership visibly aligned with your initiative. To gain the support of your entire organization, you have to start at the top. Use data to gain the support of the C-suite, and then appoint a chief process officer (CPO) to help communicate your vision to teams across the business. With data to prove the value of continuous process improvements and a clearly visible, enthusiastic figurehead driving change, both stakeholders and employees will be more inspired to act on improvement opportunities.

2. Encourage and support process ownership. When people don’t feel responsible for processes and their outcomes, they won’t promote change. Improvement success hinges on people accepting ownership for processes. Begin by distinguishing between process owners who are responsible for the effective operating of a process, and process experts who use the process day in, day out. Provide process owners and experts with tools that facilitate the management of processes, to empower them to collaborate, and to suggest, debate and implement improvements so that continuous improvement becomes the natural state.

3. Drive structured change. Once a natural state of continuous process improvement has been achieved, it needs to become a part of the organization’s culture or people are likely to revert to old ways. Create a structure and schedule for improving processes that are implemented company-wide. For example, you can build a process forum and regularly hold improvement opportunity workshops that focus on process challenges and opportunities. Encourage a creative atmosphere where everyone participates and shares ideas, regardless of their team or department. By involving the entire organization, you can create and sustain a strong process culture across all teams.

4. Provide effective process support. Reams of technical documentation might be comprehensive — but they’re also intimidating and time consuming, especially when employees are in a time crunch. Instead, create a centralized repository of clear, easily-accessible and easy-to-understand processes that will encourage employees to use them. If processes aren’t easy to find and understand, they will not be used.

5. Keep the lines of communication open. To successfully drive change, you need to maintain a dialogue with your employees. Enable your teams to provide feedback about what does and doesn’t work. The best way to maintain a dialogue is to appoint champions of change and task them with implementing a communication plan. This plan should include elements such as celebrating successes, sharing information, fostering friendly competition, holding team-building exercises and actively managing process forums to encourage participation.

Win hearts

A culture of process improvement isn’t just a term: it’s a mindset that needs to be adopted throughout every level of your organization. When you consistently provide your teams with the tools, support and opportunities for process improvement, you can establish and maintain a winning process improvement culture that will help your organization grow and advance.