Taking over as Process Excellence leader? Ten things you must do in the first 90 days

What you learn about your company in the first couple of months as Process Excellence leader is critical to determining how effective you'll be, argues contributor Debashis Sarkar. Here are the 10 things you can't afford to not to know about your company.

So you are just about to take up a new job as process excellence leader in a company. Congratulations, you’ve just entered a role where you have the ability to help your company get better financial results, make life at work easier for your co-workers, and transform the way that your company serves its customers.

Process excellence can be a powerful force for good in an enterprise, but many new process excellence leaders struggle to make their presence felt in the business, leading to frustration and sub-optimal results.

That’s why it’s critical that you use your first couple of months on the job focusing on what’s most likely to set you up for success.

So what are the things that you need to do in the first 90 days to makes sure your landing in the organisation is smooth landing and you start making impact? Here are the ten things you must know about your company:

#1: Know your company’s performance

Begin by going through the company’s annual reports to understand its performance over the last few years. Focus on metrics as revenue, cost, cash-flow, gross profit margin, net-profit margin, inventory turnover, return-on-equity, working capital, accounts payable, accounts receivable etc.

The relevance of the metrics could be based on the industry that your company is in.

Beyond financial metrics focus ascertain the performance on customer satisfaction, employee engagement, corporate social responsibility etc. The effort should to have a feel on what’s going on well for the company and what needs improvement.

# 2: Know your board members

While you may not have interaction with the board members on an on-going basis, it helps to know them especially if you need to take the board through an enterprise-wide change program which needs their blessings. Having known the names of the board members it helps to know their views on change programs. This will help you to prepare for possible questions in case in you need to take your change-program through them.

#3: Know your company’s products and services

Spend some time getting to know the various products and services your company offers and their contribution to overall revenue. For the key products ascertain their stage (launch-growth-maturity-decline) in a product-life-cycle curve. I always use the BCG’s growth-share matrix to place the various products in one of the four quadrants designated as dogs, cash-cows, question marks and stars.

What this does is make sure that your "process improvement" efforts are focussed in the relevant product areas. It does not make sense to focus on products / services which are not relevant for company’s overall performance. While looking at products do not forget to get an idea on their distribution and delivery system that takes it to the customers.

#4: Know your key competitors

This is an important exercise to know the key competitors on how they perform on key metrics. Especially ascertain how do customers perceive their products or services and how does you company’s offerings compare with them in eyes of customers. Probe deep to understand what makes the competitor’s products better in the eyes of the customers. Is it price, user experience, reliability, features, after sales-service etc.

#5: Know your key customer issues

Look at all the customer issues being faced by the company. Browse through customer complaints, feedback and what makes the customer unhappy today. Try to unfurl specific chronic issues that are unresolved for quite some time.


#6: Know your company’s core processes

Understand the core processes of the company and those that directly help in achieving the strategic business objectives. Ascertain the "state" of each of these processes and where they are on a maturity continuum. Specifically, see if there are metrics to ascertain their health on an on-going basis.

#7: Know your company’s track record of change programmes

During formal and informal interactions with leaders understand the past experience with change program. Were they successful, what are the challenges and what were the critical success factors? Ascertain if there are any other change program currently underway.

#8: Know your process change capabilities

Take stock of whether there are trained resources who can be involved in process improvement efforts. These resources could be green belts, black belts, lean change agents, jonahs etc.

#9: Know the influencers and the detractors

Keep your eyes and ears open to pick up clues on leaders or individuals whom you need to take on board to make the change program successful. Also, find out individuals who could be potential detractors in your change program. It’s imperative to make a list of these influencers and detractors in your notebook. Remember, influencers and detractors can be at any level of the company.

#10: Know what you see

While you go around the company keep observing and listing what you see. Look for both the obvious and more subtle things going on in the workplace. Things that you could observe could be inventory pile-up, lack of alignment, disorganized offices, customer queues, charts / graphs etc. Remember, your observation does not end in 90 days but it sets the tone of what you would be doing going forward.

During the first 90 days make it a point to write down everything that you gather. Take copious notes and go through them at the end of everyday.

While the company may have an on-boarding plan for you, it is imperative that you make your own focus areas. Be a bit pushy and reach out to people to understand both the explicit and implicit things of the company. Your main objective in the first 90 days should be to know the company and the elements that can contribute towards your process improvement endeavour.

What do you think? Are there other things that Process Excellence Leaders must learn about their company in their first 90 days on the job? What else is critical to your success?