Do you have "half dead" processes haunting your company?

Janne Ohtonen

Many processes are like zombies. They wake up in the morning, brush their teeth, take the train ride to work and start working. For four hours they check their emails, put out fires and curse the work they do. Then, luckily, it’s time for a lunch break. Grab something to eat, read the latest news, check Facebook and feel already sad to go back to afternoon session at work. Head to office, work for four more hours, take train to home and watch TV until before going to sleep.

This sounds almost like a recap of old movie called Trainspotting. There’s no beat in their lives. There’s no passion or drive! Maybe you are thinking already that I was talking about people and not about processes? Well you might be right – but wouldn’t you like to know how you can make sure your business is not run by zombies like this?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has a phrase "themap is not the territory". Basically it means that individual people do not have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but in fact only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality.

Confused? Basically what this boils down to is that reality is what we believe it to be.

Anybody seen my process?

Similarly, when we seek to understand our processes we usually start by mapping them. But just as the "map is not the terroritory," process maps may not represent reality accurately.

Indeed, process maps often leave out one critical component – the passion and motivation of your people.

The lifeblood of processes are the actors of it – whether it’s somebody who processes payroll or the guy who writes the computer code for a robot in a car factory. It’s your people who have the potential to truly bring your processes to life.

So are your processes zombies, executing brainless tasks, or are they living and making this a place better to live and work for all of us?

Don’t worry; I won’t be going into any new age stuff or founding a new BPM religion. But here are a few thoughts on how to evaluate how alive your processes are.

To see whether the processes are alive, we need to break them apart into their main components and see how they’re doing.

Let’s start with the employees. How are they doing in your organization? Do you hear a lot of complaints, gossips, bad will, sick leaves and such? Are people eager about work and happy to come to the office in the morning (even on Monday)?

If the answer is yes, then you may have living processes. If not, then you need to go back to your leadership and find the problems and to solve them.

The second aspect of living processes is the work within the processes. People and machines execute those tasks, but it doesn’t mean that those tasks are living. Maybe they are relics left by the previous generation - they were alive at one point put have long passed their "best before date".

Are your processes continually evolving with the times? Are you learning from your experiences and coming up with new processes? Are you getting rid of old, obsolete processes? If the answer is no, it’s time to take a serious look at how you can start improving and changing?

There are many ways to kill good work: not to plan it properly, not to execute it properly, not to measure it properly, not to lead it properly and so on. To evaluate whether your work practices are alive, you need to first understand how they perform today against the customer needs and then plan how they should work. To make them living, they need to grow all the time to the direction of higher value and fit for purpose for customers.

That leads us to the most important aspect of living processes: the customers. Without customers your processes will be dead. Why? Because they serve no purpose and will kill staff morale. After all, who wants to do work that doesn’t matter to anybody?

If you are motivated by a higher purpose, you’ll usually go that extra mile to ensure it happens. The same goes for processes and we need to make sure that we all understand that serving our customers are the reason our processes exist.

As a summary, you can test whether your processes are living by evaluating how people, work and your customers are doing. These three cornerstones of living processes can help you to make achieve serious business results. We have seen double-digit improvements in revenue, profit, customer satisfaction and employee engagement through aligning these aspects.

Don’t let your processes be zombies, but revive them through finding out what is the highest value your customers are seeking from your business and realize those desires through motivated employees having the best-in-class work practices. If you aim to reach the stars, you will at least land the moon and that’s not too bad!