Pressing restart to revive your organization after disruption
How a cultural shift can help organizations streamline performance and allocate resources effectively
Many will have heard the tale of how Bill Gates regrets including the ‘Control-Alt-Delete’ command in Windows, but the story may not be what you think. It is not because it is a bad command, it is just that it is a clumsy way to execute it.
In an interview with NPR, the Microsoft founder admits it is awkward to have to use both hands for the three-finger command and a single-key solution would have been better. He certainly does not have second thoughts about the command that has helped so many users overcome stuck programs, stalled apps and unresponsive computers. Sometimes a restart is exactly what is needed and that is as true in business as it is in computers.
Many companies around the world have experienced unprecedented disruptions to their business as the world responds to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing and self-isolation saw numerous organizations close offices or facilities and embrace remote work where possible, while other activities were suspended entirely.
As discussions are held about the timing and practicalities of returning to business as usual, companies have to consider what ‘as usual’ might look like in a post-pandemic world. Resuming business operations could be a perfect opportunity to restart afresh, rather than returning to the way things were.
Quite aside from global upheavals, significant changes in a company can also provide the catalyst for a restart. Changes in upper management, new systems or structures, acquisitions and mergers or even new markets can provide the impetus for a fresh look at how the business operates.
Any and all of these contexts create a turning point where it is possible to make a cultural shift. Just like restarting a stuck app or computer, it provides an opportunity to remove clutter, streamline performance and allocate resources in the most effective way
Business processes provide a degree of stability by establishing the go-to procedures for hundreds or even thousands of key business activities. However they are not set in stone and many processes are legacy artifacts, created in a different time and context.
With a pause in business operations and a significant pivot, itis the perfect time to stop and consider if the way things have always been done is still the most effective practice.
As organizations start to consider a return to work, use the opportunity to look at what gets done and by whom. Are the business group divisions reflective of your best structure? Where do the flows lead and how effective are the handoff points between teams, systems and processes? Where could automation technology reduce manual handling and eliminate user error?
When production lines pause or stop, engineers take the opportunity to check the equipment and lubricate, adjust and service the parts that are usually moving too fast to interfere with. Do the same with your processes. Invite the subject matter experts in to give their opinions on what the old documentation says and what actually happens. Get stakeholders to outline their ideal processes and invite a little ‘blue sky’ thinking.
Once you have got people thinking about better processes, keep it up. Do not settle by establishing a new status quo, as it will only date as quickly as the old one did. Create a sense of momentum towards process excellence by encouraging those who took part in reviewing the old processes to continue to cast a critical eye over what they do.
This can be achieved through focus groups, process excellence initiatives and simply day-to-day business. Establish healthy feedback loops and provide opportunities for front-line teams to have input into the way they work.
Ask your teams: Is this the way things are really done? What would make these processes faster? What would make them more accurate? How could things be done to make your work more rewarding and what is holding that back?
An environment of innovation requires ways for ideas to be heard and discussed openly and a willingness to explore new options. Create avenues for healthy dialogue about processes with the people involved in them and keep those conversations going to cement continuous improvement into the culture.
All the ideas in the world will not help if no one is willing to implement them. Empower stakeholders to make changes and give them the resources to do it. Identify process champions in the teams where they can make a difference and provide the tools to facilitate change. By assigning responsibility for process management, employees have both the authority and accountability needed to maintain velocity towards process excellence.
Consider the structures you have in place and what frameworks might help support that kind of governance. Who has permission to make process changes? How are they approved? What records and logs track the evolution of a process and what reporting is available to validate the changes? This might necessitate investing in a process management platform, but the benefit is an integral governance framework that ties process improvement to the people responsible.
Whatever the cause of a business disruption, something good can still come out of it. Rather than try to squeeze the ‘new normal’ into the old status quo, take the opportunity to look at things with fresh eyes and consider what a restart might allow for. Re-evaluate those things that have always been taken for granted and use the restart as a perfect time to refresh your processes, invest in a new culture and reorient your organization towards process excellence.