Organizational inertia in process excellence

Sanket Deo


Is moving an organization in the right direction simply a case of using the right amount of force? Image: Shutterstock

It would be a fair assumption that most of the wider business fraternity understands a firm’s key business processes and their importance in driving business growth and outcomes.

Business processes are of course key to success when looking to meet ever changing customer demands, delighting them and thereby building capabilities and confidence in the market. Big or small, organizations of all sizes at some point take the path of business process improvement or process excellence – with an eye towards tangible results.

From my experience, whilst process excellence and technology transformations have been structurally supported by a variety of frameworks, implementation of lifecycles and/or methodologies, there needs to be equal attention paid to the area of “organizational inertia” with regards to the human assets of the company. Exploring this further, I feel it is a dedicated interest or research area in itself.

As the literature would state, an organizational inertia is the tendency an organization develops over time to continue in its own state of business as usual (BAU) operations. To me, it is a key component of organizational culture and is the face or personality of the company. It is one of the key reasons behind “resistance to change”. If the processes are to be improved and then sustained, positive changes in organizational culture, people’s behaviors and organizational tools, systems, policies, and so on, are all implied. For this very reason, the management and leadership teams driving process excellence programs and initiatives should weigh up how much and what sort of inertia their firm is experiencing.

In my view, organizational inertia to process excellence can fall into one or more of four types. They are listed below with their commonly observed characteristics.

● Reactive

Culture and people in these firms tend to oppose process change at first, but have their ears and eyes open all the time. As soon as a pilot or an initiative in another team or function has shown some positive results, they are quick to latch onto process excellence. They are then committed to it. They have the required skills and experience to foresee and realize the BIG PICTURE in the long run. The likelihood of process changes and improvements getting institutionalized is therefore high.

● Resistive

Process excellence and its potential are not appreciated by leaders and process managers in these firms. Managers strongly believe that the ways of working within the teams are “best forever” and that the inefficiencies are almost non-existent. Any attempts or scientific approaches to study, analyze or explore existing processes are not encouraged, except in few compliance or auditable circumstances. Decision makers are happy as long as this firm’s bottom line is not impacted and process improvements are at least a priority. They are ready to accept existing risks and live with them, unless they are big enough to be noticed.

● Proactive

Process excellence and the need to improve or change are championed with a dedicated focus in this firm. Leaders have the right mix of people who are constantly measuring the status quo and exploring new opportunities to continuously improve processes. A long term roadmap, business objectives linked to process goals, and well structured process improvements are a common site!

● Adaptive

Process changes and waves of process excellence are too frequent but easier to implement in this type. A new label or a campaign to set out on a journey excites the people in these firms. This is primarily because of their readiness to change and experiment, as well as the fact that earlier changes and improvements were not sustained. People’s behaviors, their ways of working, and therefore their process capabilities, have gone backwards very quickly. This type of firm is quick to change and improve in the short run, but at times it can become too chaotic without having a sustenance plan in place. These types can be based along two parameters of:

● Ability to obtain long term sustenance of process improvements; and

● Organizational willingness to make positive changes to improve business processes


Just like many other things in our life, a little bit of everything makes up a neat-n- tidy family. The best of extremes and a combination of two worlds will comprise real-life organizational inertia for most of these firms.

Exploring and analyzing organization’s inertia to process excellence has twofold benefits:

1. To cut-out a tailor made approach and detailed customized plan of work, to process improvements with outcomes in mind;

2. To better address resistance and generate ‘buy-in’ during process improvements.

Furthermore, senior management and decision makers can make more informed decisions during their process excellence journey that suits their firm’s inertia. That, in essence, would mean the use of ‘right amount of force’ to move the organization in the right direction and gain desired ‘momentum’ for process excellence – as per the law of physics.

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