09 Oct Developing Buy-in to New Business Processes

Virtually every executive will have experience with business processes that are implemented and then 6 months later it is discovered that few people actually use the processes at all, or they give it lip service and enter data into the system in a superficial manner. This is seen with systems that range from HR processes like semiannual performance reviews, risk reduction processes like safety audits or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) processes. This occurs despite the fact that virtually no one would argue that performance, risk reduction or customers were not important.

A common refrain from executives is that employees just resist change. However, that idea conflicts with the evidence we see around us every day. Consider the rate of change we see in society as people embrace technology in a whole range of activities outside the work place. We would suggest that people will embrace change that makes sense and they will resist change that does not add value, is poorly designed, or poorly implemented.

When it comes to implementing new business processes, we see organizations make some of the mistakes discussed previously such as relying on the system going live to make it work, or repeating training errors. However, some of the additional pitfalls include:

  • Failing to align the business process with the mandate of the business (i.e. designing a maintenance process that rewards people for doing less maintenance and then wondering why the equipment breaks down).
  • Designing a process that attempts to digitize things, which can’t be digitized (i.e. trying to articulate the relationship with a customer in drop down boxes with the idea that another account manager should be able to pick it up from the CRM program).
  • Designing the process to constrain people, to prevent them from not following the process but in doing so making it virtually impossible to operate in the real, non-linear world (i.e. making it mandatory that 3 quotes are obtained is an issue, if there are only two suppliers of the product).

The impact is often the exact opposite of the intention. A professional in a large firm with full ERP and CRM systems recently admitted that he scoped and designed his projects on an Excel spreadsheet because the “system” would not allow him to compare different scenarios. Once he finished developing the project on Excel, he would enter the bare minimum into the ERP system to cause the financials to run. However, to actively manage his project, he still worked off his spreadsheet. The result is that many of the advantages of the intended process are lost in that there in no “single version of truth” and the workload has not been reduced, it has been increased.

It may be a cliché but at the end of the day business process must work for the business, not the other way around.

Seeking to improve the utility of or adherence to business processes involves verifying that the functionality of the process supports the desired business results, and then leading and coaching participants through the learning curve. There may be a few holdouts, but then accountability practices should be used to address individuals who simply refuse to follow essential practices.

Unfortunately, a more common response is for leadership to effectively turn a blind eye to the problems with the business processes, to not address the fact that people are developing work-arounds and to not really address those people who could not be bothered with the process. This may feel expedient in that it avoids a confrontation, but it does not cause things to improve and it tends to compound other issues.