Drive along a road riddled with potholes and you will find yourself concentrating heavily on the path immediately in front of you. You slow your pace as you swerve to avoid the ruts that can destroy the tires and suspension of your vehicle. A long road such as this will make for a very uncomfortable and tiresome journey and it will take you much longer than you anticipated. Switch over to the smoother lane and you see that you can relax, focus farther ahead and increase your speed substantially. In this mode, you’ll get to your destination faster, more safely and more rested.
Many businesses find themselves in this situation. The leaders convinces themselves that the business needs to remain flexible in order to achieve speed. Conceptually, that seems to be a true statement, but too often, we couple that attitude with a determination to avoid implementing any systems and standardized processes. While this assures maximum flexibility, it also generates confusion that slows the business down, just as the potholes do.
Each time another member of the organization tries to figure out another way to do the same thing that someone else already stumbled through; he or she takes precious time away from performing productive work and diverts it to reinventing the wheel, or patching the potholes. The point of focusing on processes and systems is to streamline and automate work to help your team accomplish more without the distraction of simply trying to figure out how to accomplish even mundane tasks.
For a process or system to be useful or meaningful, it simply needs to define the steps needed to accomplish a task or process. That does necessarily require a complex and potentially expensive information technology solution. Sometimes, a documented procedure can do the job. Of course, the more time and the more people involved in any process, the more likely a technology solution will be the right answer. In this modern world of “there’s an app for that”, a surprising number of simple tools exist that are often free. These tools can enable personal work productivity and time management, customer relationship management, calendar scheduling and a lot more. The solution to a process problem may be right in front of you – and it may even be free.
The ride on the smooth side of the road was possible because someone took the time to build a solid foundation and laid a good surface on it. The result is you are able to enjoy the ride, go faster and keep your eyes focused far ahead. Apply the same concept to your business. Keep a watchful eye on how work and information flows through the organization, where the bottlenecks are and you’ll find opportunities for defining and automating processes. Your goal is to build a productive operating apparatus that can serve your customers as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
This allows you to grow faster and stay focused on accomplishing your vision and mission for your customers. Contrary to the belief of those who want to retain flexibility by not working on systems and processes, it enables you to adapt more easily to the dynamics of the market and your customers’ evolving needs. People bogged down trying to figure out how to do something will not cope well with sudden changes requiring them to do something new that is equally undefined. Next to well-defined processes, you need well-motivated people to manage them. Drive them crazy with chaos and mercurial change, and you’ll be digging lots of potholes to slow your journey down.