Let me get something off my chest. If you’re a business owner, process is your friend.
I’ve heard too many business leaders say that process inhibits their organization’s creativity. Or flexibility. Or culture.
Hogwash! Process is a discipline that enables companies to grow and make a profit. If you don’t embrace process, you won’t have much flexibility or creativity left. Or much of a business, for that matter.
I don’t say this just because I’m an engineer, or an efficiency and effectiveness expert who has worked in plants for Toyota, Honda and other industrial giants around the world. I believe this because I brush my teeth twice a day (sometimes three). I floss. I change my clothes daily. I set my alarm the night before. Because processes – disciplined, repeated behaviours that produce specific outcomes – are key to overcoming everyday human inertia and achieving results.
It’s natural for leaders to shy away from formal processes. I get it. They fear that their innovative, consensual organization will suffocate in an avalanche of rules. They dread resistance from colleagues who distrust change. Some even fear losing their own autonomy after years of operating their business on the fly.
But the operations they see as consensual and common sense may in fact be chaotic and wasteful. Where disciplined processes are in place, everyone knows what to do and why. Without such systems, everyone may be working hard, but they may not be working together.
Here’s a case study. A mid-sized producer of telephone systems called me to solve a problem: after booking new orders, they were waiting six months for payment. When I investigated, I realized this wasn’t a cash-flow issue. It was an efficiency problem and a shortage of accountability.
Here’s what was happening. The sales team had quarterly goals, so they pushed hard only four times a year. This created fulfillment problems as the company overloaded suppliers by requesting extra components. (One saving grace: as there was no timetable for ordering parts, some calls went out late.)
There was no process for standardizing information on customers’ locations and special needs, so once the installers arrived at clients’ offices, they often discovered problems that required more cabling or specialized equipment. Finally, while the company’s invoices clearly noted “30 days net,” everyone ignored it – and the company had no process for encouraging payment.
Together we introduced clear standards for sales activity, ordering, client information and installation – and enforcing non-payment penalties. The company quickly turned around, and became the leader in its industry. Sales, which had been slipping, grew 20% in a single year.
Yes, there was resistance at first. Even the manager who hired me thought the basic problem was a too-complex business – not his failure to manage that mess. Once we showed them our solutions, everyone became proud champions of clarity and simplicity.
Systems and processes don’t create complexity – they reduce it. Where standards are absent, people generate their own processes. Chaos, it turns out, is like tooth decay: easy to prevent, but hard to fix.