In a fast-changing marketplace, innovation and agility are the two ingredients to a successful business. They can be the difference between leading the market and becoming irrelevant. Innovation and agility are largely process issues. Your inability to improve your business processes will stifle any attempts at becoming more agile and innovative.
If your organization fail to address poor process culture you will not embrace the kind of continuous improvement required to embed innovation and agility into your organization’s DNA.
There are many causes of change in your organization. Some are external—shifts in customer expectations and competitor innovations are two examples. Some causes are internal—staff movements creating knowledge gaps or changes to internal systems come to mind. Regardless of the cause, such shifts demand that your organization be able to address both challenges and opportunities in a timely manner.
This in turn, require a willingness to embrace continuous process improvement. Continuous process improvement is a continuous effort to optimize the way your business processes operate, for the best possible outcomes. Being aware of change is not enough. You must act on the change. Many businesses have seen change occurring but failed to act and watched their competitive advantage in the marketplace vanish as a result. How do you create the right environment for a successful process improvement culture?
A deliberate process improvement strategy requires active support from the organization’s leaders to ensure it gets the attention needed to maintain momentum. Commitment from the top ensures that a culture of process improvement isn’t just a talking point, but a mindset adopted at every level in your organization.
Process improvement cannot be just the responsibility of management alone. Too many times I have seen organizations focus on the leaders to drive new methodologies or implement new tools, like Lean and Six Sigma, at the expense of harnessing the real engine of change—engaged teams that know the processes and have a built-in stake to improve them.
Building a process improvement culture relies on a strong sense of ownership from the people who touch the processes every day. When your people don’t feel a strong sense of ownership for their processes or the outcomes, they are not motivated to endorse change.
Employee engagement is vital for capturing, managing and improving business processes. Continuous process improvement is a culture and not a technological solution. It can’t be purchased out of a box. Notwithstanding, you can use technological tools to help facilitate and encourage the kind of innovation and agility that drives process excellence. The technology you invest in must be simple and clear for your employees to absorb and powerful enough to address complex business process issues.
Finally, your organization must be agile in today’s highly competitive marketplace. This can’t be done when your core processes are fixed in the past. Static, lost and neglected processes are a threat to your business. They cost time, money and customer satisfaction. Continuous process improvement is not a project du jour, but an ongoing commitment and repeating cycle that will enable your organization to achieve agility and innovation.
Lewis Carroll wrote “If don’t care where you’re going, any road will take you there.” But if you do care where you’re going then you need to discover and travel the right road. There is a method for helping you find that road to agility and innovation and successfully transporting you to your goals. The method is continuous process improvement.
Willie Carter has nearly four decades of continuous improvement experience, which have enabled him be a good listener, teacher, coach and leader as he helps organizations do more with less and become more agile. In addition to his consulting practice, he is on the adjunct faculty at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL.