Fri | Sep 20, 2019

Flawed processes wasting employees' time

Published:Sunday | July 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Francis Wade, Sunday Business Columnist

Why is it that your company's employees seem so stressed, have so much to do, and never seem to get ahead?

Part of the reason may be that your internal processes aren't working. This causes well-meaning employees to compensate for a failure to implement process management.

Core, cross-company processes are, perhaps, the most difficult to manage, as I mentioned in this column, dated August 18, 2013.

The fact that they include more than one function means that no one is in charge of end-to-end work streams, apart from the CEO. With no one having complete visibility, each department does what's best for itself, resulting in suboptimal decisions.

While the head of each unit may believe that he/she is doing a fine job, he/she could be causing cross-functional processes to break without ever knowing it.

When a company lacks a structured way to manage, measure, improve and monitor core process activity, the results are inevitably chaotic.

Unfortunately, it's a problem that affects all firms in Jamaica which have grown beyond a certain size, just past the point where a single 'big man' can keep tabs on every single employee's tasks. Theorists believe that number to occur at the 125-150 headcount mark.

What is surprising to find are the actions hardworking employees take to compensate for weak internal process management. Here are a few of their tactics:

Employee Tactic No. 1 - they avoid departments altogether:

If they can get away with it, smart employees will do their best to bypass departments which are causing process problems.

Diligent employees craft their own manual workarounds, just because they don't trust the process, and/or a particular unit. It takes a can-do spirit and some creativity to make this work, which means that it's often the best employees who are beating the system.

However, don't believe for a minute they are stealing or being insubordinate - they are taking practical steps to keep customers happy and cash flowing the way it should.

Employee Tactic No. 2 - they work overtime:

To ensure that broken processes work, employees often put in extra "checks and balances", plus additional steps, to make sure the important stuff doesn't fall through the cracks.

All these activities take extra time, which means they spend additional effort and energy just to get regular work done.

Companies unaware

Most companies are unaware of these issues and their true scope. They don't attempt to fix the process problem because they are rarely understood in their proper context.

Many mistakenly blame employees for not following the process, or not working hard enough.

In companies that do implement process management, these dilemmas are readily solved. The primary reasons are fourfold:

1. Process issues don't become permanent. Over time, and in regular process team meetings, problems that crop up are dealt with using data that's collected on process performance. When everyone is in the room and a disciplined process is used, the team is able to share information that crosses the entire company.

As they do so, the shared knowledge of how these processes work improves, and with it, people can take small actions that solve big problems.

2. Employees stop creating their own workarounds, and instead put their faith in process management efforts. They learn there's a forum to solve these problems, and they put their efforts into documenting issues them effectively.

This engages employees at the right level, doing the right things.

3. Process management never involves all employees at the same time, simply because of its one-at-a-time, laser-focus on core processes.

To involve all employees immediately, companies can teach them how to improve the process they use to manage time demands, and to play the game of continuous improvement in this area. It's one way for them to be more effective doing their jobs, while continually balancing their home and work lives.

4. Companies don't make the mistake of buying new technology until all other solutions have been exhausted. Long before a decision is made to automate, a team should examine the process for manual improvements.

This ensures that before being automated - at great expense - a process has already been streamlined, so the costs and benefits of the investment are well-understood.

Too many Jamaican firms buy new technology and try to change their company to fit it, an effort that is doomed to fail.

Local executives, who don't understand the need for process management or the culture it engenders, continue to place unnecessary pressure on their best employees.

Getting them to work harder is not the answer - only the intelligent application of process management principles will make persistent problems go away.

Executives are sometimes unwilling to face the truth. Their employees are demotivated not because they are inherently lazy, but because they are tired of being frustrated by the same problems day after day.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com