I am naturally good at improving processes. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of patience for repetitive activities, but also recognizes that many are necessary and helpful (brushing ones teeth twice a day, or reviewing your actual spending vs. your budget periodically, for instance), I have always looked for ways to make the routine activities more efficient so they get done, but take less time. In my career, it is probably no surprise that I became a management consultant whose job is often to help companies standardize and improve their processes. But even in my corporate finance roles prior to then, it was a skill that I often employed, especially as it related to the less exciting and more mundane parts of my roles.
It is my hope that this series of posts will help you in you to establish standardized processes where none currently exist, or make those that do exist more efficient.
What is a process and why do we need them?
A process is a set of steps or activities that happen in a specific order to accomplish a specific end goal. Each process that you employ helps you achieve an end goal – whether it is finding customers, delivering your product or service, closing your books, or any other activity that is necessary to run your business. The better you define your processes, the more efficient and effective you will be with your time and energy and resources. Most businesses have a set of core processes, or those that are critical to the main business activities, and a set of supporting processes, which are often called “back office processes”, and support the core business.
Processes define the way we do things and the order in which we do them. When we execute the process in the same way every time it allows us to accomplish the activity more efficiently. Instead of just making up the steps as you go along to reach the same end goal each time you need to complete the activity, which is called an “ad hoc process”, writing down all the steps of the process in the order in which they take place helps you to create structure which then in turn helps you to complete the activity more efficiently.
Defined standard processes help you to focus. If you are not having to re-create or re-familiarize yourself with the steps each time you sit down to execute the process, you will be more focused and efficient as you are completing the steps. If you know that the most efficient way for you to prospect is to call 5 new people a day and set up 5 networking events or meetings per week that you then attend, you will get really good at making those calls every day and knocking out that activity. Likewise, if you have a defined process for closing your books every month and know that it is an activity that will take place on the first day of the next month, once you get the steps down, you will become more and more efficient at getting it done and out of the way so you can then focus your attention on more “fun” or “interesting” activities, while still getting this very necessary work done.
Defined standard processes take the guesswork out of the work. While there are likely some areas of your business that lend themselves to being more creative, there are many activities that need to take place to keep your business running effectively. If you define what the steps are to get that work done so it can be done the same way every time, it will take the guesswork out of how you accomplish those activities, which in turn makes them more efficient and will take less time to complete. This gives you more time to focus on the activities in the business that you enjoy and that are more creative in nature.
Defined standard processes allow you to leverage others. Another advantage of defining standard processes is that you can then have others help you complete those tasks to the same standard, which frees you up even further to work on the aspects of the business that you most enjoy and where you can add the most value.
Defining your processes allow you to clearly assign responsibility and communicate it to others. As you define your processes and write down the steps, you can also determine who is responsible for each step. This allows for clear communication about each individual’s role in the process and who is responsible for what, which is very important if there are multiple people involved in executing the process. Many processes break down in the transition from one individual to the next, especially when those transitions are not clearly understood or communicated.
Optimizing your processes positions you to grow your company while adding minimal additional resources. To the extent you can standardize your core and supporting processes, and assuming you do this in a way that is also scalable, it will position you to be able to add more customers or clients and to sell more products and services without adding additional people to manage the activities of the business.
As you can see, there are many benefits to taking the time and expending the effort to step back and define the processes that your business most often employs. It will make you more efficient, help to stretch your resources further, free you up to focus on the aspects of the business you most enjoy, ensure your business runs smoothly, help you leverage others and hold them accountable for their pieces of the process, provide a communication aide so everyone knows the role they are meant to play in accomplishing the organization’s objectives, and will position your business for growth.
In future installments in this series, we will review how you define, document, and improve your business processes.
I would love to hear from you. In the comments below, share with us the business process you feel you most need to improve this year.