Systems and Processes

MS and SS / 25 August 2019

In the first two articles in this series, Darren explored the overall concept of healthy people and businesses and Sue and I took a more in-depth look at teams. In this article, Sue and I are going to focus on systems and processes. It sounds really dry doesn't it? But actually they are what create flow in your business. How information and tasks are organised and travel through the business. If your business were a human body, perhaps it's a little like your brain and nervous system. What you know and how that's shared through your body so that there's harmony and the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

How do you know when systems and processes are working effectively?

Your desired results are achieved. Both the business and staff expectations are met or exceeded. Your staff know exactly what they need to do and when and who to keep informed. Problems are resolved quickly and easily, and your systems and processes move with the changing focus of the business… there's an agility or responsive feel to the work environment. And everyone understands how their outputs contribute to the whole. The left hand always knows what the right is doing.

How do you know when systems and processes aren't working well?

You won't be getting the results that you want.  You may notice too little or too much bureaucracy. Your people often won't feel empowered to make effective change in the best interest of the business. People and teams will often be working in isolation. Teams are not collaborating. There may be unclear goalposts and a lot of grey areas or shady boundaries. All these things can contribute to a sense of powerlessness, and subsequent disengagement.   While it may be the systems and processes creating the issues, you may experience poor staff performance too, as a result of lack of motivation or confusion because people don't have understanding, training or clarity on what they are required to achieve and how to do it well. There might be a sense of growing stress and drama, or you might experience “creeping death”...the slow and insidious demise of a whole part of your business. If the hands were co-ordinating, they'd be doing semaphore for you to let you know that it's time to review your systems and processes.

If any of this sounds familiar, you might be wondering, “Okay, so what can I do about that?”

To begin with, it's useful to establish why things are as they currently are.  That way, when you change things, you can evaluate the impact. We can help you to help you get visibility of what's going wrong. Then support you with some creative thinking on how things could work more effectively and efficiently, helping you design and build a road map to your desired changes. And then of course we want you to be able to measure your progress, so we will work with you to design and implement a structure for successful implementation.

About 10 years ago I was involved in the major service transformation of the IT department at Thames Valley Police. I was part of a team who were re-deployed for about 18 months to introduce LEAN into the IT Helpdesk and to transform the IT department as a whole. We began with establishing the ‘now'. I remember our Head saying she wanted to understand just how ugly things were. We were fortunate to be guided through this by an inspirational governance, process and risk expert who brought our ugly into the light and then transformed it into something beautiful. And simple. And exciting. I can honestly say I never expected governance, systems and processes to be so exciting. The clarity it gave us on what we were doing and why was transformative for everyone working there as people could see what their contribution meant to the whole, and more importantly, to the people they were serving in the Thames Valley. 

The framework which underpinned everything we did was beautifully simple. It's called RACI which stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed.* In short, you can use it to re-design roles, which are then assigned to tasks in your end-to-end business processes, which will be clear to you once we've helped you to define the current picture, and the future picture (or the way you want things to work). 

What if things are broadly okay but you just want a little tweak here and there?

You might already have great systems and processes in place but just want an upgrade or update. Maybe you want to be a little slicker and smarter. Or perhaps you are launching a whole new product or service. Much of the same stuff applies.

There is an often forgotten element in redesigning your systems and processes, and that's communication. Working with your people to articulate the present and future systems and processes is crucial. You are learning from and leaning on the wisdom within your business. The understanding of what is there and what could be. And as with RACI, communicating or consulting the wider staff group and keeping everyone informed is a vital part of the process. We will support you with a facilitated learning of the new world order and work with you to create a blueprint for communicating your implementation structure so that it brings it to life for everyone who is operating it.

Why is all this important?

It's simple. Without good systems and processes, your business may fail. That's the worst case scenario. More commonly, in today's world, it's about others understanding how your business operates (inside and outside). Inside, it's setting up your people to succeed. And outside it's being accountable to lenders, auditors, governors and so on.

If you recognise that your systems and processes could do with a health check then we can facilitate workshops or meetings, supporting you to identify and create the changes that you need to sustain and nourish your business's health.

Back to that metaphor. When you review and optimise your systems and processes, your business will work like a healthy body. All parts communicating and operating together in pursuit of a common goal.

In the next in our series, we will take a look at strategy, your business' brain, and why it's so important.

*Here's a short video which explains how RACI works.

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