Despite growing to 15 locations, Dick and Mac McDonald lacked the vision to form a business model that could scale to national success. Yet, all of that changed when Ray Kroc—along with his new work processes—stepped inside a McDonald’s. Kroc, a former milkshake machine salesman, developed a business prototype that franchisees anywhere could implement. He instituted systems that ensured quality control and brand uniformity. After buying the brothers out in 1961, Kroc sold his model and opened 100 more restaurants nationwide. Today, according to Statista, there are over 40,000 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide that still operate under Kroc’s work processes.
When growth is stunted, leaders often believe their talent, or lack thereof, is to blame. In these cases, many companies enter a vicious cycle of firing people, hiring new talent, and burning through costly training programs. This leads to wasted time, effort, and company dollars, with little to no progress toward business goals.
More commonly, dysfunctional or absent internal work processes are what hold companies back from scaling to greater heights. Break the cycle of hemorrhaging money and time by discovering how to implement and optimize business processes that drive real growth.
- Efficient work processes within a larger system are critical for scaling and profitability.
- Streamlining workflow steps enable employees to work effectively while saving the company time and money.
- Work processes mitigate mistakes, duplicate efforts, frustration, and turnover.
- Encouraging employees at all levels to share issues and solutions creates process improvement.
What Are Work Processes?
Work processes are a series of defined steps that ensure any repeatable action within a business is carried out efficiently. The goal of work processes is to simplify and streamline work, reduce guesswork and mistakes, increase productivity, and achieve desired outcomes.
A company’s work processes are a component of larger systems. Systems encompass everything that works together, including the business processes, to drive the organization forward. The people and teams, technology, and communication systems are all included in a business system. If the work processes, technology, and people work effectively, the system is strong. If any one of those components is weak, the system will fail.
4 Reasons Work Processes Are Necessary
“What you are aiming to do inside your business is not solving a problem once, but solving every single problem you come across forever.”Dr. Tamer Shahin
Business operations can go awry quickly without an organized system of rules, procedures, and guidelines. Furthermore, a lack of structure can cultivate poor corporate culture, affecting talent retention and attraction. An SHRM study revealed that one in five employees quit their jobs because of toxic work culture. Glassdoor also states that 50% of prospective candidates said they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation.
Employees at a company with bad work processes will experience poor communication, signs of burnout, and low productivity. On the other hand, the benefits outlined below demonstrate why it’s important to have good process management.
1. Work Processes Communicate Strategy
Employees want to know what their company’s vision and strategy for achieving it are. This helps them understand how their role and efforts fit into the bigger picture and the ways they may need to pivot. Yet, 93% of employees don’t feel clued in. Having a transparent working process not only helps ensure work efficiency but also communicates the overarching strategy.
Communication problems related to poor work processes:
- Incorrect assumptions
- Siloed teams
- Poor working relationships
- Duplicated work
- Cost increases
2. They Define Workflow
According to Clockify, repeated tasks account for about 10% of an employee’s time at work. For a company with 500 employees, this can cost millions. For this reason, it’s essential to have a mapped-out workflow.
When there’s no standardized workflow, it’s natural for employees to draw on their own experiences and judgments to improvise as they go. While this may be okay in the short term, a dysfunctional workflow will mean everyone is achieving desired outcomes differently, which can have long-term consequences.
Five problems caused by a dysfunctional workflow:
- Hacks, workarounds, and ad hoc processes
- Lack of scalability
- Wasted effort, training, and company dollars
- Poor work quality
3. They Reveal Issues
According to an Experian report, 95% of leaders admit that insufficient data and poor quality work are the cause of their performance issues. If your company is experiencing performance issues or lags, ask where systems and people are getting stuck. Where is poor decision-making taking place? Understanding the problems is one of the key components of process improvement.
Three indicators of work process issues:
- There are several incomplete projects or unfinished deliverables
- Deadlines keep getting pushed back
- Necessary steps are being skipped, causing mistakes
4. They Ensure Consistent Outcomes
When employees follow the same steps and procedures, outcomes become repeatable, reliable, and consistent. For instance, Solutions Review reports that sound business processes can increase your productivity by 30–50%.
Work processes boost productivity by:
- Allowing for better team collaboration and communication
- Ensuring that the right people are in the right roles
- Mitigating repetitive or duplicative tasks
How to Improve Work Processes
1. Analyze and Map the Current Process
The first step in improving business processes is analyzing current processes. However, it’s essential to do so while keeping in mind that changing processes affects your employees, and without their support and input, it won’t work.
To begin analyzing your current work processes:
- Interview and observe your team.
- Determine if employees feel comfortable sharing problems they see.
- Ask team members about processes or steps they’re frustrated with.
- Consider where the accountability lies for addressing work process problems.
- Examine where costs and quality for specific tasks increase or decrease.
- Assess which steps in the process seem to cause delays or mistakes.
A visualized flow chart for process mapping can also help reveal areas of process weakness, exposing opportunities to optimize. Layla Pomper, a process consultant and CEO of ProcessDriven, explains, “To do the mapping, grab a piece of paper and a pencil and just start mapping out the steps in the process as far as you can see them. Try not to get too detailed, just map the big picture steps in about 20 minutes.”
2. Use Insight to Redesign Your Processes
Using the insight you’ve gathered during the analysis process, begin redesigning your business processes. Is there a particular step that trips employees up? If so, consider alternative solutions. Additionally, if there is a process everyone seems to be doing differently, analyze each person’s systems and create a streamlined process.
As new ideas and work processes are considered, be sure to also monitor the potential for risks. You can do this by conducting a risk analysis.
How to conduct a risk analysis:
- Identify any risks: With any new business process comes the potential for certain “risks.” These risks could be financial, operational, technical, or more. Consider all risks there could be with a new work process.
- Determine threat likelihood and impact: Not all risks are equal. Some risks may have a greater probability or impact than others. Weigh each risk out carefully as you redesign.
- Consider how to manage likely risks: Some risks can’t be avoided. In these cases—especially for risks with a high likelihood of occurring—consider how you’ll manage them and have a plan in place.
- Determine which risks to avoid entirely: If the risk is too great or the high-risk activity offers no substantial benefit, try to avoid the risk entirely.
- Accept certain risks: If nothing can be done to mitigate or avoid certain risks, it’s best to accept them and prepare accordingly.
3. Gather Resources and Leadership Support
“While it has a big payoff in the longer term, process improvement is disruptive to everyday work and expensive in people’s time,” explains TheProcessConsultant. “You will need the enthusiastic support of the managers of those involved.”
When you have a redesigned work process, it’s time to communicate it to senior leadership to get any approvals. Your new department processes may require new technology, a new team member, more training, or more materials. Communicate the new work process and foster support for it. In some cases, you may need to present a business case for your new proposed work processes.
Five steps by Asana for preparing a business case:
- Include input from stakeholders and relevant teams in the case.
- Present the purpose, finances, and risks first.
- Do a test run of the business case by presenting it to a lower authority first.
- Make any refinements to the business case.
- Present the case for new process management, and lead with “why.”
4. Incorporate Employees in the Business Process Rollout
Once the new work processes have been communicated, presented, and approved, it’s time to implement them. Incorporating employees at this stage will cultivate accountability and investment.
Business coaching firm The Effective Syndicate outlines four things to communicate with employees:
- Method: What is the exact sequence of steps that should be followed?
- Takt time: How often does this sequence of steps need to be completed?
- Cycle time: What is the total time this process will take to complete?
- Standard WIP: What technology or other resources will be needed?
At first, employees may resist change. Embrace this and lean into any questions or challenges that arise in new work processes. Additionally, encourage employees to share issues they see so the process will be continually improved.
5. Observe and Refine the Process
Once new work or department processes have been implemented, observe them. Are previous areas of weakness or deficiency now operating successfully and consistently? Are new areas of weakness emerging, prompting refinement? Examine the work process, make any adjustments, and relaunch if needed. It may be necessary to refine and relaunch several times before a new work process is truly optimized.
“We go back to the map stage. We delete an extra step. We go to the equipment stage again. We could delete a template that we no longer need. And then we go back to the try stage. We complete this feedback loop again and again, and that is process improvement,” shares Layla Pomper at ProcessDriven.
3 Examples of Excellent Corporate Work Processes
Focusing the lens on systems versus people, the philosophy behind the Toyota Production System aims to continuously examine ways to improve the way work is done. The system, also called The Toyota Way, is significant because it empowers employees to identify and communicate problems immediately so that they can be solved as soon as possible.
Jeffrey K. Liker, a professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan and author of The Toyota Way, says, “Every team member has the responsibility to stop the line every time they see something that is out of standard. That’s how we put the responsibility for quality in the hands of our team members.”
Henry Ford understood that streamlining repetitive assembly steps to save the worker time was the most efficient way to mass produce a product. His introduction of the first assembly line work process with a moving conveyor belt was therefore revolutionary for the automobile industry in the early 1900s.
Although the new work process was initially effective, difficult timing protocols and boring work drove employees elsewhere. Ford saw this as an opportunity to strengthen his workforce and introduced the five-dollar workday, which was double the salary of other vehicle companies. Ford history states that workers from around the country then made their way to work on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company. “Fordism,” a concept of large-scale assembly line work at higher wages, was soon adopted by other industries.
3. General Electric
The GE Workout Program, created under the direction of former CEO Jack Welch in the 1980s, was a bold framework aimed at breaking down common company barriers to success. The program cultivated a space void of rank, title, and geography, empowering employees at all levels to contribute to process improvement. The “workouts” are highly focused sessions involving large numbers of employees sharing ideas and solutions collaboratively over the course of several days.
The GE Workout Program is a simple concept any business can employ. Wolf Management Consultants notes it has also brought notable success to many other larger companies like IBM and General Motors.
Optimize Your Workflows (And Your Bottom Line) With Process Management
“By definition, process improvement is about changing the way people work.”ian james
Work processes streamline work and strengthen decision-making, helping companies reach short and long-term goals. Work process management tools and software can be incredibly effective for getting teams across the finish line. Because of this, they can be one of many excellent first process improvement steps before tackling more extensive workflow improvements.
A few of the best process improvement tools for an optimized workflow:
Implementing new business processes and software company-wide can be overwhelming at first. For this reason, it’s best to start small and build your way toward more complicated processes later. “Choose a short and relatively simple process to start with,” says Ian James, host of the YouTube channel The Process Consultant. “Learn from it before you move on to more complex processes.”
Continue taking your company to the next level by learning how to lead using the 4 Functions of Management.
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- “The Moving Assembly Line and the Five-Dollar Workday.” Ford Corporate, https://www.corporate.ford.com/articles/history/moving-assembly-line.html. Accessed 20 Sept. 2022.
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