Choke-holding performance with process controls

  • More thinking needs to be placed into process design, control measures and governance
  • The challenge with processes is always balancing between form and function

Choke-holding performance with process controlsDON’T get me wrong, I am a huge fan of processes; in fact, there are too few organisations that I know with established processes.
However, I am an even bigger fan of continuous process improvements. The troubling aspects of governance, audit and process implementations are tendencies to elevate process adherence above and beyond business performance.
Concepts like audit fatigue and the curse of multi-layered documentations and approvals, as well as process upkeep, come to mind.
I was running a workshop attended by a participant from a process governance department; and with tired eyes and a rather anxious mannerism, reflected that her KPI (key performance indicator) is to sign off 500 odd process documentations within the year – just to make sure that everything’s kosher.
The challenge with processes is always balancing between form and function.
Professionals who create and manage processes will argue that there are several facets to the argument; that we are trading irregular performance spikes and dips because of risky events occurring with slightly sedated but gradually improving performance levels.

Choke-holding performance with process controls
Figure 1- Before and After Processes (The Sales Presentation)

Unfortunately; here is yet again, another one of my generalised observations of what really transpires.

Choke-holding performance with process controls
Figure 2- What happens when processes are not executed well

In a nutshell, there is a tendency to choke-hold performance because the good book says so. No arguments, critical analysis or evolution over time allowed because process administrators are from the high holy order of compliance officers – keepers of the law; comply or be excommunicated.
Processes are really that, rule or guides. The problem with that concept are that businesses are highly dynamic and the strategic execution options permute to the stage that you have the situation of the poor process analyst caught up in the maelstrom of compliance activities  – a lot of churning with little butter.

  1. You have to rely on IT; in particular Business Process Management and Automation tools
Doing everything manually, through reams of documentation is extremely slow. Especially if there are no graphical notations or even statuses and indicators of where you are in the process, what else you need to do and how far you are from the goal.
Folks who design or play strategy or role playing games (anything with a research and experience tree with mini economic models e.g. Transport Tycoon) and understand Gamification principles are usually far better process architects.
Today, there are a number of Business Process Management tools from major vendors; just call up your friendly sales consultant for a demonstration.
  1. You have to select, critically unbiased KPIs that hopefully don’t have unintended consequences
This is seriously harder said than done, and entire books surrounding KPIs and Unintended Consequences break this down. The best example that I can give is how the Balance Scorecard system has been butchered where sales professionals get the revenue quadrant while account managers get the customer satisfaction quadrant.
The reason it is called “Balance” is because it is meant to be balanced, else the unintended consequence is the situation where sales in their zeal to meet target numbers undercut prices without regard for budget sufficiency to deliver quality services vis-à-vis customer satisfaction.

The second rule of process performance KPIs is that you cannot force the team to deliver the measurements to you -- 10 out of 10 of these endeavours FAIL. Performance data needs to be – automatically and invisibly captured – back to Process Automation again.
Lastly, these performance measures need to be transparently captured over time with NO FUDGING. You can’t improve something you can’t measure truthfully.

  1. Running the gauntlet or the all-seeing eye
Running the gauntlet per the image below tends to result in checkpoints after checkpoints of questioning and proofing one’s innocence versus a continuous invisible performance data collection that allows the process to flow on.
Choke-holding performance with process controls
Figure 3– Hope differed maketh the heart sick
My point is the mere fact of capturing the issues; acknowledging them; learning and improving the processes; lead to far better outcomes than ignoring such data points and periodically whining about why it happened again. It can be bad when it blocks the execution momentum.
The worst case scenario of running the gauntlet is organisations that eschew tasks and exploiting opportunities for fear of punishment; and if there’s one KPI that I would like to place upon process departments to mitigate this, it’s: Profit growth over time.
I have no choice but to emphasise the font size because it tends to get warped into – “Cost reduction over time” or “Risk Reduction over Time”.
  1. Sacred cows are meant to be slaughtered
Process departments are not holy orders with holy books.
The idealism behind process departments are efficiency and data scientists applying statistical and economic modelling, prototyping and roll playing, operational and behavioural science, queuing formulas, IT automation, mobility, gamification theory and advance user interface design to thrust companies forward into the 21st century – NOT digitising manual forms.
Note, I am not joking about the science that is required; and admonish every single IT professional who has the intent of becoming a holy order priest because there is only one book to memorise to think very carefully about his or her career choice – change is the only constant.
  1. At the end of the day it is all about people – Trust!
Everyone has his own insecurities, value systems, priorities, talents and things that he enjoys or dislikes. Suffice to say people are different; and this tends to manifest itself awkwardly in communicating intent and objectives.
The crux to a performing organisation is trust; and hopefully more good intents versus crooked ones.
Without trust, even the best organisation with the best process systems will break because, well, people will be people.

In closing, there is a lot more thinking that needs to be placed into process design, control measures and governance. The aptitudes I am looking for are “wisdom” and “continuous learning” – the wisdom to see through the best options given possible unintended consequences; as well as the “learning” to continuously hone processes towards increasing performance.
Enough with the reams of process designs, planning, forms and consultants – just do it!
Bernard Sia is head of strategy at Mesiniaga Alliances Sdn Bhd. His opinions here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mesiniaga.
Previous Instalments:
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