In today’s business vernacular, process improvement efforts are aimed at refining the quality, cost, throughput, or scalability of work. However, limiting the role of processes to merely the foundation for efficiency efforts is a mistake.
Enterprise-wide processes are the unique way by which an enterprise delivers value for its customers. In essence, it is an enterprise’s secret sauce—the roadmap that directs employees on how to consistently deliver a specific product or customer experience. Every enterprise is a collection of processes that work together (and not uncommonly against each other) to produce the enterprise’s outputs.
Process Documentation to Specify Roles
Customer Focused Process Innovation: Linking Strategic Intent to Everyday Execution (McGraw Hill, 2014) explains how the utility of processes can extend beyond traditional uses. In fact, processes are often used to clearly specify the roles individuals perform. For example, if you truly want to understand the responsibilities of an employee, it only makes sense to document the processes they perform, including:
- What are the steps they undertake?
- What are the skills and knowledge needed?
- Who do they partner with to be successful? And processes serve equally well to understand an individual’s performance.
- What quality of output did they deliver?
- How much did they produce?
- How well did the process perform before and after their engagement?
Indeed, documenting and managing processes provides clarity to the roles and responsibilities of individuals across an enterprise. Even though processes may be documented, roles are not defined via a brainstormed wish list of qualifications created during a 10-minute meeting with a manager. Rather, they are based on the specific work activities executed by the performer.
Meanwhile, a primary goal of an HR department is to place individuals in roles that are aligned to their qualifications. The clarity and specificity delivered by processes can encourage HR leaders to examine new ways to capitalize on what a process perspective can provide.
Process Documentation to Stimulate L&D Efforts
Processes are well established as tools for communicating the step-by-step work performed on a regular basis. When process documentation is unavailable, employees are left to fend for themselves—especially when it comes to the specific details for their responsibilities. In lieu of guidance, they either invent routines to follow or they mimic what their co-workers do. In either case, the results rarely align to exactly what the leadership would want to occur.
In contrast, when processes are actively managed, incorporated into training, and documentation is up to date, the specifics of work activities are immediately visible. Learning and development (L&D) organizations are well-positioned to promote the use of processes and inject this specificity into work descriptions. As leaders in building skills and knowledge across the enterprise, they can both require and facilitate the documentation of primary processes.
Likewise, instructional designers can use these documented processes as the foundation for educational programs aimed at developing critical skill bases in the workforce. And at the core of such training should be a process curriculum crafted to deliver process know-how to a wide audience of leaders and managers.
Process Documentation to Invite Innovation
However, the benefits of process documentation should never be restricted to solely defining roles and building learning curriculums. Process improvement is the creation and implementation of improvements across operations. The first step of any improvement effort is to investigate what is occurring today. The resulting foundational view is the stepping stone to the hard work—repetitive ideation until a solution is uncovered that is superior to the status quo.
This is an area where L&D organizations are uniquely positioned to spur innovation. By using actual processes as the content for training courses, instructional designers can capture new ideas from their audience. In effect, this transforms training from an isolated educational experience into a think tank of sorts—leveraging all training attendees to conceive new improvement ideas.
Leaders across the enterprise can even request the L&D team include specific processes in their training to encourage new ideas for their areas. Armed with the situational basics, learners can attack problems without the baggage of prior history with the subject material. This is a perfect storm for innovation—individuals recently trained in process basics and unfettered by situational limitations.
Ideally, trainers capture the improvement ideas and route them to the appropriate leader or manager for further investigation. In this way, training sessions are not only educational; they also are breeding grounds for creativity. It is a fantastic way to engage employees, foster organizational awareness, and build a culture of continual improvement.
Bottom line: as a means to define work, processes can act as a medium to communicate role responsibilities and as a framework upon which to build organizational improvements. As overseers of the knowledge base of an enterprise, L&D is well-positioned to promote processes and ensure the enterprise capitalizes on their potential.