by Andrew Filev

Let front-line workers champion your process

Aug 31, 20186 mins
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

Technology, data and culture can drive continuous improvement that compounds over time.

3 champions standing on top of mountain winner triump
Credit: Thinkstock

My Christmas has come in July for the last three years. That’s when Wrike’s product team holds its annual hackathon, where mixed teams of engineers, UX designers, project managers, and analysts spend 24 hours developing new features and improvements to our platform. They pull out all the stops and test the limits of rapid prototyping to develop concepts, and this year, 20 of the 24 teams were greenlit for production. It’s not necessarily an exercise meant to deploy new features, but rather to get engineers exploring the possibilities of emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

We put a new twist on the hackathon this year by giving teams the option to point the lens inward and develop improvements to our internal processes. One of the hackathon winners developed a new process for deploying beta features to our customers and brought new order to an important function of our business.

One of the disadvantages of being in the C-suite is that we’ll never experience the day-to-day pains of our workforce in the way that they do. Sourcing process improvements from the bottom up is critical for leaders who want to optimize efficiency and bring excellence to their operations – while also staving off some of the biggest causes of stress and turnover in teams.

In a culture of excellence, everyone is a process consultant

A survey we conducted at Wrike about Operational Excellence last year found that managers have a much sunnier view of operations in their company than frontline workers. Management was about 52 percent more likely than non-management to “strongly agree” that their organization has a culture of excellence, whereby they constantly improve their work, and 27 percent more likely to say their organization operates with greater efficiency than their top competitor.

Managers were also about 27 percent more likely to agree with the statement “my teams could handle a 20 percent increase in workload,” suggesting that management’s views of the situation on the ground could be causing them to pile more work onto already stressed workers.

It’s essential that frontline workers are allowed to be their own process consultants, and in the C-suite, it’s our job to empower them to come up with solutions to their own work pains. We can support them with platforms to reduce inefficiencies and design workflows, and also by ensuring they have access to the tools they need to do analyze data for their jobs and keep information moving to their teams.

Open innovation can be used on product and processes

Our hackathon is an example of open innovation put into practice. We solved a challenge for the entire company by sourcing solutions from the contributor level, not the top. While it’s most frequently associated with product development, it can have an even bigger impact when it opens the door for efficiency and scalability. Here are some recommendations I have for creating a culture where everyone feels they have contributions to make to process improvements:

Open a channel with clear recognition

Workers may be reluctant to recommend fixes if they feel they won’t be heard or if they fear someone else will receive the recognition for their idea. Our hackathon gave each team a chance to present their improvements to the company directly, meaning that everyone knew exactly who created it – and that person knew they had the attention of leadership.

It doesn’t need to be as big of a production as a hackathon. In fact, this line of communication should be open year-round. It could be a software tool for inputting suggestions or even a series of monthly meetings where people can present ideas. Visibility should be high, and it should be apparent that executives are listening and prepared to act. In our Operational Excellence survey, about 52 percent of non-managers said they believe their suggestions for improvement are unlikely to be implemented or considered. Management clearly has a long way to go to in adopting process improvement suggestions from all layers of their organization.

Share metrics to build a culture of analysis

At our Dublin office, they have a mantra: Improve 1% every day. The goal is based on the idea that small, consistent improvements compound over time, and ultimately create a bigger impact than costly, transformational improvement projects. Continuous improvement requires being dialed into business metrics: A salesperson must understand the relationship between their activities and revenue. A marketer must understand the conversions of their campaigns. A product developer must understand the metrics behind adoption and usage.

If you use SaaS tools like Salesforce, Tableau, or Google Analytics, you have the information you need at your disposal. Giving your team access to this information empowers them to improve processes, while also giving them hard metrics to measure the success of their improvements.

Encourage experimentation and scale results

Almost all aspects of my company were built using the Agile Method, which means we tested everything small and scaled the initiatives that worked the best. To this day, our marketing team regularly A/B tests ads, our sales team continuously refines their touch process, and our product team constantly streamlines our user experience. They are able to do this because we could experiment inexpensively, and only invest in solutions when they worked.

Small scale tests are great because they’re low risk. I’d never be upset if someone told me they spent $500 dollars testing a new landing page and it didn’t work. But if they told me that same test produced a 2% increase in conversions, I’d view them as a hero.

Empower your frontline workers to drive business transformation

Management can’t solve every problem in your business because there are too many things we can’t see from the top. If you build a culture where workers have the tools they need to identify inefficiencies and the freedom to communicate, measure, and test solutions, you can ensure that your business is on track to continuous improvement. In the end, it’s the little improvements that make the biggest difference over time.