Will a weak process culture derail your next IT project?

Five steps you can take to create a healthy process culture where innovation is not only welcomed, but encouraged to thrive.

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As many as 59% of organizations are engaged in one or more major transformational projects, according to BPM Trends Report ‘The State of Business Process Management in 2018’.

With so many of us facing the challenge of change, why is it that some organizations consistently get a greater return on new technology investments compared with others? The differentiator could be an organization's process culture and their failure to recognize the substantial role that people play in ensuring IT projects come to life.

The culture of an organization has a tremendous impact on the overall success rate of change initiatives. On the whole, human beings have an intrinsic desire to improve and develop, continually looking for better ways of doing things. Yet on the flip side we are all habitual creatures, often fearful or resentful of change.

Resistance is intensified when teams aren’t engaged and consequently lack the motivation to be part of change. The result is a weak process culture.

So, is it possible to encourage a modus operandi where teams are continually empowered and inspired by new ways of working? First you need to know what type of process culture you currently have.

Identifying a weak process culture

While every business varies, the fundamental signs of a weak process culture are common. Tell-tale signs include employees spending large proportions of their time fire-fighting issues and problems. There is little or no communication or collaboration across different departments. When new change initiatives are pushed forward they frequently fail or do not fulfil expectations.

In organizations with a weak process culture, the default response is to resist change. Teams may realize that current methods are frustrating or out-of-date, but because they rarely review or discuss how processes can be improved, why should they start now? This defeatist mind-set stops any change dead in its tracks. The attitude of “I’m just one person, how can I make a difference” is an innovation and IT project killer.

Build change capability

One of the common causes of a weak process culture is where leaders in the business such as the CEO or senior management team realize the value of process and its wider goal of driving customer-centric improvements, but outwardly they miss the opportunity to publicly voice these beliefs.

Even in situations where management are happy to stand up and talk about the importance of process to colleagues, underneath they can lack conviction, viewing processes as overkill, a tick-box item or a necessary evil. The result is that employees are equally sceptical with an inner voice expressing: “Why are we doing this? Don’t we all instinctively know what we should be doing?”

Turning it around

If you spot some of these behaviors in your organization, it’s not too late to improve the change capability in your organization. Here are five steps you can take to create a healthy process culture where innovation is not only welcomed, but encouraged to thrive:

1. Lead from the top

It is key to get the organization’s executive team aligned. State your case for new technology and prove there is a real business issue that it can address. Draw on figures and evidence from customer and employee surveys and metrics that reveal exactly where and how the return on investment will happen, so everyone knows it’s time to take action. Gain commitment from staff in advance to accept and be part of IT changes that will be in their best interests.

2. Connect with the front-line

Assign a Chief Process Officer (CPO) with responsibility to communicate the process vision to the organization from the top. Then divide responsibility for processes to ensure that everyone has a stake and that they truly reflect feedback from employees on the ground. Process owners should be given overall responsibility for a process operating effectively, and a local process expert who knows it intimately can advise if tweaks are required. Success depends on process owners and experts working in tandem.

You can further support process owners and experts with the right tools to manage processes easily. Using an on-line platform for instance provides a centralized place where improvements can be reviewed, debated and acted on.

3. Keep the momentum going

There are inevitably teething pains with any new IT initiative and it takes time for innovations to bed in. To iron out these early issues and to retain process improvements on a daily basis, you need to put both structure and planning in place. Establish a formal process forum and give it a name that people can relate to.

Hold regular workshops with your CPO that focus on how it’s going and involve all the teams in modifying or streamlining processes to address frustrations. The workshops should be open events that encourage colleagues to share ideas, so everyone has a voice.

4. Intuitive process guidance

Process documentation doesn’t have to be verbose and boring. If it’s not easy to use, it will be ignored. Offer meaningful guidance on a process so it’s comprehensible (at a high level at least) in ten seconds. Where it is stored is also important: embed processes into the places and existing apps that teams are already familiar with, so it’s always on-hand when and where it’s needed.

5. Focus on your people

For decades, process improvement efforts have centred on tools and methodologies, but to increase the success of IT transformation efforts you need to harness the support of the most powerful engine of change – your people.

When you get the whole organization on-side, ongoing change and improvement becomes the natural state - rather than a project-specific challenge – which increases the success rate of your technology projects so they deliver optimum return on investment far into the future.

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