The APQC Blog

3 Reasons Bad Business Alignment Wrecks Process Sustainability

APQC asked process management experts about establishing processes for long term growth, where organizations’ business alignment fail most often, and the biggest challenges to incorporate lasting process changes. These experts will be speaking at APQC’s Process & Performance Management Conference October 3-4 in the “Aligning for Growth” breakout session track.

Participating experts:

  • Carla Zilka – Consultant, speakers, and author. With over 20 years of experience, Carla is a trusted advisor and expert in business transformation.She is known for her methodology and toolkit that delivers outstanding results for companies to achieve operational excellence and improved profit.
  • Dr. Mohammadreza Bashiri –BSEE, PE, MBA, EdD is a proven leader in management and technical education. His focus is on leadership for commissioning and maintenance of petrochemical, substation, industrial organizations (e.g., apparatus, system protection, and automation).
  • Nelson Abreu –BSEE, PE is a seasoned protection and control engineer and leader. His experience spans non-profits, renewables, nuclear, hydro and thermal generation, and substations.

When setting up processes for long term growth, how do smart organizations identify and evaluate risks?

Carla Zilka: Identifying and evaluating risks is a process in and of itself. Smart organizations rely on formal risk management capabilities and have a risk management function as stand-alone departments or integrated into their finance or operations departments.  However, one of the first exercises I typically take clients through for establishing processes for long-term, growth is a risk matrix. The matrix is part of a process prioritization model that also uses APQC’s Process Classification Framework® (PCF).  This tool helps organizations identify which processes are “business critical” category and rate the process on set criteria to determine its impact to business continuity.

Once the process is rated, the next step is to understand the process’ market maturity and conduct assessments on the best control action to take to manage any risks.  This step is part of the process improvement phase of the exercise and includes assessing whether to automate, digitize, or outsource the process.  Of course, the organization must make strategic decisions that look at the organization holistically, not just one functional process at a time. The holistic look is necessary because of the interdependencies that typically occur between functional processes

Dr. Mohammadreza Bashiri: Even successful organizations can fail to develop a culture of safety, where people can question prevailing wisdom and sound the alarm when necessary. An organization comprised of “yes people” is unlikely to identify and respond to risk. However, risk isn’t just limited to safety—risk can also encapsulate the risk of not trying something new or adopting new methodologies or technologies. For example, another key risk lesson is  that there is often a price to pay for ignoring major cultural trends like environmental consciousness and human-centered, design thinking; as well as technological shifts like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Nelson Abreu: To avoid risk, there must be processes in place to drive team members to stay vigilant and look for ways to do things better. At the same time, there must also be processes to question whether how we do things is the right thing to do next year. This helps ensure employees are looking at how work get executed from both and incremental and breakthrough improvement perspective. Though looking at competition for ideas is still relevant, similar to “white hat hackers,” intrapreneurs need to think up and test ways to disrupt conventional wisdom and find new value propositions before someone else.

Where do organizations’ most often fail at business alignment?

Carla Zilka:
Based on my experience, what stands out as the most common alignment fail is the use of specific and measurable operational and employee goals and measures.  Organizations are missing huge opportunities to improve productivity and build capacity through well thought out and defined measures. Most organizations have the typical sales and revenue goals, but don’t include critical operational or employee goals and measures. Without these it’s impossible to tell what’s happening in the organization. And over time symptoms like turnover and missed deadlines begin to arise and ultimately affect the financial measures. The right goals and metrics as part of a CEOs dashboard, make it  easy to forecast an emerging issue and proactively create strategies to solve them.

Dr. Mohammadreza Bashiri: It is difficult to change culture and engagement venues like corporate communication, posted visuals, and meetings are often wasted opportunities. This is in part because employee communications and business change objectives are often misaligned. Ultimately, accountability and promotional criteria are misaligned with cultural shift goals, overall values, organizational vision, and strategic objectives—creating distorted incentives for change.

Nelson Abreu: Organizations can fail to demonstrate alignment between employees and upper management. Which eats away at motivation, engagement, productivity, retention, well-being, and innovation. Many organizations experience alignment gaps between what goes on at executive meetings and execution in the field. There is a shift for organizations moving towards engagement with team of teams, which reduces middle management filtering and distortion. Instead working directly with teams opens up a two-way dialogue between executive vision and field realities—leading towards alignment  and potential innovation.

When organizational goals change, what’s the biggest challenge to incorporating those changes into process projects?

Carla Zilka:
The biggest challenge is change management and communication, plain and simple. Organizations that don’t have good change management skills will find it harder to implement any changes.  When a change occurs, there first must be an understanding and acceptance of the “why” by key process stakeholders before any changes can take place.  This understanding and buy-in guarantees support of the changes throughout and leads to a successful process project implementation.

Dr. Mohammadreza Bashiri: This type of change process is often iterative, evolving with incorporated lessons learned before “going big.” The use of success stories and advocates lends credibility to the changes. Its particularly useful to invite teams to share their successes framed as process improvements. When combined with mentoring the successes motivate the documentation of the gains, elicit feedback from other team members, and encourage evolving the process.

Nelson Abreu: Typically, when a change seems too large, too fast, and externally imposed; there tends to be considerable resistance, if not outright cynicism. One way to approach resistance if through the identification of trusted and respected advocates in the front and intermediary levels. Pilot teams are also useful to lead the charge, with a sense of purpose, a degree of autonomy, and a development challenge. They will be motivated to cooperatively incorporate changes into process projects, quantifying progress, and identifying challenges.