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3 Ways To Get Buy In for Process Improvement

We’re process people.

We are in awe of Ikea’s ability to standardize the design of beds, bookcases, and boudoirs using the same handful of parts. We assign family chores using SIPOCs and RACIs.  We love frameworks and good relationship maps.

But not everyone shares our sensibilities. Some are reluctant to embrace “all this process stuff”. In fact, many of the naysayers are executives who grew up in businesses during the heyday of highly destructive and disruptive process reengineering. Others were burned by endless current-state mapping exercises that produced limited value for the business. And still others bought into massive ERP systems that have yet to generate ROI.

And now you’re charged with improving a process and need their buy-in. Don’t despair, they can still be brought on board. I promise.

Here’s how APQC successfully communicates process to the process-weary:

Strategy #1: Don’t Use the ‘P’ Word

In the same way that not everyone needs to see the same process map, not everyone needs the same messaging. If you’re pitching process to an executive that you know had a bad experience with “process”, don’t call it process.

Behind the scenes, you can still use “process” techniques – process frameworks, process maps, SIPOCs, etc. Trust me; most executives don’t care how you make the company less wasteful. They only care about results.

Strategy #2: Learn Your Executive’s Language

So, what do you call what you’re doing if you can’t use the “p” word? Try mirroring the language your executive uses.  Speak her language. Once you know what to listen for, it’s not hard to translate:

  • “We’re not doing this as efficiently as we should.”
  • “We need to stop letting things slip through the cracks.”
  • “We need to have more confidence in our business decision making.”
  • “Why isn’t the work getting done?”

Did she use the word process? No. But there’s nothing stopping you from addressing the issues by identifying broken or poorly managed: process flows, process handoffs, process prioritization, and process governance.

Strategy #3: Beware of Process-Speak

Executives aren’t the only ones that can be distrustful of process improvements.

A few years ago I was facilitating a process improvement workshop at a client’s office when a junior employee, who was not on the process team, pulled me aside during a break. He asked me what was going on in the meeting. After a few minutes I realized he was not merely curious, he was worried. And he was not alone.

Overnight we had left our working documents on the wall – flip charts, sticky notes, random comments left over on a white board. Without context, little was understandable. But some phrases seemed self-evident to him: “reduce inefficiency”, “eliminate redundancy”.

The reality was that the company anticipated growing faster than it could hire and needed help working smarter, not harder. But the fear—exacerbated by all-day strategy sessions, strangers in suits, and these words left in the conference room—was that the company was preparing for layoffs.

Once rumors of layoffs begin to flare up, it’s hard to be extinguished. Word travels quickly and hot spots emerge everywhere. And anything less than full transparency can sound like a cover-up.

My suggestions would be to:

  1. Communicate early and often – and as broadly as possible (internal communications can be key process team members).
  2. Consider how your words could sound to non-process people (causing fear now only makes change management harder when you’re ready to roll-out process improvements).
  3. Demonstrate the team’s goals as honestly and transparently as possible.

At the end of the day, process is about helping people do their jobs better. But if anyone – an executive down to the brave junior staffer – is uncomfortable about what they think you’re up to, you’re making your job harder than it has to be. And improving your organization’s processes is hard enough.

Blog Series: Demystifying Process Improvement

This is the first blog in a series designed to offer practical and tactical advice to improving your processes. Over the next several months my plan is to walk you through APQC’s methodology, tying together the best practices we’ve observed across industries and the tools we make available on our website.

We’ve got no shortage of ideas, but we’ve also do not have a monopoly on the good ones. If you have thoughts or questions you’d like us to address in future blogs, please let me know (jscheer@apqc.org).

Jess Scheer is a process consultant at APQC.