Sometimes It's Not the Thought that Counts

Michelle Cowan's picture

Good intentions are fine when it comes to giving gifts to people you don't know very well, being late for dinner even though you left work early, or forgetting to buy milk even though you wrote it on your list, but they are not enough to make a business successful. Sure, I want to do business with organizations that have the best intentions at heart. But I also expect those organizations to take action on their intentions. If I don't see actions and results, forget about keeping my support or my business.

Planning and thinking easily turns into "analysis paralysis" at many organizations. Leaders are overrun with good ideas and take action on only a dismal few, usually without testing to see which ideas really offer the most promise. The key is to get out of that cycle, prioritize projects, make an action plan, and hold people accountable for completing it.

Measures are an excellent tool to encourage action. Individuals need to see the difference their actions make. Most people who are held accountable for getting work done will at least attempt to get the work done. Organizations can measure both the work employees put into the initiative and the results from their work. The connection between work and results is critical. By measuring employee actions, you can impact the final results further upstream, and by reporting out both individual measures and process results, employees see the line of causation between their decisions and business outcomes.

Communication is also key. If an initiative is never discussed, it will die. If employees don't understand what is at stake or what they need to do, they will not be able to move the organization toward change.

Sometimes, the first action an organization can take is simply to evaluate where the organization currently stands. Once you know where you are, you can figure out which actions will move you to a new position.

As you start to make a plan, determine the project scope and then break the project down into manageable pieces. APQC has started deconstructing the huge task of process management by focusing on seven core tenets. We are publishing in-depth best practices on each. To improve process management, some organizations start small by looking at a single tenet and implementing best practices specifically for that one area. Concentrated improvement efforts help the organization get to results faster. Plus, each tenet is connected to the others, so positive action in one tenet can also bolster the other six.

Some would say that taking action becomes more difficult when we begin talking about something less structured than process management, like innovation. However, APQC research shows that the most innovative and successful organizations put rigorous processes in place around innovation. An organization must employ a mechanism that takes ideas from the brains of its employees to the customer—and that weeds out weaker ideas along the way. Process management is key to innovation. Creativity is a fluid thing, but processes channel that creativity.

Processes are relatively rigid structures, but they contain all the fluid knowledge and ideas that need to flow through the organization. Leaders must learn how to build processes that transform good intentions into solid business outcomes. Designing and enforcing relevant processes can be the best way to do this.

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