When the Processes Align
Many people believe that the alignment of the stars and planets has significance beyond astronomical coincidence. People think that business, love, or even the flow of history is impacted by the way that celestial bodies line up. However, there is a different kind of alignment that is proven to have a more scientifically verifiable benefit to business. That is the alignment of an organization’s processes with its business strategy. The investments that you make in your processes are only effective when they align with your strategy. When it comes to achieving that alignment, there are three important items to remember. 1. To get the greatest bang for your buck, invest in the processes that align closest to your business strategy first. Process improvement efforts tend to have greater buy-in and support when you are able to prove that they are making gains. Process improvement often requires shifting the way people think about their work, which can also mean difficult cultural and political shifts in an organization. Showing progress and benefit to stakeholders is one of the most effective ways to get the organization on board with the change. The way to do that is to target processes that are closest to strategic goals. Precisely which processes those are will be different from one company to another, even within the same industry. One insurer might identify its competitive advantage in the rapid development of new products. In this case, modernizing processes that support that capability are probably high-benefit opportunities. This provides “good press” for the initiative all the way up to the executive level, who are happy to see the strategy they set receiving support. 2. Remember that strategy can change over time. Process improvement efforts need to adjust over time along with those changing strategies. Change in strategy could be in response to leadership changes, industry trends, or the moves of competitors. Whatever the reason, successful process improvement efforts keep an eye on the overall strategic direction of the organization and ensure the program is kept in line with the organization’s goals. A process improvement effort could suddenly see itself losing resources or funding if it no longer aligns with the organization’s strategy. Imagine a lengthy effort to improve customer service-related processes in a company that has recently decided to shift towards pushing self-service via a web-portal. The project manager of that effort ought to carefully consider how to realign the project’s major tasks, tweak its scope, or consider halting the project. 3. Manage conflicting strategic goals when it comes time for implementation. We were engaged to improve the New Business process of an insurer that sought to drastically increase sales while also maintaining certain customer service metrics. It quickly became apparent that, given resource constraints, both of those goals were not possible, so NEOS helped the insurer to find the ideal balance between those goals. We allowed them to push as far as they could in both directions by optimizing their process, and the technology that supported it. Taking better advantage of a workflow system that they already owned and making some organizational tweaks enabled them to handle larger sales volumes, while still satisfying customers. Luckily, you don’t have to wait hundreds of years for the stars to align for your processes to start making you more efficient and providing benefits. By keeping your business strategies in mind, and that those strategies can shift over time and even compete with one another, you can complete successful process improvement initiatives. Organizations that take this strategy and process alignment seriously will be rewarded.