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7 Key Actions to Drive Process Change

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Changing a process within a business is not for the fainthearted, as Ronald Reagan once said:

“The future does not belong to the fainthearted; It belongs to the brave.”

Business-process owners must have the courage to embark on the journey to change the future of their business processes. This article aims to guide those organisations in making process change a successful reality.

1. Show the process vision

This is a very crucial first step that helps you set the scene for the future. This will ignite the desire to change, and make the organisation more willing to embrace change.  The most effective manner to communicate your process vision is to articulate it using a picture or a story. Remember: the process vision must help the stakeholders. It should help them:

  • understand what the future will look like
  • understand the benefits for them, their clients, and the business
  • understand the risk if the process stays the same, and
  • recognise how this process change will help the business vision/goals to be realised.

2. Understand the change required and its impact

Out of the process vision, the changes required to the business (people, process and technology) can be formalised. While formalising the business change requirements, the change impact and its severity on the people, processes, and technology should be determined. The following tools are just some of those that can be considered in helping you to do this.

  • Brown paper: The ‘brown paper technique’ demonstrates a team-building approach that uses the power of the team to develop views on where workload issues might be. It is a visual wall display (usually created on brown wrapping paper, typically 3 ft high and up to 60 ft long). It documents an entire process, or situation, by highlighting all activities, interfaces, decision points, and information sources. The ‘brown paper technique’ involves process analysis and documentation, client involvement and participation, as well as the critique and assessment of opportunities.
  • Day in the life of (DILO): A DILO approach documents the entire set of activities for a member of staff or role holder. It provides a high-touch way of showing the extent of someone’s role, highlighting the major areas of work and where their greatest volumes are created. It can be done for a single member of staff or a group of employees who have the same role or function, and can be a synthesis of all the individuals.
  • Fishbone Analysis: The Fishbone diagram (sometimes called the Ishikawa diagram, or cause-and-effect diagram) is used to identify and list all the possible causes of the problem at hand so as to identify its root causes. This is primarily a group problem-analysis technique, but can be used by individuals as well. The process is called Fishbone Analysis because of the way in which the information gathered is arranged visually—like the skeleton of a fish.
  • Force-field analysis: This helps a team understand the balance of the driving and restraining forces of a particular change. The driving forces push the organisation towards change; the restraining forces push against change. Based on this understanding, the team can identify appropriate restraining forces to remove, or decrease and identify appropriate driving forces to increase.
  • Six Hats thinking: The ‘Six Hat’ method was developed by Edward de Bono. He provided some new labels for thinking that signal the different directions in which thinkers can be invited to look. A ‘hat’ indicates a role, which can be put on or taken off with ease. A hat is also visible for everyone else to see. Although the hats are usually imaginary, a poster showing the different hats can be useful in the room where a group is working. The six directions are:
    • Managing Blue – What is the subject? What are we thinking about? What is the goal? Can look at the big picture.
    • Information White – purely considering what information is available. What are the facts?
    • Emotions Red – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification).
    • Discernment Black – logic applied to identifying the reasons to be cautious and conservative. Practical, realistic.
    • Optimistic-response Yellow – logic applied to identifying benefits, and seeking harmony. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations.
    • Creativity Green – statements of provocation and investigation; seeing where a thought goes. Thinks creatively, and outside the box.

The method provides a way for groups to experience the power of parallel thinking.

  • Stakeholder mapping: A powerful stakeholder-alignment tool that allows the team to quickly and visually assess their stakeholders’ impact on the success of a change program. This will help develop strategies that increase stakeholder support. It is a different way of looking at stakeholders, and a means of focusing stakeholder discussions.
  • Risk probability and impact matrix: This is a tool to aid the project team in prioritising risks. It is based on the principle that a risk has two primary dimensions:
    • Probability – A risk is an event that ‘might’ occur. The probability of it occurring can range anywhere from just above 0 percent, to just below 100 percent. (Note: It can’t be exactly 100 percent, because then it would be a certainty, not a risk; and it can't be exactly 0 percent, or it wouldn't be a risk.)
    • Impact – A risk, by its very nature, always has a negative impact. However, the size of the impact varies in terms of cost and effect on health, human life, or some other critical factor.

This matrix allows you to rate potential risks within these two dimensions.

  • Cost-benefit analysis: This is a process by which business decisions are analysed. The benefits of a given situation, or business-related action, are summed—then the costs associated with taking that action are subtracted.This will help build the business case for the process change.

3. Commission a competent implementation team

An implementation team is accountable for making process change happen—therefore, it is important to choose your team wisely. These are the people who will ensure that effective interventions and implementation methods are used to produce the intended outcomes. It is important to understand the skills that are required to implement the change, as this knowledge will help select the right people for the team. A competent team will be able to:

  • develop a clear implementation plan (i.e. who is doing what and when to complete the right things at the right time), by only looking at the impact analysis and business change requirements;
  • think on their feet to adjust an implementation plan (and their actions accordingly) to ensure a fruitful outcome.

4. Foster crystal clear communication

The communication supporting the project (case for change, project status, impacts, etc.) must be clear, concise, concrete, and coherent—with NO jargon. When the change impact is high on the target audience, the communication should come from their direct line report. Therefore, empower the direct line report to deliver the communication. He/she knows the audience the best, and can give feedback to the implementation team on how well the message was received. People must feel that they are listened to regarding their fears and concerns. If any resistance is encountered, corrective actions/communication plans can be put in place. This will help change the behaviour/attitude of the team, and foster a more positive attitude to enabling their embrace of the change. 

The communication plan should be aligned to the implementation plan. The communication packs should be specific—configured according to each type of stakeholder’s information needs. Ensure the most effective channel to deliver the change message is selected.

5. Engage affected stakeholders

When attempting to implement process change, some of your colleagues will be against it and others indifferent. It is part of human nature to feel apprehension when asked to change the way things are done. Therefore, to successfully implement a change, all stakeholders must be engaged in a way that they can accept (but not necessarily be happy with) the proposed change.

The project should have a mechanism (e.g. a collaboration tool) where questions and concerns from team members can be captured, as well as a database for them to find answers to frequent questions/concerns about the project.

The implementation team must have a platform where they can involve stakeholders in the design phase as much as possible. The buy-in for the to-be process will be higher if the stakeholders feel they had a part in creating their own future way of working.

6. Stay on track

A key element for success is to establish an appropriate management structure (governance) for the process-change project. This structure should include:

  • A project sponsor, or an engaged executive sponsor, who has a vested business interest in the process change from kick-off to close. The sponsor should champion the project at the executive level to secure the buy-in. This can mean the difference between success and failure.
  • An effective steering committee that actively and overtly supports the implementation team by eliminating obstacles, and empowering them to deliver on the agreed outcomes.
  • A project manager who involves the entire implementation team in the development of the implementation and communication plan. He/she will ensure the project is on time, on budget, and within scope.

7. Sustain the change

Creating a group to support the target audience after the implementation is crucial for the change to be sustained. Additionally, it is helpful to implement a buddy system in which individuals are teamed up with a well-trained colleague. This will ensure everyone has a supporting structure and won’t have to call first-line support when they experience problems and need help. This will help to prevent people going back to their old process. People respond better to a face they know, someone who knows their pain, rather than a stranger they don’t know. The people best suited for the buddy role are those who where enthusiastic about the change from the start. Target them as ‘early adopters’, and educate them to fulfil the supporting role post implementation. These people can perform regular audits of the process-change project/status, and will be close to the target audience and able to give feedback to the process owner if some begin to revert to the old way of working. Immediate action can then be taken to ensure the business will still benefit from a successful implementation.

So, to sum up:

  • S – Show the process vision
  • U – Understand the change required and its impact
  • C – Commission competent implementation team
  • C – Crystal clear communication
  • E – Engage affected stakeholders
  • S – Stay on track
  • S – Sustain the change

Hopefully, this approach will be useful when your organsation is implementing a process change. Enjoy your process-change journey, and may it bring your business every success!

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Rene Van Bosch
Rene Van Bosch
René holds a Master in Business Administration, a BSc. Degree in Information Technology, a Business Analysis Diploma (FTI), a Certificate of Process Mastery from Hammer & Co. and a Six Sigma – green belt. She has expertise in a wide range of business process modelling (BPMN2.0, EPC), measurement, analysis and improvement approaches, tools and techniques.

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