How to Create Perfect Processes
When the processes in a business flow seamlessly from one step to another and are integrated with each other, they can help the business function optimally and make the most of every opportunity. Well thought out and integrated processes can save precious minutes in the day, prevent mistakes happening (or items being missed) make it easy to train someone new in the business, keep relevant staff informed at every stage, ensure that tasks are completed efficiently and create a seamless customer service experience. However, as processes tend to evolve over time (often in isolation from other areas of the business) as different staff become involved in creating them (or modifying them) and as changes cause them to become outdated, previously effective processes can sometimes fail. Additionally if they’re not thought out thoroughly when they’re first created they won’t support the business to function at its best. Here are some ways to help create perfect processes in your business and ensure they stay that way:
Always follow through
Good business practice ensures that every activity in a business has a detailed step by step process that ensures completion of every possible situation. Sometimes, however, especially when the activity doesn’t result in immediate new business the follow through may be lacking (or even non existent). For example, if a client contacts a business and decides to buy from them they will move into the buying process and generally because of the urgency to secure this new business and because of the client’s own desire to purchase the product or service it will move towards completion (although there should of course always be a process in place for this). However, if the client needs time to think it over or decides not to buy there should still be processes in place to ensure they are left with a favourable impression of the business and any future opportunities with them are maximised. Processes surrounding this type of client will include delivering promised information in a timely manner, recording any contact details to add them to the mailing list for marketing purposes and as needed scheduling further followup calls or emails until they’re ready to make a decision. Proper follow through may also be a missing part of the processes when a client either leaves or unsubscribes. This can result in a missed opportunity to retain the client or at least leave them with a favourable impression of the business that may encourage them to return in the future.
Check all the activities in your business and make sure the processes include follow through for every possible situation so that you make the most of both short and long term opportunities.
Don’t leave any gaps
Sometimes a business will place focus on developing certain types of processes but not apply the same level of focus with others. For example, designing an interactive buying experience on the website may seem a lot more exciting to do than putting together the process for managing a client complaint or completing a performance review and yet each of these are important in helping the business to function effectively. Similarly smaller tasks in the business may not be considered when developing processes and yet they can still benefit from them. These smaller tasks may only involve a couple of steps but particularly if they’re the type of task that’s not completed often (and staff aren’t familiar with them) or someone new joins the business (and hasn’t previously done this task) then having a process for it can save time and potential mistakes when the task does need to be done. For example, a particular form may need to be completed for a certain type of client and whilst this type of client may not appear often, knowing what form, where it’s stored, how to complete it and who to send it to, will help prevent possible delays for the client and ensure everything is completed correctly. Small tasks like this can be listed in an office or operations manual for easy access by everyone (especially if it’s kept electronically where its keywords can be searched).
Think about every task in your business, no matter how small (or unexciting it may seem) and develop a process for it.
Learn from the mistakes
Mistakes are often the best indicator of where a process has failed or where having a process would help prevent similar mistakes in the future (unless of course the mistake is caused by someone not following the process which then becomes more of a staff performance issue). Whenever a mistake occurs investigate what has caused it and amend or add into the processes a way to counteract it in the future. For example, if the wrong order goes out to a client finding out where it went wrong will help identify the area of the process that needs improving (eg: was there a problem with the ordering process on the website, was there a mistake at the warehouse where it was packed etc.). Once the process area which failed is identified then appropriate changes should be made to prevent it happening again (even if this means adding in a further checking process as a fail safe for the future). And if the mistake occurred because there was no process in place then it’s time to develop one and consider other areas in the business where vital processes may be missing.
Use every mistake as a signal to further tighten your processes.
Include communication prompts
Communication breakdowns can occur inside the business as well as externally with clients and business partners. When communication breaks down it can cause problems with the way a business functions, result in lost opportunities, client complaints and negative reviews. This is where including prompts to communicate relevant information to the relevant people at the relevant times will help prevent these issues occurring. For example, a prompt for the sales department to inform the relevant person in the ordering department whenever they have a client ready to buy, including all the details required to complete the order). Sometimes the prompt to communicate may be to keep a staff member informed (such as a Manager) to highlight a point of escalation to use when things go wrong (eg: client complaint, issues with suppliers, etc) or indicate when a higher level of authority is required to proceed (eg: sign off for the purchase of new equipment, a decision needs to be made etc.). Communication prompts in all the processes related to clients will help keep them informed at every stage, ensure they are responded to in a timely manner and provide opportunities to market to them. These prompts are also essential for effectively managing any client complaints by ensuring that the client is kept regularly informed of the progress of their complaint and that the issue doesn’t escalate further due to a lack of communication.
Make communication prompts an essential part of every process so that everyone is kept informed, knows what to do (and when) and ensures that your relationship with clients and business partners is managed effectively.
Make changes when changes happen
Changes happen all the time in a business both internally and externally and when they do it’s a timely reminder to check all the processes in your business (especially as some of those processes will intersect with each other). To stay useful to the business every process should be kept up to date at all times. For example, when a new software program is introduced every process that uses this software should include references to it (such as what sections are to be completed, at what stage of the process and by whom). Sometimes a change in the environment may mean removing a process completely (because it’s no longer relevant) in which case ensuring that any old copies (physical or electronic) are removed will prevent any confusion. Relevant staff should also be informed of the update including arranging appropriate training for any new equipment or tasks.
Use changes in the industry, market or the business itself as a signal to check that your processes remain current.
Beware of hidden processes
Sometimes staff may develop their own processes in isolation of everyone else and whilst this shows good initiative it can cause mistakes to occur and communication to breakdown (because they may not be integrated with everything else in the business) and it’s often when these issues occur that you will be alerted to these types of hidden processes. Processes retained by individual staff can also be an issue if they are away on leave or leave the business in the future, making it difficult for someone else to quickly take over their role. Creating processes for a business should involve input from all staff (who can highlight items related to their particular role) and prevent the need for individual processes to be developed by individual staff. When creating the processes for a business items to be considered are who will maintain control of the master copy (to prevent multiple copies being kept in different locations managed by different staff) where will it be kept (so there is easy access for everyone) how will it be decided what will be added or removed and if something occurs that requires an immediate change to the processes how will the staff member involved let everyone know. If it’s just you in your business then involving staff isn’t something you will need to consider but the practice of keeping a master copy in a central place and having a process for whenever it needs updating still makes good sense. And if you do employ someone in the future then it will also make the transition a lot smoother.
Keep the processes in a business centrally located for easy reference, involve everyone in the business and have a clear process for maintaining and updating them.
Ensuring your processes are thorough, that they cover every possible contingency and they’re updated when things change will help your business to function at its best, save you valuable time and prevent mistakes. Whilst it may take some time in the beginning to create them (as well as periodic maintenance to ensure they remain effective) it’s well worth investing the time and effort into creating the perfect processes for your business. And (as a final note) if you do decide to sell your business at a later stage, having effective processes in place can make it attractive to a potential buyer who will appreciate knowing exactly what to do the moment they take over your business.
Photo credit: iStock.com/Andrii Yalanskyi