Getting internal processes out of the twilight zone

2021 . 03 . 09

Most large companies have improved their customer focus and become champions of customer experience. We often wonder how this is possible when we see how messy internal processes are on the inside? Of course, we know how these organizations keep their customers happy. It’s mainly thanks to the personal commitment of many employees who try to do a good job, often by going against internal guidelines.

However, this cannot be how it’s meant to be – too much energy is lost this way. So getting internal processes out of this twilight zone would bring nothing but benefits. It would free companies from a major source of lost time, ensure that colleagues and departments work much better together and, above all, it would allow you to build in flexibility and therefore the ability to adapt more quickly. This latter aspect, in particular, is hugely underestimated.

When companies want to change, whether on their own initiative or because of market forces, they experience resistance. For one thing, the willingness of people inside the company to change is never as great as one would like, but the main reason is that people work differently from the written procedure (or there is nothing written down and so one does not really know how things are done internally). So here are six specific tips for a different approach.

The COO is not a crisis manager

Based on our many years of experience, I can only conclude that the work of the COO is flawed. Although their priority should be to work on the strategic and tactical improvement of internal processes, we mainly see the COO putting out fires and rushing from one operational emergency to another. So the COO is trapped in a situation where the internal processes don’t work and they need to intervene to prevent the worst. That’s why the COO should be assisted by a full-time crisis manager, so that the COO can work on long-term improvements. It would allow the COO to prepare the organization for dealing much more smoothly with changes in the market and new customer expectations.

First check the management’s willingness to change

One group of employees is almost always overlooked when examining whether an organization is ready to change, and that is the management itself. People might assume that top-level decisions have unanimous support, but we know better. We have experienced strong opposition within management committees several times, even to decisions that members themselves approved, but apparently just for the sake of appearance. So the first place a change coach should visit is the management committee. A good coach can make sure there is unanimity and maximum support there.

Investigate whether the organization is ready

A large organization is rarely really ready to change – it’s in our nature to prefer to leave things as they are. However, you can always form a coalition of the willing, as there are always people who want to throw their weight behind a positive change project. Every organization knows how big and influential this coalition needs to be, so first find out if you have a group of pioneers before starting the project. If there really is no one, you can start building a coalition through personal contacts, rework your project or create a spin-off.

Make a five-year plan

The director of the Belgian division of a listed multinational once told us how things really stand: what matters is the current quarter, so we should forget about improving internal processes. Although he realised full well that he was squeezing his own organization, he didn’t feel like putting his head above the parapet about this situation. This is easy to understand. Nevertheless, organizations that take a long-term view are more likely to manage their internal processes well. As already mentioned, this ensures additional profitability, greater satisfaction among employees and customers, and a greater capacity for change. The ideal term for a plan is ten years, but five years is exceptionally good too. A good rule of thumb is the more mature a sector, the longer the term. We at Devoteam Management Consulting also have a strategic five-year plan.

Work on a detailed business case

If you are hit by competitors, sometimes it makes it easier to tackle the internal processes. But because people will then want things to happen very quickly, it can go wrong. Whatever the motivation, always make sure you have a fully developed business case. This should mainly serve to check whether the available resources are being used in the best way. Suppose you had a large section of the IT department working on improving internal processes as a priority, resulting in the timing of an important product launch being ruined. Then perhaps it would have been better to postpone the change project until after the product launch?

Create light processes

Even if you had all the time and resources you needed, you wouldn’t want to tackle a difficult process to improve it. Before you knew it, you would be turning half the organization upside down and nobody wants that. So try to create light processes, with minimal description and plenty of room for personal initiative. Because if the processes are not practical, a good handyman will find a solution to give the customer a good service anyway. Then you will have a parallel circuit, the process won’t work and, moreover, because it is not monitored it will be even more difficult to get a grip on making improvements. This is the twilight zone from which we want to escape together.

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