Five Sticking Points to Building Process Efficiency

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c. myers corporation

5 minutes

Establish a culture of continuous process improvement to reap the benefits of streamlined productivity.

Big recession? No recession? Rising cost of funds? Regardless of what’s happening in the environment, building a more efficient organization brings big benefits, including cost control, and better employee and customer experiences.

A good percentage of strategic plans include efficiency-related initiatives, many of them geared toward embedding process improvement into the culture or creating a culture of continuous process improvement. If you’re on that path, here are a few of the sticking points we’ve observed that you’ll want to avoid.

1. Executives Not Knowing When to Hit the Gas and When to Back Off 

Executives know that they play a key role in shifting the culture to one that continuously thinks about and acts on building efficiency. They need to talk about the objectives of the culture change and their support of it clearly and consistently. But when it comes to backing up their words with actions, we see some executives struggling with too much or too little involvement.

Initially, executives should be involved in deciding on the organizational changes that will serve as the foundation for the culture change (see No. 5), and they should ensure that the changes are adhered to over the longer term. High-impact or high-volume processes will likely require deeper executive involvement. But beyond that, the role of the executive suite is to ensure that process improvements support the strategy and don’t, for example, fly in the face of personalization, customization or customer service in the name of efficiency. Let go where you can, gradually if necessary—partly to build trust and capacity and partly because most executives don’t need anything extra to do. 

2. Expecting a Few Individuals to Make It Happen

Hiring or training some people with expertise in process improvement is part of the foundation for building a culture of continuous process improvement. But it’s only the beginning. Having your process improvement expert observe processes, interview individuals and prescribe changes will miss the mark. To truly understand processes, why they work the way they do and get buy-in for change, facilitated group discussions that include the key players—doers, managers and systems experts—will uncover far more opportunities and creative solutions. Not only will this result in better processes, it also will expose more team members to process improvement, causing them to think differently about their processes and leading to cultural change. 

3. Believing That Technology Is THE Solution 

In the end, just about every efficiency improvement an organization wishes to achieve involves human behavior. Focusing first and foremost on ingraining the necessary mindset and habit changes in your people will result in positive, high-impact and sustainable gains that will permeate the organization. Technology does deserve focus during process improvement and while you may determine you need different software or modules, how the software is used is often the area that holds bigger opportunities, which can go a long way toward getting a better, faster return on your technology investments. The process steps that happen outside of the software also typically offer major opportunities for efficiency gains.

4. Not Enough Discipline Around the Power of the Blended Mindset

We often see organizations take an either-or approach to process improvement—either process improvements are all huge, beastly projects, or they are a series of one-off quick wins. Yet the powerful impacts come when they can draw on both. Not all improvements require an extensive formal process, but you shouldn’t shy away from those because you don’t have the time or energy to step back and really challenge the way things are done, especially for high-impact or high-volume processes like getting a consumer auto loan or opening a new account.

The key is clarifying what a quick win looks like and when a more comprehensive approach is called for through intentional conversations and the creation of working agreements. Incremental or quick win improvements can provide speedy relief to employees and customers with a minimum of fuss. At the same time, viewing an entire process from start to finish, mapping all the steps, and revamping or reimagining it from the ground up with all the right players involved can bring about transformative change and efficiency. Effectively incorporating a blend of approaches keeps the organization moving forward with quick wins while leveraging the more transformative process improvements.

5. Lack of a Good Process for Improving Processes

That sounds circular, but it’s important to establish a good process that ensures sustained dedication to process improvements, which in turn builds the culture. Highly important is the devotion to doing a certain amount of process improvement on an ongoing basis. Many accomplish this by holding a few project slots for process improvements every year. Also key are dashboards or similar means of tracking progress, maintaining a list of staff suggestions, prioritizing which ideas will be tackled first and scheduling periodic evaluation of key processes. The process should also include monitoring previous improvements to make sure the efficiency gains stick, as well as celebrating successes and continuing to keep process improvement top of mind in the organization.

Being good at improving processes is necessary, but it takes organization-wide behavioral shifts to build a culture of continuous process improvement. Building a more efficient organization can help control costs and enhance employee and customer experiences, regardless of the external environment. Don't let these pitfalls hijack your progress. Ingrain these changes and establish a culture of continuous process improvement to reap the benefits of greater efficiency and productivity.

c. myers helps financial institution decision-makers uncover opportunities and continuously optimize their business models. Their depth and range of experience in linking strategy, talent, desired financial performance and successful execution enables them to work with their clients as strategic collaborators. They have the experience of working with over 600 financial institutions, including 200+ of those over $1 billion in assets. C. myers helps financial institutions think to differentiate and drive better decisions through strategic planning & business model optimizationstrategic solutions and implementationstrategic leadership developmentreal-time ALM and financial forecastingeducation, and thought leadership.  

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