Process Mapping: The Way to Engaged Employees and Better Business Results
by Leslie Allan
Business pundits have recognized now for a number of years that a motivated employee is a productive employee. This is true across international boundaries, as major research studies have shown. Studies conducted by research houses such as Towers Perrin, BlessingWhite and Gallup Consulting consistently reveal a strong correlation between the level of employee engagement in an organization and its ability to meet its business goals.
There are many organizational and personal factors that contribute to an employee's commitment level. One powerful but often unused method for raising employee motivation and effectiveness is mapping business processes. Process mapping entails identifying and representing in simple graphical form the steps used to deliver a product or service to both internal and external customers. Mapping processes is a central activity in all quality initiatives. And it's no wonder. You can't improve what you don't understand.
Many organizations continue to struggle with poorly defined and communicated processes. How an invoice is processed, customer complaint handled or engineering drawing approved in many organizations depends more on who does it and what day of the week it was done on rather than on sound business reasoning. With this lack of process and role clarity, employee motivation takes a tumble as personal idiosyncrasies and political maneuvering take over decision making.
Moreover, research indicates that less than 20 percent of product defects and service problems are due to non-random factors, such as malicious employees, machine breakdown and poor raw materials. The other 80 percent or more of problems is due to systemic deficiencies with processes. So, although mapping your business processes is relatively simple to do and involves no costly capital expenditure, it pays huge dividends in business efficiency and employee commitment.
In helping companies, both large and small, map their processes, I have played a part first hand in pushing the twin levers of clarifying business processes and motivating employees. Below are some key pointers for maximizing this natural synergy between defining processes and engaging employees.
Involve employees who actually do the work in the mapping
Employees who do the actual work are in the best position to know the detailed steps in each process. They are also most familiar with the common roadblocks and bottlenecks and the key contacts in the organization to get things done. Managers will need to step right back from wanting to be seen as "experts" and give frontline employees a voice. So, tap in to the enormous wealth of experience that walks through your doors each morning and walks out again each night. Start by explicitly inviting your employees to join the new process mapping teams.
Getting your employees to map their own processes is a powerful morale booster. Apart from mutual goal-setting, there is no more powerful method that I know of for engaging the hearts and minds of employees. I have seen employees' eyes light up during briefing sessions in which I offered them the opportunity to identify and remove the roadblocks to them doing a great job. Most employees are tired of the day-to-day fire fighting that comes with many jobs. At one briefing session, employees were so enthused that they all volunteered to join the team!
Identify process objective and inputs and outputs
This is where work starts to take on new meaning for employees. For each process, get the process mapping team to ask why it is performed and what the expected results of each process are. Not only does this help to focus attention on removing non-value add activities, it also gives employees a sense of purpose in their working life. Instead of work being a disconnected set of meaningless activities, employees begin to appreciate that everything they do helps to achieve a larger goal. So, Joe Worker no longer just removes boxes from one shelf to put them on another. He is maximizing the use of warehouse space and reducing pick times so that the warehouse team can deliver widgets to their customers faster and cheaper.
Then ask each team to identify the inputs to each process and the expected outputs. Doing this will clarify for them what each process needs before it can begin. It also clarifies what customers of the next process will get before they can begin. For example, agreeing that widget assembly cannot begin until the joining screws are supplied will eliminate a lot of idle work in progress.
Identify Customer and Supplier requirements
Next, get each team to work out who the suppliers and customers are of each process. This step is critical as it identifies who the team needs to work with collaboratively to maximize business results. If a process does not have a customer, then eliminate it as it has no useful purpose. Every employee working in a process should serve either an internal customer or an external customer or both. Each team should then ask of their customers what it is they want from the process, in terms of quality, turn around time, and so on. For example, the internal customers of the purchasing team may require orders to be fulfilled within two days unless placed on backorder.
Conversely, the team needs to clarify what it is they need of their suppliers, both internal and external, to perform their process effectively and efficiently. A purchasing team may require other departments, for example, to fill in all fields of the Purchase Order prior to submission.
Seeing how their own local processes fit into the wider organizational processes and goals allow employees to view the "big picture". For many people, this is incredibly empowering and motivating. Through engaging customers and suppliers and taking responsibility for the complete process, employees, supervisors and managers will all start singing from the same hymn sheet.
Identify a Process Owner for each process
For each process, get the team to specify one Process Owner who is responsible for the process end to end. Where processes flow through departments, as all major processes do, the Process Owner will need to have sufficient authority and credibility to make decisions spanning these departments. I know of no more effective way of dismantling the silo walls that get built separating departments. With communication lines opened up, your employees will feel enabled to get the job done more efficiently and effectively.
Distribute the process documents
Once the processes have been documented, ensure that they are easily accessible to all who need them. All of your organization's efforts will be wasted if the documents are hidden in someone's bottom drawer. Fix them to operator machines, post them on the corporate intranet or place them in a loose-leaf binder on each officer's desk. Put them where people do their work and make sure that they are accurate, concise and easily understandable. Train all employees in how to read the process maps and keep them up to date. Your newly motivated employees will quickly become disengaged if they cannot use the documents.
Convey management commitment and train your teams
Although mapping business processes will not cost you much in capital expenditure, it does require concerted effort. Get the management team to show visible support and commitment to the project. Activities here include holding regular project progress meetings and rewarding the most productive teams. Teams will loose faith and energy quickly if management support is seen as piecemeal or being given grudgingly. Team leaders will need to be able to organize effectively and manage their time, along with possess the necessary interpersonal and analytical thinking skills. Each team will also need a mix of abilities; people who can think creatively, bond the team and follow through on tasks, to name just a few. Where these skills are lacking, they will need to be learned. Do not skimp on training the teams and their team leaders. This is a very wise commitment, as such teams have proved to be a fertile ground for developing the next line of leaders.
Use as a basis for further improvement
Business Process Reengineering was a big buzzword in the 80s and 90s. A common objective of such reengineering efforts was radical technological implementations that required significantly less manual steps in the new processes. In these cases, the consequent ruthless downsizing led to a dramatic downturn in employee morale. What is not so well recognized is that through engineering their processes for the very first time, organizations can dramatically improve employee enthusiasm and business efficiency.
There is a lot to be gained from initially mapping your organization's core processes. Every team that I have worked with has uncovered many areas for improvement. One team dramatically reduced the incidence of lost inventory items whilst another substantially improved the pass rate of electronic circuit modules.
Once you have mapped your key processes, they make for excellent induction and training resources. However, their utility does not stop there. The process maps will now serve as the agreed baseline for ongoing process improvement. Turn your process mapping teams into continuous improvement teams and watch your employees remain emotionally engaged with the organization and motivated to continue working towards a common organizational goal.