23 December 2015

Enabling Process Improvements with Business Systems

Really enabling our workers

Business Automation is a key deliverable of any digital transformation program.
Many business systems help solve the problem of workers not being able to remember large or complex data-sets.  Ie:

  • What day do we delivery to Customer X’s area?
  • Do we follow the usual flour recipe if the pH of the mains water drops by 0.5?
  • What does Customer Y’s contract say about pricing for multiple purchases?


The problem is, these systems treat workers like robots with two staggering repercussions:

  1. They can only handle situations that have been described by the system (assuming a good search), and
  2. They tend to lock in and then resist future changes “But we’ve always done it that way”

The answer is to embed not just the information to do the job, but also the WHY in your systems and encourage your staff to sense-make, looking for patterns that can dynamically handle these two situations.  For example, if a customer has an exception to the normal pricing model, include the reasoning behind that exception. This will help the worker to be aware for this type of exception for other customers of the same type.
Secondly, include WHO is the domain expert or information source (ie the Sales person who wrote the contract) and encourage communications and questioning to increase quality of service.
Just treating our workers as idiots isn't really enabling them. Not only will it limit their effectiveness, but job satisfaction will drop, they will be less willing to go the extra mile in busy times and staff turnover will increase.

Setting a good example

These issues don't just happen at the customer edge of the business. These sorts of behaviors are seen regularly in the back office teams that implement business system changes. Have you ever seen:
  • Failure to record the assumptions that decisions were based on?
  • Only recording the result, not the conversation and debate that led to it?
  • Only recording the main reason for a change?
If so, you are not alone. These things always make sense to us in the thick of the change, but the details are all too easily forgotten and before long we are repeat mistakes and cracks appear in the systems that directly effect how we service our customer's needs.
Next time you find yourself frustrated with an end user not correctly documenting a change or updating a customer contract record, take a quick look in the mirror first to make sure there isn't a log in your own eye.

The bottom line

Workers will build mental models of how they think the business works whether you like it or not. Whether you are creating bottlenecks, not fully delegating authority or failing to build communications channels, your staff's productivity will suffer.
By encouraging access to situational knowledge (both via the business system or through communication with the sources) you build a more flexible and accurate model over time. One that can then propagate and self-correct socially within and between teams.

If you would like to learn more about how KM impacts your productivity and what you can do about it, our KM-101 course gives you both the understanding and the tools to make the most of your organisations collective expertise. Click here to find out more.

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