The long-term affects of short-term goal tracking
By David B. Riley, MBA
As an organization grows, processes and standard procedures evolve. The new person needs training, so someone jots down the steps in a couple of key procedures. Perhaps a prospective customer wants to know how you’ll service their account, so you put it in your proposal. Gradually, stopgap procedures and one-time solutions begin to accumulate. You then learn one of the fundamental truths of organizational life: There is nothing so permanent as a temporary solution.
What started as a quick fix to an immediate problem now becomes firm policy. And so it goes, year after year. Unfortunately, the long-term outcome of this approach is the business owners become more central to daily operations and find it nearly impossible to extricate themselves.
This shows up in our conversations through statements such as, “The work ethic today isn’t what it used to be.” Translation: “I have to constantly follow up to solve problems my employees create.” Another: “I just can’t find good people!” Translation: “We don’t know how to hire good people.”
I’m sure you have some good employees, so it isn’t a matter of whether there are good employees out there. It’s whether you’re hiring them. Hiring good people goes back to having documented processes and outcomes.
A very good stockbroker once told me how he became successful. He was making 100 calls a days to solicit and build his client base. Nobody likes to cold call, particularly when people hang up time after time. But along the way, he noticed the longer he could keep people on the phone, the more successful he was in signing them up as a client.
Each time he talked to a new prospect, he tracked how long he kept the person on the phone and noted what was said during those brief interactions. Over time, he built a list of phrases and approaches that kept people on the line. He continually refined the process, and after a relatively short time, developed a proven approach that others could duplicate. New people coming into the firm got a jumpstart on the other brokers, while veterans saw evidence of new and successful techniques.
You are not hiring hundreds of employees in a short time, so documenting and improving processes that work will take longer. But the positives of doing so cannot be overstated.
The most successful companies take inventory of the warehouse more than once a year. Those same companies examine their processes and procedures on a similarly regular basis with an eye toward small, incremental improvements. They don’t accept the adage that a temporary solution becomes permanent.
Gemini research revealed managing processes and outcomes has five components:
- Identify key processes and outcomes: The major elements that impact overall organizational performance are identified and tracked, including those that require step-by-step performance.
- Document business processes: That documentation is current and complete, and is available in an easily accessible location. Employees see the documentation as sufficient.
- Feedback: Major outcomes are continuously tracked and feedback posted in the workplace and given to employees responsible for making them happen. Performance goals are indicated. Employees should know how they are doing on a continuous basis.
- Workflow improvement: Business processes that produce the most important outcomes should be systematically evaluated on a regular basis. Employees should feel that there is a company-wide focus on improving productivity and effectiveness.
- Position descriptions: These should exist for all employees and should be built around the outcomes that person is responsible for achieving. A process for updating position descriptions on a regular and routine basis should exist, and the employee should see the position description as up-to-date and accurate.
Where to start? As a practical matter, focus on processes that result in the most important outcomes. For example, many of us track units sold or contracts our sales staff signed. Few of us track how many phone calls they make to prospects or how quickly they follow up on a website inquiry. The contract is the outcome.
However, it’s the processes that result in the contract. Focus on documenting and refining the process. It wasn’t how many phone calls the stockbroker was making; everybody in the office was making hundreds of calls a day. This broker improved the component that resulted in new clients — how long he kept a prospect on the phone.
Documenting processes and outcomes has proven difficult to implement. It takes time and persistence, and the payoff is not immediate. Nevertheless, the benefits are tremendous. When an organization commits to tracking and improving key procedures, everything from daily demands on your time to the value of your company are positively affected.