Much of the world is currently concerned with the largest outbreak of the Ebola virus in history (WHO). As people travel from and through the countries involved, they bring an increased risk of the disease to themselves and to all with whom they have direct contact. Historically, about 50% of those who contract Ebola do not recover (CDC).
With no proven vaccine for the virus yet developed, as a world we must focus on the containment and prevention of Ebola. This means processes must be developed, implemented, and uniformly and universally adhered to by all involved health professionals and anyone who may have been exposed. As we have seen in the news, the smallest slip-up puts people at risk, fosters criticism, and fans the flames of fear. That said, neglecting to manage the processes put in place to contain Ebola could have dire consequences.
Processes and the Four Levels
We have previously discussed the four organizational levels in this space: Worker, Work, Workplace, and World. Ebola is a challenge at the World level. As such it is a complex and politically charged problem. Here in the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is responsible for developing and disseminating processes for containing Ebola.
Even the most carefully designed and implemented process will fail if it is not competently and vigilantly managed. The news spotlighted examples of process breaches that have resulted in people bringing Ebola into the U.S. as well as the increased risks incurred when those processes are not carefully managed. President Obama has reacted by appointing Ron Klain as the Ebola response coordinator. It is Mr. Klain's charge to manage the processes designed to contain and prevent Ebola. He is, in effect, a functional process manager in a critical role.
Why is the management of a process, whether in response to a lethal threat like Ebola, or in support of a business goal, so critical? Let's look inside our organizations at the Work Level, home of process development, to find out.
“The core business of an organization is an idealized construct intended to express that organization's “main” or “essential” activity. (Core Business: Wikipedia)
A core business process is a “Key activity or cluster of activities which must be performed in an exemplary manner to ensure a firm's continued competitiveness because it adds primary value to an output.” (Core Process: Wikipedia)
Below are ten core business processes most organizations must have to produce results and fulfill their goals. Each core process has critical sub-processes. What are the core business processes in your organization?
Geary Rummler describes his concept of a Value Creation System to include core business processes. He cites selling a product or service and managing that core process as:
- Product/Service Launched
- Product/Service Sold
- Product Service Delivered
- Customer Support Provided
Each of these process components must be attentively managed to succeed and contribute to the organization's goals, (Rediscovering Value, p.19) which brings us to management.
At its most basic, management is “the act or skill of controlling and making decisions about a business, department, sports team, etc.” (Mirriam Webster).
Effective management has three components:
- Processes and procedures
- Management skills
- Leadership (Rediscovering Value, p.27)
Thus, the failure to manage process is a failure to manage.
The potential consequences of an un-managed process include:
- Undermined core business processes
- Related processes up- and down-stream at risk for failure
- Threatened sub-processes
- Potentially, the failure of the organization to produce results, meet goals, and achieve its mission
Problems at the Work/Process Level
What can happen inside an organization when functional managers fail to manage the processes they control? Here is a case example:
“At the start of a meeting about the declining performance of the 300 customer care managers in the field offices of a statewide insurance company, the attending stakeholders “knew” that the customer care managers lacked skills and knowledge and required training. By the meeting's end, they were not so sure. The presenting problem was that the customer care managers could not delegate, but during discussion several concerns unrelated to skills and knowledge surfaced.
“The two performance consultants attending the meeting quietly gathered information for further investigation. Not surprisingly, several issues arose from the work that the customer care managers were responsible for, such as certain lower level tasks usually performed by an entry-level employee. Since so many field offices were short staffed, many customer care managers were simply doing this work themselves because they found it faster than showing an employee how to do it.
“Typically, customer care managers were responsible for customer service research such as locating a missing policy payment or comparing coverages available among several policies. In recent years, operational processes like these had been removed from the field offices and centralized into regional processing centers to provide faster results and gain economies of scale. The processing centers had service level agreements (SLAs) with the field for the tasks they performed, but they were missing their deadlines regularly. Many customer care managers had faced irate customers because some research took longer in the processing centers than it had in their offices, and in frustration, these customer care managers conducted duplicate research simply to serve their customers better.
“The two performance consultants reached agreement with the stakeholders to conduct a full-scale analysis of the situation with a focus on work, process, and practices issues. They named the project Service Fitness and went off to plan their analysis.
“They began by compiling a list of the issues they had heard about in the meeting:
- Duplicate research activities in field offices and processing centers
- Customer care managers working extensive long hours
- Number of customer care managers out on stress leave
- Numerous customer complaints
“The consultants further assumed that the customer care managers experienced considerable task interference because they were doing so many tasks in addition to their regular responsibilities. They identified the processing centers' inability to meet many of their SLAs [Service Level Agreements] as a Critical Process Issue, flagging this as a potential driver of other difficulties the customer care managers were experiencing.” (Addison, Haig, Kearny, p. 35-36)
Signals That a Process is Not Being Managed
Strong signals that a process is not being managed are evident in the case above and include:
- Products and services are slow to reach the customer
- Customers and employees complain
- Overtime is excessive
- Process delays
- Activities are duplicated
- Manual verification of automated processes
- Task interference (Addison, Haig, Kearny, p. 38)
Because processes that enable employees to complete tasks, produce expected results, and contribute to the core business fuel organizations, un-managed processes impede progress and send these and other trouble signals.
Reasons for Process Management Neglect
As performance architects, we have seen the results when functional managers do a fine job of implementing a new or updated process and then move on to other priorities. Their failure to manage the process after implementation may be due to one or more of the following:
- Process management is not typically in the curricula for business degrees, nor is it usually found in management training courses or books
- Functional managers may not see the need for actively managing the processes they control
- Managers confuse change management with process management, thus managing the process change but not the post-implementation process
- Managers are not usually evaluated on their process management acuity
Process Management Prescription
So, what can we do to make process management a critical responsibility for functional managers, and how can we build the needed skills to accomplish this?
If one or more signals that a process is not being managed are present (see list above):
- Ask if the process worked previously and, if it did, what has changed
- Determine what requires managing to support the neglected process – the process itself, the practices of employees using the process, the employees themselves
- Re-evaluate existing service level agreements (SLAs) or establish them if they are not in place
- Provide oversight up- and down-stream, to and from the core business processes and sub-processes
- Monitor the SLAs and adjust as results dictate
We have established that core business processes and sub-processes support an organization's core business. Sub-processes must be integrated horizontally and managed to produce intended results. When a new or updated process is implemented, functional managers must effectively manage the change and then control the environment once implementation is complete. Siloed processes, like anything else in an organization that exists in a vacuum, have no place in high-performing, successful organizations.
Addison, R., Haig, C., Kearny, L. (2009). Performance architecture: The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer
Centers for Disease Control. Information About Ebola. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov. November, 2014.
Core Business. In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_business. October 2014.
Core Process. In BusinessDictionary. Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/core-process.html#ixzz3IooJ0YXn. November, 2014.
Ebola virus disease. Fact Sheet N°103. September 2014. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/
Management. In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/management. October, 2014.
Rummler, G. (2011). Rediscovering value. San Francisco, CA. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Top Ten Core Processes. In BizManualz – Policies, Procedures & Processes. Retrieved from http://www.bizmanualz.com/blog/what-are-the-ten-core-business-processes.html. November, 2014.