Have you ever worked in an organisation where understanding between departments is like a bushman of the Kalahari trying to communicate with a Wall Street banker? Alternatively, have you ever started a job and felt like the stuff you were required to read was written in Serbo-Croatian? If so, you’re already familiar with the everyday kinds of organisational dysfunction that can crop up in an organisation.
Rather than trying to solve this problem with endless inter-departmental meetings, increasingly organisations are looking to the tech industry to provide simple, business process management tools that solve organisational dysfunction and can be understood by the rank and file and not just the IT department. The idea is that all documents and processes are designed to support staff rather than confuse them, that they will always be available and accessible, and can be adapted and updated as necessary.
Even when there is a level of engagement and understanding among staff, the greater challenge is keeping the process accurate and evergreen in the face of both incremental changes as well as regional nuances, says Nathaniel Palmer, a leading expert on BPM.
“The answer for many organisations has been to concentrate process modelling and BPM initiatives in the hand of “tiger teams” with specialised training, yet this has only served to broaden the divide in understanding,” says Palmer.
Perhaps it’s easier to explore this technology and what it offers HR, in terms of solving organisational dysfunction, through the lens of a company that faced a problem of scaling too quickly, and where a business mapping solution has had a big impact.
Affinity Education Group (AEG) is a private, Brisbane-based provider of early childhood education, owning and operating more than 160 childcare centres in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
After a period of rapid growth and a series of company acquisitions that brought a large number of new staff into the business, AEG realised there was a big disconnect across its centres with process knowledge being managed through a variety of manual methods such as shared drives, email, Dropbox and Word.
“There was a lack of visibility across the business,” says De Feras Abou Moghdeb, Business Excellence Manager at AEG. “To correct the situation – and bearing in mind that our child-care staff are not typically strong IT users – we knew we needed a solution which was simple to use, yet effective and would empower every employee to review and update a process when they needed it, wherever they might be located.”
They ended up choosing a New Zealand company, Promapp, whose cloud-based business process mapping software offered a system that incorporated processes, work instructions and relevant documentation like forms and pro forma letters. Every aspect of AEG’s business has been documented, from food and hygiene, to educational activities, marketing and sales, accounts and collections, staff management, risk and compliance to audit and finance. The result is streamlined policies and processes, forms and guides, a platform for defining glossary, systems and role definitions.
Where it gets interesting from a strategy point of view for HR is how mapping processes has become more than just about efficiency, it’s about revealing cost-effectiveness.
“Until processes are mapped, activities costed and volumes identified, organisations don’t realise the actual cost of their day-to-day work,” says Moghdeb. “Ultimately we now have a healthier organisational culture, better understanding between groups and stronger performance. Our departments act as one coherent body rather than multiple dysfunctional, disjointed organisations,” he says.
The self-service approach to owning knowledge means employees can pull content when they need it rather than relying on the organisation to push it to them. At the same time, says Moghdeb, it has improved company culture. By enabling staff to structure, create, navigate, share and change business processes they foster continuous improvement, risk management and quality assurance as well as reducing organisational dysfunction – not to mention continuity when staff leave.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that organisations large and small are realising that while they need good and efficient businesses processes, unless they have stakeholder buy in and take a ‘make it simple’ approach, their staff won’t wear it and then everybody loses.