Mike London

Confessions of a process improvement nerd: Part 2

We are ready for change—maybe.

June 19, 2018

In the first of this two-part series on implementing process improvement, I outlined a simple framework for improving processes within your organization.

But, as you can imagine, having a framework isn’t necessarily the key to success. In fact, it’s not even half the battle.

Before you can create better processes within your credit union, you first need to make sure the organization is ready—really ready—to take the process improvement leap.

Get buy-in

First and most importantly, you need a champion to sponsor process improvement within your organization. This person needs to be a passionate advocate who is committed to creating operational efficiencies and better experiences for your members and employees.

Who should this champion be?

In my experience, the higher up the totem pole, the better. While there have certainly been many success stories where frontline employees have implemented process changes that created better experiences, these examples are not common, and the effect of the changes are often localized and can actually create more variation.

The champion does not necessarily have to be the CEO, but someone at the executive level is usually best.

Manage anxiety

Once you have a champion, you’ll want to prepare the organization for change. All too often, managers will publicly support process improvement initiatives but become adversarial when someone tries to improve the processes in their area.

While frustrating, this is an understandable reaction. The manager may feel the organization is implying they aren’t running things efficiently or that someone else might be able to do a better job when, in reality, it could be that the manager is too close to the process to see the inefficiencies.

An outsider’s perspective can be helpful in identifying blind spots hidden to those who work in the process every day.

Second, process improvement initiatives often make people feel uneasy about job security. It’s natural and normal for employees to be concerned that, if they improve processes, they might be out of a job.

This is where the champion plays a key role in organizational acceptance. Having an executive who can address these concerns head-on is critical to aligning managers and employees with the goals of process improvement.

Remember: The goal of process improvement is to simplify processes, reduce variation, and create better experiences for members and employees. It isn’t about doing the same with less, it’s about doing more with the same.

Wait to automate

One of the most common errors organizations make when beginning their process improvement journey is equating automation to process improvement. Let me be clear: Automation is not process improvement.

Automation certainly has its benefits. It can reduce process cycle times and remove operational burdens but it does not improve or simplify processes on its own.

If your current process produces errors, automating it will only produce the errors faster.

Many early attempts to implement process improvement get bogged down by software implementation projects. These are usually slow-moving initiatives that detract from your ability to make quick, incremental improvements.

Focus on solving the problems with the current process first. Replacing outdated systems with modern ones or manual processes with automated solutions usually will improve performance, but that’s not the only arrow in your quiver.

You will likely be able to solve for a significant proportion of the process’s problems without implementing new software.

Make it measurable

Another common pitfall is failing to set measurable goals for your process improvement projects. For instance, “make the member experience better” is a poor goal.

While this may be the purpose of the initiative it does not represent a measurable outcome.

It’s far more helpful to set goals around quantifiable outcomes as opposed to qualitative ones. Of course we want to make the member experience better, but how and by improving what aspect of it?

Do you want to decrease the time it takes to process a loan application? Or reduce the number of errors on account opening documentation? These are measurable results of a process that are far better indicators of the improvements being made.

A final note on metrics: Measure the outcomes both before the change is made and after. It’s the only way you’ll know if your changes made a difference.

Start small

Don’t try to tackle a large, complex initiative right out of the gate. A failure, or even a protracted success, will hinder the acceptance, adoption, and confidence your organization has in the program.

By comparison, nothing builds momentum for a new program like quick, demonstrable, positive results.

People sometimes forget that 10 1% incremental improvements equate to a 10% improvement in the process overall. Further, observable process improvement victories will lead to a greater acceptance of the program by others inside your organization.

Success will turn skeptics into raving fans in no time flat.

MIKE LONDON is chief lending officer at Georgia United Credit Union in Duluth, and chair of the CUNA Lending Council Executive Committee.