How well do you really know your business?
It seems like an obvious question, and most leaders might say “of course I know my business!”, but once you start to dig a little deeper, the gaps start to appear. Knowing your business is not just understanding your mission, vision, and values, or being able to describe your company culture, and account for each penny on the bottom line. Really knowing a business inside and out means knowing not just what it is you do, but how you are doing it. This applies to processes in every business area and involves far more than creating a few static process maps. This is never more evident than when the concept of digital transformation, or opportunities for new technology rear their heads.
As new and improved technology is developed, organisations are presented with numerous opportunities to innovate and streamline. Many companies think they understand their business already, and so jump into an implementation without a well-documented strategy, and this ends up wasting money on automation tools that do not provide the best value or business fit. This can be recipe for disaster, not least when it comes to a transformation project, and organisations can find themselves wasting significant amounts of time, not to mention money. So how can you make sure you understand every area of your business?
Document, Document, Document
Procedural documentation is often overlooked, as processes are passed on orally, and evolve and develop over the years. This means, however, that information can be lost over time, particularly when staff turnover, and technology system updates are thrown into the mix. Organisations should make sure that they have a clearly documented outline of all processes, however small, and consider any and all variations to these that may occur. It can be tempting to simply jot down the basics of how each role and task is performed day-to-day, but it is also vital to think about any other eventualities, less regular tasks, and any outliers, and how these are dealt with.
Consider the Wider Picture
It isn’t just the individual process that needs consideration; understanding where each process sits and how departments interact with each other can help build a wider view of an organisation. This generally changes and evolves as a business grows, and so always needs to be monitored. When mapping out these linked processes, make sure to capture any dependencies and how they could better link together, especially as any automation or technology solution may not cover all areas.
Review and Update
Once you have got it all on paper, the documentation should not be allowed to gather dust. All processes change over time, even just with new team members or software updates. Ensure you have regular review sessions to monitor how processes have developed and note down changes. Have they naturally shifted? And more importantly, has that change been for the better? This is the chance to gather feedback from your teams and adapt and tweak processes that have proven cumbersome. These reviews also offer the opportunity to refresh training and ensure any processes that are still relevant are being followed correctly.
So why is it important to really know your business? And once you have this full understanding, how does it set you up for the future?
Leaders are often concerned with the idea of ‘future proofing’, and whilst this is not always a possibility, organisations can, and should, look to put themselves in the best possible position to adopt technology and become more efficient. It can be very tempting to leave each employee and department to their own devices, and assume that any knowledge is being captured, yet this leaves an organisation exposed to a high degree of risk. The loss of key knowledge holders is common as staff turnover in most markets remains high. As different departments also often work on different softwares or systems, there is also a cyber security concern, as to how (or if) these are integrated, and how information is passed around between teams. Centralising this knowledge not only ensures continuity of operations in most eventualities, but also allows for regular security and data reviews.
Automation is something that is increasingly popular, however businesses attempting to overlay automation onto old processes inevitably fail to see efficiency gains. This inefficient use of automation tools happens when some processes are not considered in the automation implementation, and this leads to errors. The inevitable then happens – manual human intervention, essentially increasing workloads by having to repeat each process manually, that was intended to be automated.
Knowing your business process is especially important when it comes to data. Data has been the hot topic for the past few years, and organisations are finally realising the importance and potential uses of their data. Many leaders are now looking to AI to analyse data and add more value to the business. However, it can be difficult to use data to make improvements if the processes to which the data refers are not properly understood or documented. When looking at data, it can be very useful to understand how the data links to a process in order to make informed decisions and identify failings or inefficiencies in an organisation.
Knowledge is power, and making sure key knowledge holders share that information internally, rather than remaining siloed and separate can help organisations immeasurably. Whether looking at automation, data management, or even a full-scale transformation project, really knowing the lay of the land is the first step to ensure success.