Written By: Tom Eakin

In my own consulting business, I often work with clients who are focused on the bottom line. They want to spend their time and energies on the things that are going to bring in new business, develop new products and improve value stream processes. They want their employees to focus on the same things. Often, business leaders are distracted by the types of challenges associated with working with people. Attendance, quality of work, productivity and morale all become distracting when employees and business partners don’t meet expectations.

When I work with a new client, discussion invariably steers toward issues related to people, and frustrations often surface regarding strained relationships caused by gaps caused by personal expectations that are unfulfilled. Once, I asked a client what they thought the cause of the misalignment between their expectations and a particular employee in a key position. They said, “I don’t know what his problem is.  I mean, he’s an adult, he should know what the right thing to do is.”  My immediate response was, “Do you realize that you’re basing your expectation on the fact that he is an adult. Our jails and prisons are overflowing with adults. If the only criteria you use to determine whether an employee will do what you want or need them to do is whether they’ve lived past the age of 18, then how many adults do you think you will need to hire and then fire before you get lucky enough to stumble across one you are happy with?”

A successful business relies on three major components: people, processes and resources. Business owners focus on the resources almost without fail. For example, material costs, asset utilization and time are often continuously measured and monitored and so that adjustments can be made to optimize profits. Focusing on resources is critical –  I doubt I would ever argue with anyone about that. It takes people to transform resources into a product or service. So the key to maximizing success is making sure the people in the organization are most efficiently performing the activities required and utilizing the resources provided (materials, assets, time, etc.) to create the products or deliver the services the customer requested, in the quantity they asked for, when they want it at the price they agreed to pay. In other words, when employee behaviors match expectations, the company will be successful. It’s just so easy to say, isn’t it?

So, how can we make sure employee behaviors match expectations? This is where processes come in. Within processes, people and resources interact. Every business has processes. This is a fact. The question is: do the processes that exist in your business provide the conditions for maximizing success? How would you know?

Seeking the answers to the following questions can help business leaders ensure their people are utilizing the business’ resources to maximum effectiveness:

  1. How do we know our employees are not exposed to unacceptable risks as they create products and/or deliver our services?
  2. How do we know our products or services are not exposing our customers to unacceptable risks?
  3. How do we know whether we are creating the products and/or delivering the services our customer wants/needs?
  4. How do we know we are creating our products and/or delivering services at the greatest value to our customers while optimizing revenues?

I propose the most effective manner to find the answers to those questions is through a process-based approach:

  1. Utilize process mapping to illustrate the intrinsic customer/supplier relationships that exist between every activity required to achieve the desired outcome for:
    • Products & Services
    • Engaged, Skilled & Empowered Employees
  2. Identify the resources required for each activity and how to optimize them.
  3. Identify the risks which must be mitigated (Internal Safety & Security, External Safety & Security, Quality, and Efficiency, as discussed in last week’s article, “Leading People- Start With a Clear Mission”) to optimize success and create procedures which define the “how” for each activity to set the conditions for effective training, performance measurement and continuous improvement.
  4. Create a logical structure within which process-based information can be stored and managed so Direction is provided to every employee.
  5. Create the administrative controls which facilitate a Continuous Improvement Process.

Including well-defined processes in the business environment is the surest way to setting the conditions for success in any business model. Remembering the three critical components – people, processes and resources – is the key to the operational success of your business. These must be utilized to optimum effect so that customers’ needs are met. Create processes which communicate critical internal and external relationships and provide clear standards of behavior so your people can use your resources most efficiently. Finally, if you want to be effective at incorporating best-practices into your processes, your employees should have direct input into the process and procedure. Let them create administrative controls which ensure waste-creating incidents are identified and investigated for root causes, then assessed to ensure risks are optimized and change is managed to reduce the probability of recurrence.

About the Author:

Tom Eakin – Co-Chair, Sioux City SCORE
Tom is an expert in leadership and organizational development, business process design and continuous improvement with a strong background in operations. | SCORE Mentors