The Fine Art of Creating Winners, Not Losers, in a Business Process Improvement Effort

Are you a “glass half full” kind of person? There’s much to be said for seeing business process improvement (BPI) opportunities through optimistic eyes. After all, the whole point of the effort is to make a process better and thereby deliver valuable benefits to the organization, benefits like efficiency, cost reduction, enhanced competitiveness and agility, and so forth. However, even if a BPI initiative appears to be a “sure winner” for the organization, there could still be losers in the process. It’s important to acknowledge this reality at the outset, so that you can employ all the change management tools at your disposal to create winners, not losers.

Let’s consider how a couple of key stakeholder groups—employees and the leadership team—could still be winners or losers in an otherwise successful BPI effort.

  • Employees. BPI has the potential of delivering a host of “wins” to employees: improved processes can be more efficient, minimize frustrations, improve job satisfaction, offer growth opportunities with higher level work, or improve communication between team members and departments. The list goes on!

    Unfortunately, even in process changes that are well managed and delivering positive outcomes, it is not uncommon to encounter employees who are resistant to change. You can blame it on human nature, but the fact is, even when the benefits of a change are obvious, some people resist change at all costs. Perhaps they are used to doing it a certain way, or maybe their role is changing and they’re uncomfortable with that, or perhaps they fear their workload may increase. In some cases, employees can actually experience bona fide grief from losing the process they have known and the comfort and confidence that came with the job role with which they so personally and emotionally identify. And the fact is, some employees truly could be in real danger of losing their jobs because of the process change, especially if they cannot or choose not to pursue new skills sets.

    In these cases, the value and importance of listening cannot be overstated. Many employees will warm up to the cause if they feel they are being heard and if they are allowed to contribute their ideas to the discussion. Inevitably, though, there will be others who are blatantly adverse to change and must be reassigned or asked to leave the company.

  • Leadership/management team: The organization’s leadership team will reap many rewards from a successful BPI effort including  improved transparency, better metrics, and faster reporting. Inefficient, screwed-up processes are plagued with duplications and bottlenecks that can make it hard to see where operational problems and opportunities lie. As leadership teams engage in process improvement, step by step, and cycle after cycle, the enhanced efficiency of the process makes those problems and opportunities easier to see.

    In addition, the metrics and reports that leaders and managers receive about the improved process will be more targeted, accurate, and useful for decision making. Finally, those metrics and KPI reports will be quick and easy to generate. Consider how valuable transparency, better metrics and faster reporting would be if the organization was pursuing a merger or acquisition and a potential partner said, “Alright, show me your results for the last 10 years, how you’ve improved over the last 2 years, what you’ve improved and what your processes look like.”

    On the other hand, leaders and managers can be “losers” when they bring hidden agendas to the process, such as a quest for self-preservation. A real-life example that comes to mind is a company whose middle-management layer was a bit bloated, and the managers were trying to hold onto the status quo because they thought it would be the only way to safeguard their positions.

    Even managers and C-suite executives can fall victim to the anti-change mindset. The person who has been the CFO for the last 20 years is just as apt as a line employee to say, “Thank you very much, but we’ve done just fine up to now. I’m happy with the way things are. Don’t come in here and disrupt my world, because I’ve done this for 20 years.” Unfortunately, this CFO and other leaders that are resistant to change are the worst kind of losers in BPI, because they de-motivate teams. Your CFO and other leaders need to be your biggest cheerleaders, motivating their teams to get on board. 

The big winners of a successful BPI effort are customers. If BPI is done well, customers will see better, faster and/or more accurate service. Let’s consider a familiar example: In a broken sales process where the sales team and the operations team aren’t working together seamlessly, a sales representative may promise your customer ABC and your operations team may ultimately deliver XYZ. The result: a frustrated customer who may take their business elsewhere. Improving this process will provide internal benefits to employees (as described above), but more importantly, the customer will be better served. In many cases, customers are not only “the big winner” but the hero as well, as customers are often the party that calls out the need for change in the first place.


Authored by Lynne Drea

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