Does management really work? This was the title of an insightful article featured in Harvard Business Review exploring the value of good management practices. The three authors, also investigators, conducted a study to answer that very question. Their hypothesis centered on whether or not organizations “adhere to three practices that are generally considered to be the essential elements of good management:
- Targets: Does the organization support long-term goals with tough but achievable short-term performance benchmarks?
- Incentives: Does the organization reward high performers with promotions and bonuses while retraining or moving underperformers?
- Monitoring: Does the organization rigorously collect and analyze performance data to identify opportunities for improvement?”
Their study brought them to the floor of manufacturing plants, classrooms and hospital bedrooms. Subject groups received an intervention where they got “free, high-quality advice from a consultant who was on site half-time for five months to diagnose problems, teach managers, and implement practices,” while control groups received no such intervention. Indeed, their study showed that those intervention groups, those who adhered best to “setting targets, establishing incentives and monitoring performance” — from a textile plant in India to a poor-performing Houston school to Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle — were “strongly correlated with measures such as productivity, return on capital employed, and firm survival.”
Which begs the obvious question: How can organizations improve these best practice management practices if a high-quality consultant is not readily available or feasible? In that case, the investigators offer a good starting point:
Awareness is only the beginning, of course. Having seen where they need to improve, managers should begin working toward slow but steady progress. We’ve seen organizations make a good start by identifying which processes they need to change (for example, is product development too slow?) and then devising metrics for monitoring progress over the short and long terms. Ideally, goals should be visible to everyone—one company we studied posted its goals on the CEO’s door—and should be translated into companywide, group, and individual targets that are tracked frequently and meaningfully. That approach helps companies replace finger-pointing with timely, effective action plans across all organizational functions.
Workflow software like ProcessMaker offers where to go from here.
For any business/organizational process, it is necessary to nail down its scope, that is, “where it starts and ends,” according to Bruce Silver in BPMN Method Style. “You don’t want your modeling efforts, after weeks of interviewing subject matter experts and other stakeholders, to break down in a dispute over when the process is actually complete.”
Thus, if managers process-ize their targets, they’ll be forced to clearly articulate not only its end state (i.e., its target) but the hard, concrete steps how to get there. The gateways or benchmarks expressed in the visual workflow diagram are in turn those benchmarks needed to reach a short or long term target.
Incentives are contingent on the position and the project. Regardless, in order to most effectively and meritocratically distribute said incentives, it again requires thinking about what the scope of the process and/or project is. Vis-á-vis the poor-performing Houston school, ProcessMaker’s Teacher Evaluation and Promotion/Ascension workflows could have provided administrators a comprehensive automated solution á la what Bloomington Public Schools District currently has in place. The district is availing itself of the numerous efficiencies brought on as a result of EdAutomate’s ProcessMaker-based workflow, not least as a result of the software’s handling of teacher evaluations.
Prima facie, it may appear cumbersome to create an automated workflow to establish financial and promotional incentives. However, as evidenced by Bloomington’s teacher evaluations process, BPM can in fact help managers adhere to this principle. While teacher evaluations are but one specific example, it shows how workflow software and incentive structures can align. ProcessMaker’s flexible and intuitive interface can be easily massaged to adapt to other industry incentive structures.
BPM is uniquely suited to buttress systems for “devising metrics for monitoring progress over the short and long terms.” Monitoring is inherently built into the design of a BPM experience. Take Lakozy Toyota.
The company was being burdened by their unsustainable and unwieldy paper-based processes, which moved like the trees they came from and created a dark, dense workflow ecosystem like the forest the trees came from. Also problematic, there was no easy way to get analytics on these processes. ProcessMaker automated Lakozy Toyota’s cash voucher process, vacation among other HR processes, sales related processes, service related processes, and created an SMS Integration for those processes which required immediate attention by managers not normally at their desks. The result: increased control over workflows, greater visibility of workflows and, crucially, the ability to “rigorously collect and analyze performance data to identify opportunities for improvement.”
The take home: BPM software can be a cost-effective way to strengthen your organization’s management practices.