Time has shown that there is one key ingredient common to all successful Business Process Improvement efforts: they are led from the top down. Top management is committed, involved and believes, unequivocally, in the benefits and strategic necessity of Business Process Improvement in every area of the business.
Yet, many operations managers, supervisors and workers are struggling to launch and maintain a bottom-up improvement campaign. Although they have identified and believe in the benefits that such a program will bring to their organization and to their daily work environment, they obtain only marginal involvement from top management. Unfortunately, this means that their efforts will only be marginally effective.
So how do you get top management involved? There isn't a definitive answer to this perplexing question, but here are a few ideas:
First, it's important to be sure you're speaking their language, it’s $$$$$ in addition to addressing vulnerabilities. You need to identify and present to management the key issues with numbers. For example: a cost/benefits analysis of a process improvement program and cost-added versus value-added analysis of targeted improvements. I have found that by calculating the cost of one month’s delay almost always covers the cost of the improvement effort, even if you are aggressive in your costs and conservative in your benefits.
The vulnerabilities include reduced profits, lost accounts and unhappy customers.
The problem is, the numbers and vulnerabilities, no matter how compelling, may fall on deaf ears if there is no crisis. It's easy for management to put you off with, "What are you talking about? Things aren't so bad. We're making money." When things are going well, it is normal to want to continue to do what we have been doing.
When the business is going well, you must find other "hot buttons," or incentives, to capture top management's attention and inspire them to lead the improvement effort. Again I suggest you using the cost of one month’s delay.
The answer just may lie in applying the central concept of the improvement program itself to your dilemma:
Who's your customer?
What are your customer's expectations?
Further, who are your customer's customers?
And how do the priorities of the secondary customers shape the needs of your primary customer?
When launching a successful Business Process Improvement effort, your customer is top management. Have you ever thought about who their customers are? Who does top management answer to for results? How do their customers define "performance?"
Obviously, top management's customers are our customers, the outside customers to whom we send invoices. But top management also have other, very important, influential customers for example: the board of directors, investors, family (if privately held), investment bankers, analysts (if publicly held), stockholders, and their peers in the top management of other companies.
Chances are, these customers don't sit and talk with your top management about process improvement but rather are concerned about returns, earnings, and profits.
For this group, "process improvement" means improving the company as an investment. "Value-added" means the value added to the shares. What are their expectations? Using what strategies, in what time frames?
Look again at the top management structure of your company. Can you identify these influential customers? Look at your company's directors and consider the companies they work for as well as the other companies where they sit on the board. What successes have these other companies had with business process improvement programs? Have any of these companies used Enterprise Excellence as a vehicle to improve the quality of investment?
Look at the annual reports of other companies that have had great success with improvement programs. Read the parts where they position that success, describing the costs they incurred versus the benefits they gained, for the perception of the investment community.
If you are a shareholder in your company, take off your operations hat for a moment and put on your investor hat. What would you expect a serious business process improvement program to yield in terms of perceived value for the company and appreciation of shares?
Next, prepare your persuasive pitch to win the top management leadership from another angle: a strong public image analysis. Prove to top management that not only will the Business Process Improvement program yield savings along defined time frames; it will also create a communications asset that can be leveraged in marketing, customer service, public relations and the investment community.
It's your role, when selling the business process improvement program to top management, to give them the vision and the persuasive points that they will need to sell their customers, the directors, investors and shareholders. Be prepared to show them how Business Process Improvement adds value, not only to the product, but to the company and, ultimately, to their investment. Also for every improvement project you undertake track the cost and the benefits. At some point leadership will ask for this type of information you should be prepared to provide it.