Achieving Operational Excellence and overcoming the challenges to achieving Operational Excellence in 2021
Operational excellence is a word that is heard across the business world. But what is operational excellence? How does an organization achieve it? In the “new normal” that has been initiated globally, there are many challenges to overcome to achieve excellence in any company, let alone achieving it within the remote working environment! Firstly, I am going to give a brief synopsis on what operational excellence is and then look at the challenges we are all facing in 2021 to implement excellence while working remotely.
What is Operational Excellence?
Operational excellence is a framework used to support the development of the operation, to gain insight from the operation and continually strive to improve processes and procedures that deliver efficiencies and value to the organization. There are a number of different models that can be used to deliver and define operational excellence. The model we use is illustrated below:
The first pillar within operational excellence is strategy deployment. This begins with creating a plan and setting clear objectives and timelines to achieve. Cascade the goals throughout the organisation. Front line employees and managers should have objectives broken down into realistic and measurable projects which feed into the overall company objectives. This can be executed by conducting a gap analysis within the operation to understand and identify blocks and barriers to achieving excellence.
The next step is Organize and Plan. Align, focus and engage the team. It is important to ensure that the team and key stakeholders are focused and working towards the same goal. Identify the current status quo and plan the strategy to design the continuous improvement based on the objectives. It is imperative to gauge where improvements are necessary, to create a plan for improvement. This can be done by reviewing the past performance of the agents, Team Leaders and Group Leaders. Eliminate bottlenecks, unnecessary delays, or workarounds in the process.
The next stage of strategy deployment is to Activate. Once the objectives have been defined and a plan put in place to drive improvement, the activation of the objectives should be implemented. Regular reviews of the improvements need to be conducted. Performance monitoring and performance improvement to be analysed. There should be macro reviews broken down into individual reviews to monitor operational progress and determine if any changes need to be made. For each objective, KPIs that allow management to track progress should also be developed. Our philosophy is “What gets measured, gets managed”.
The final stage to strategy deployment is Recalibrate. It is important to have progress reviews to maintain momentum. Weekly and monthly reviews are essential to keep the organization engaged in the execution of the plan. Learn from the results and performance monitoring. Adjust the process with countermeasures if identified. Stabilise the improvement to make it steady state and continue to drive a continuous improvement culture within the organization.
Our philosophy of “What gets measured, gets managed” certainly rings through when we talk about Performance Management. It is important to use and leverage the data we have to ensure that processes and procedures are working. A review of past performance is necessary to gain an understanding of how the operation has been performing and to gauge where improvements need to be made.
Once areas of improvement are identified, these improvements should be benchmarked against what the expectation should be. Set goals with new targets which are realistic and achievable yet challenging. Ensure a proper assessment of performance has been completed to avoid setting goals that are too challenging or too easy as this will lead to a false sense of achievement or could lead to demotivating the team. Document each step of the process outlining the goals, objectives and KPIs.
To achieve the set goals and objectives, the operational KPI metrics must be agreed and rolled out. Identify the productivity and performance metrics that need to be measured and identify the best ways to achieve those metrics. We use a suite of different reports to allow us to measure from macro level to micro level ensuring that all aspects of performance and productivity are captured.
Facilitate review meetings with the Team Leaders, Group Leaders and the agents on all areas such as productivity, quality, sales and service performance to ensure alignment to the goals and objectives. Ensure that these are documented so they can be referenced and reviewed in the weekly performance reviews with all employees. It is important throughout the performance management process that there is a Closed Loop on managing and driving performance improvements with individuals. Documentation and visibility of the metrics are fundamental to achieving this.
Process Excellence, alongside Process Documentation ensures standardization and co-ordination of expectations across different processes within the organization or department. Process excellence, allows a business to continue best practise when there is attrition, new hires and when the knowledge base needs to be reviewed.
Process excellence is about looking at small improvements in your current processes that are used day to day, that can yield a big increase in efficiency. At Zevas, this is what we consider a success. The first step in operations is to identify the tasks your team does most frequently and identify those that can be quickly and easily improved. From there, you can implement improvements in the process that can improve the speed with which you do things. Taking it to the next level and continuously driving improvement to performance and productivity metrics. If processes are tighter, quicker and efficient, this reaps other benefits to sales and service which adds value to our customers and clients.
Processes can be like a web where everything is intertwined. Everything affects everything else which is why it is important to plan and risk assess process improvements before implementing the change. Once the change has been implemented, again the measurement of success is important.
High Performing Work Teams
A “high-performance work team” is a group of goal-focused individuals with expertise and skills who collaborate, innovate and produce consistent, superior results. They are the backbone of any organisation. Leadership teams run companies. Project teams create new products and services. Marketing and sales teams deliver products and services to customers. High-performance work teams are essential to the way most organizations work, resulting in superior performance which in turn creates better value and a highly efficient workforce.
Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company once said “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” The strength and success of an organization’s operational excellence is built on the strong team culture within the business.
High-performance work teams consist of different purposes and goals, talent, skills, performance ethics, incentives and motivation, efficacy, leadership, conflict, communication, power and empowerment. Each individual of the team must understand and support the team’s mission and vision. Clarifying the purpose and the individuals role and responsibilities enhances the teams full potential.
Overcoming challenges to achieve Operational Excellence in 2021
Covid-19 has forced companies including our own to switch to remote working very quickly. Working from home was a luxury before the COVID-19 pandemic, however working remotely remains the only option to keep things running smoothly for many organisations and this does have its challenges. There are things that companies can do to overcome these challenges.
Communication and Visibility
Communication can be an issue in many workplaces – it’s not unique to remote employees. But in the current climate, communication should be a priority at all levels. Employers need to provide leadership and structure to set the tone for communication.
Experiment with communication tools such as Google Hangouts, Teams, Slack and Skype to find the ones that work best for your company. Ask employees to provide feedback through regular surveys and communication and do the best you can to work within their preferences.
At Zevas, we work hard to demonstrate visible leadership by having an open door ethos across team members, managers and senior leadership. Having an open conference call facility where employees can drop in if they require guidance, support or just a chat. Many organizations like to see their employees getting things done so they can validate tasks. It’s important to remember, however, that just because someone is physically present in the office does not mean they are productive. Even though you aren’t able to see your remote team, you can look at things like reporting, project updates, communication threads and regular reviews to keep an eye on how things are moving along. In this way, tracking progress with an onsite employee is no different than tracking a virtual team.
Goal and Objective setting
It was much easier in the office environment, to have regular catchup meetings with the team on how they are achieving their goals and objectives. This should be no different in the remote environment. Using models such as SMART ensures goals and objectives are achieved, measurable and have a timeline. Commit to regular online meetings with your team to review progress and take actions to follow through on tasks required for the next meeting. Help with prioritizing tasks by using a cloud-based project management tool such as Teamwork which is the preferred tool at Zevas.
Remote employees have just as much interest in their development and career progression as an onsite employee. It is important to keep the employees happy and engaged and also aware that there are career development opportunities even when working remotely. It is vital to develop clear performance criteria and promotion guidelines using the same standards that were used onsite so employees can get a sense of where they are and what they need to do to achieve their goals.
More attention should be given to the pipeline of talent with monthly reviews with managers on top talents within their teams. Development plans should be designed and implemented to review and measurable outputs for the employees. Communicate with all of your team members and reach out to coworkers and managers for feedback. When you’re in regular contact with your team, it won’t be hard to know who is going above and beyond.
Consistency is important for any business, and it doesn’t matter if your employees are based onsite or remote working. Consistency should be achieved through standardised processes to enable operational excellence across performance and productivity.
Consistency is easily the most difficult challenges of remote teams however, by building solid processes and a solid employee onboarding and training program, this will ensure everyone is aligned and on the same page. Knowing how to communicate with employees on business objectives and updates allows everyone to understand where their job fits into the company and helps drive the strategy.
Times are tough right now and there are a number of challenges that many companies had not anticipated. Whether working onsite or remotely, it does not mean that business processes need to drastically change. It’s about mindset, setting clear goals and objectives to meet the business goals and vision. Putting processes and timelines in place and having visible communication and leadership are key ingredients in achieving Operational Excellence.