On a recent 710 WOR “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas (YS) spoke with guest,
Lisa L. Levy (LL), author of “Future Proofing cubed” and founder of Lcubed Consulting.
YS: Tell us about your work refining processes for corporate businesses.
LL: I started my career in IT project management, where everything was about getting things done, implementing new systems, solving problems with technology, but it didn’t really always work. I started to wonder why we have all these great technology solutions when they don’t actually solve real problems. I started to understand that technology enables process. If you don’t know what your process is, technology can’t do anything to help except make bad happen faster. People need to know what they’re doing and how to do it.
I came up with the equation: “people + process x technology = strategic results.” It’s a sequence of events that absolutely has to happen. That was the catalyst for me leaving corporate. I wanted to take that model to the market because it also breaks silos. I was watching executive teams bring in consulting groups to build their best version of their business process, and the next group brought in a different consulting team, and another consulting team, and all they did was reinforce silos in corporations. And that slows everything down.
YS: Do you find that in smaller corporations, there sometimes is no process?
Yes. Adaptive transformation is all about taking the four best practices from the big corporations: project management, process performance management, internal controls, and organizational change management. These are all important things in large corporations, and more often than not, they are absolutely missing in smaller businesses. But they are just skills and capabilities, things that anyone can learn. So, we build it into the culture of the company, across all functions and all roles. It really sets a foundation for doing things differently.
YS: How do you set the stage for business transformation?
One of the things that I like to do with my clients is ask them a question that’s hopefully going to make them just a tad bit uncomfortable. “Are you willing to consider breaking everything?” How people respond to that question tells me a lot. Laughter is my favorite response because it’s a disruptive question. I want to start a dialogue about truly being disruptive within your business, being willing to challenge the status quo so that we can make a positive impact. If they say the way their business is functioning today is good enough, they may not be the client I want to be working with, and I may not be the consulting group that they want to do business with.
Being able and willing to consider thinking differently is the secret that I’m looking for when I ask my first question. It sets the tone for business transformation because it means they’re willing to consider the possibilities.
YS: Perhaps you could share a story of a company that you took on this journey of transformation.
There was a group that came to my team asking to improve their customer journey. This was a group delivering services to a large base of customers, and they had never once really considered the customer. I said, “What’s your process?” and they handed me this beautiful, one-page visual process that said in a few easy steps, “Here’s what we do and how we get you the services that you need from us in 16 weeks.” It looked great, there was no jargon. Any person who picked it up would understand and expect that, in 16 weeks, they were going to get this service.
I said, “OK, how do you do it?” and six different leaders brought out Visio flowchart after Visio flowchart, and walked me through step-by-step, checklist by checklist, everything that went on. And then when they were done, I said, “OK, how often do you all communicate with each other?” They never did. There was nothing in any of their documentation that talked about team one handing off to team two, let alone referencing interaction and communication with their customer. And I said, “I want to talk with the team of people who do this work day in and day out. Bring them into the conference room with a big whiteboard, and let’s just start understanding what happens day-to-day.”
After this work effort, when we started thinking about it from the perspective of what the customer wanted, that 16 weeks’ worth of work turned out to be about four. And their customers were so ecstatic, because all they needed was to get to this service in the fastest way possible and to have communication along the way. Once this group started to be customer centric and made decisions about how they did things that were based on their customer, instead of creating checklist after checklist, it all became so much easier. When everybody’s busy but nothing gets done, that is a great sign that there’s an opportunity to make a change.
YS: What are some companies missing when they want to scale, but it just isn’t happening?
In business language, we use the terms “scaling” and “growing.” They mean two different things, but they support each other. Growth is about increasing our percentages We want to increase profitability. We want to mitigate and minimize our operating expenses.
Scaling is about putting a process in place around controlling that growth, so that you’re doing it with purpose. And with that, you have the opportunity to have growth cycles, and while you’re experiencing one, you’re planning and preparing for the next. It ties in and really requires leadership to foster innovation and having an ongoing influx of ideas of what could happen six months from now, so that we’re really constantly moving towards the future.
YS: Can you unpack the term “ adaptive transformation”?
We talked earlier about “business transformation,” and one of the things that can happen with those kinds of phrases is it feels like you do it once and you’re done. The reality is transformation should be continuously happening. Adaptive transformation sets the tone that this is an ongoing experience. It’s those four key best practices: project management, process performance management, internal controls, and organizational change. This is a foundation of building skills and capabilities that need to be instilled in everyone. This isn’t a leadership level exercise. And it isn’t something that you just put on an individual or a small group. Everybody in the organization should understand this. Because when we get to that point where we have that stream of ideas coming in, this is how we move it forward.
Project management means we can plan, work, do it, and get to an end state. Process performance management means I know where my work comes from, I know who I give it to, I know what value it adds to my customer. Internal controls are those points that we look at in process where there’s risk to the organization. We want to measure and make sure that we’re mitigating those risks. When those controls fail, we need to improve the process. So, it’s just a set of triggers that we can use to make sure that we are being good stewards of people’s time and energy. Finally, organizational change management is where we take our people on the journey to understand that change is inevitable. If we try to prevent that, our businesses are going to fail. Organizational change is about getting people to understand and embrace change, and to know why it’s happening.
Large corporations across the world use all of these things. With adaptive transformation, our whole goal is to empower everyone to be able to participate in these processes.
YS: In your book, you talk about “That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It” Syndrome. Could you expand on that idea?
It’s so prevalent everywhere. As we start to understand and ask questions about what’s going on in an environment, I’m looking to get to that answer of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Because that tells me that what they’re doing is being done mechanically. It’s not on purpose. So, that is that little trigger that says there’s an opportunity to improve. They don’t know why they do the work that way. So, they’re basically you know, robots. Jim trained Sally, who trained Mary, and so on, and it just sort of happened. And there’s so much waste that comes from that – time, money, people’s energy. Everybody’s busy, but nothing’s getting done. And that’s one of those opportunities for me to really help businesses shine.
YS: What’s the best step a company can take to make sure that they are future-proof?
The first and most important thing is to understand that there is no perfect process. Throw out that entire idea. What you need to focus on is getting to 80% correct and investing in ongoing, continuous improvement. The secret to all of this from that process perspective is that it’s only actually a process if it’s repeatable. So, if you have an employee who is so essential that the business would not survive without them, you don’t have processes in place that are repeatable. So, that is the number one place to start. Not to diminish this great employee in their superhero cape, but to make sure that they have the support so that they can take a vacation. So that they can win the Powerball and never come back, and you’ll be just fine.
YS: Could you expand a little more on the importance if internal controls?
It’s about trying to mitigate risk to a company and wanting to make sure that the processes are working. It’s not about having an auditor or somebody who is looking at the financials and understanding all the nuances. It’s about putting checkpoints in places so that you can distribute decision making across the organization. Not everything has to roll up to one decision maker if you have the right internal controls that let a team say, “We’re going to try this and see what happens. And if it doesn’t go, right, we know what that stopping point is.” It’s really decentralizing some control across the leadership team and pushing it out to the operational levels and knowing that there are specific points in time where a check is required, and you need board approval. But up until that point, you, as a leader, can do what you need to do to run your business.
YS: How does this kind of transformation translate into dollars and cents over time?
Let’s take it apart and look at a couple of pieces. Regarding productivity, you can do the same amount of work with fewer people. And you can move the other people to new things, which drives revenue. Looking at effectiveness and efficiency, we’re still using the internal resources, the dollars that we spend, the tools that we have, to do more. To scale and grow. To have new clients and customers coming in without having to hire people to throw at them because the processes are designed to embrace that. From a profitability perspective, we talked a little bit about the idea of scaling and growth. If we’re having growth cycles and planning for the next one with innovation, we’re bringing new products, services, lines of business, it hits everywhere. But also, right underneath all of that are the people who are doing the right work for the right reason. That impacts the customer satisfaction you generate and creates raving fans in your customers and employees who want to do more.
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