Getting results: focus on Effectiveness, not Efficiency – and then apply Innovation

Adam Walls

Vision & Value Series: In last week’s column, Simon Brown listed 5 Steps to Getting Real Satisfaction from your Shared Services Customer, based on a popular breakout session that he and four other practitioners ran at Shared Services & Outsourcing Week (Europe). Here, Adam Walls, one of the other collaborators, explains how to tackle Innovation.

Every person has an in-built desire, even a need, to innovate. It's a natural human response to stress, or choice. For example, people will walk under the wing of an aircraft rather than walk around it, knowing they shouldn’t but succumbing to the tempation of a shorter route. This is real-time innovation: a time-saving sollution.

One of the questions I am often asked is: How do you make people adhere to a process? The answer is: You don’t, in a service environment. People are the process. They don’t do the job, they are the job.

The process only exists on paper, and the people tell you what they think you want to hear. You ask them to follow the process, so while you watch over them, they do. Then you ask them what the process is and you write it down.

Your process expert then looks at the process and removes lots of activities, claiming great savings. The new process is implemented – and performance quickly goes back to where it was. What happened?

Truth is: people were already following this "new" process every time you weren’t looking. They had innovated a much better process from the start, but you wouldn’t let them use it. So, the next time you ask for help you find them not very receptive. This is not how innovation thrives.

We ask our people to behave like machines. We expect process standardisation – a dream invented in the factory age. Either Taylor had a point or he was completely wrong. There cannot be a worse environment to work in than one where innovation is crushed and treated with suspicion.

Machines don’t innovate, people do, and you employ thousands of them. Management of natural instincts is generally expensive and often futile. So why do we not focus our efforts on creating a safe environment for them to express their innovations and offer them training to ensure they are safe? This is a much less expensive option and will bring you great benefits in areas you never considered.

Support innovation. It will give you the edge and repay you in ways your efficiency program never will. And the best bit? People will do it for free, often in their own time, and then thank you for the opportunity.

Here's an example from a company that operated across 20 sites in 8 countries. The company is a pan-EMEA BPO with small, medium and large clients, supporting mainly customer service and back office functions. Over 120 people were trained across EMEA leading to many initiatives, including the UK's first domestic IT helpdesk which went on to become the design of choice for the biggest name in that market today. The BPO Change Management process was designed here, as were many of the customer services processes for some of their biggest clients. These achievements were all about effectiveness, not efficiency. Unlike with efficiency, there is no limit to how effective people can be. If your focus is on effective process then there is some room for innovation.

The processes that were designed in the above example were the ones the users wanted to have redesigned. The result: The initiative returned its investment in one year, people had fun, problems were fixed, and money was saved. That's innovation.

Look out for part 4 of the Vision & Values series next week.