Management by heroics is never an effective approach. So don’t wait until processes fail to look at ways to improve. (Photo: iStock)

It’s as true in the insurance business as it is in every industry: Successful process management is all about improving the consistency and quality of execution, increasing efficiency, and facilitating innovation within your organization.

Related: Priorities for innovation, automation and transformation

When managed effectively, process improvement efforts can be transformative. They have the ability to define and improve how your business operates, from the C-Suite to the server room.

Successfully managing and improving processes, however, is about more than just creating new flowcharts and Word documents. To succeed, process management efforts must incorporate six critically important features.

First and foremost, organizations shouldn’t wait for processes to go horribly wrong before attempting to improve them. Management by heroics is never an effective approach. Instead, businesses need to be proactive when it comes to their process improvement efforts. That means planning to improve, looking for issues that exist with the processes your organization currently has in place, and then working to fix the root causes of those process problems.

Just fixing process problems isn’t enough. To be truly successful, process improvement efforts must be led by the people whom those processes affect most – namely, the teams who use them every day. Your frontline staff knows your organization’s customer-facing processes better than anyone else and they’ve likely had more experience handling client complaints or issues than someone sitting in a corner office. Organizations that get it right encourage and enable all of their team members to get involved in process improvement. They make them the drivers of change. It’s also critical to make sure their efforts are fully supported by the senior leadership team.

Putting your staff in charge of change will mean:

        • Teams are genuinely involved and, therefore, more likely to be engaged with process change;
        • They can use their knowledge and experience as an advantage because they know what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change in order to provide a better client experience;
        • Attitudes around change will tend to be more positive, so long as teams feel involved and that their opinions are considered;
        • Capability and knowledge will be significantly enhanced because teams will be involved in improving their own processes. As a result, the learning curve can be reduced.

While organization-wide input and involvement is critical, successful process improvement must also be linked to strategy and to your organization’s long-term goals. It’s impossible to make things better without first knowing where you’re going. Figure this out and then leverage process improvement as a tool to achieve those long-term goals.

It is important for all functions of the business to be included in process improvement. While functions such as risk or health & safety can sometimes be viewed as separate from the core business, they are vital to the organization’s overall success. Integrating health and safety and risk management into the improvement plan makes them tangible to your staff. The processes will become something everyone does in their everyday work, not just something that is perceived to be taken care of by someone else.

Next, flexibility is critical. Whether it’s Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizen, or another alternative, it’s great to find a process improvement methodology that works for your organization. It’s also important, however, to be flexible, depending on the business situation and needs.

Be open to other ideas and learn from people. Methodologies should form a toolbox from which you can choose but your business might require a different approach.  The more you can make sure your approach to improvement works for your organization — and becomes a part of everyday business — the more likely you are to be successful.

Finally, constant improvement should become the standard. Process improvement should be consistent, not something that is done occasionally. Improving your processes must become part of your organizational culture and must be ongoing — something you and your staff think about and do every day.

Establishing a culture of improvement means measuring and celebrating success, rewarding ideas (even if they’re not used), linking improvement to organizational goals as well as KPIs, and making processes visible and accessible to everyone in the organization. 

How fast should process improvements be implemented? Some organizations argue that the startup mantra “fail fast and learn” is the way to go, while others favor a more cautious, considered approach. Depending on the situation, a mix is probably right. Analysis and planning are important, but waiting for perfection can hold you back.

Because process improvement isn’t something that’s ever going to be finished, the most important thing is to actually start. When it is a built-in, ongoing part of your business, little mistakes along the way become opportunities for growth and innovation, rather than failures.

See also:

Fiduciary rule could spur innovation

3 dos and don’ts for insurance innovation (Part 1)

3 more dos and don’ts for insurance innovation (part 2)

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