Improving Business Processes: Where to Start

Many corporate consultants speak of the importance of improving business processes, but for some organizations it can be difficult to know where to start. This insight piece provides several ideas of areas for organizations to consider when determining which processes are in greatest need of enhancement.

Examples of areas for process improvement

Processes for hiring employees

A successful company requires happy employees. Think about how employees are treated early on, during the hiring, onboarding, and training process. This experience sets the scene for their opinion of the company. Think about your processes in areas like:

  • Job listings
  • Applications review
  • Interview setup
  • Interviewing
  • Employee selection
  • Contract negotiation
  • Benefits signup
  • Payroll setup
  • First-week training
  • IT onboarding

These are just a few of the areas around hiring to consider. There are other HR processes that come into play later on, including performance evaluations, benefits open enrollment, and time off requests. Consider the efficiency and effectiveness of these processes. Are employees receiving information and documents in a timely manner? Can relevant information be easily accessed digitally? Are employee questions quickly and adequately answered?

Processes for customer service

Consider your processes around serving your customers and/or clients. Are you easy for them to reach; do they feel comfortable contacting you when a need arises? How quickly do you provide a resolution to their issues or questions? Are they happy with the quality of the product or service you provide? Do you give them an opportunity to provide constructive criticism? Below are examples of customer service-related processes that could be considered for optimization:

  • Purchase/contract approval
  • Account assignment
  • Account kick-off
  • Product or service delivery
  • Regular customer updates and briefings
  • Customer requests, inquiries, and troubleshooting
  • Customer payment
  • Customer feedback solicitation
  • Account reassignment

These are some general processes tied to customer service, but more specific workflows exist for particular industries. For example, the higher education industry involves processes around student registration, class selection, teaching, out-of-class communication, supporting curricula, grading, testing, class evaluation, and graduation. At some schools many of these processes are fairly standardized across the school, while at others individual teachers or departments have great leeway in determining processes.

Processes for selecting suppliers

Another area that may require improvement is processes around selecting suppliers. This includes suppliers of physical products, including office supplies, coffee, computers, vehicles, chemicals, and furniture. It also includes suppliers of services, like electricity, Internet, trash removal, cleaning, paycheck processing, legal advice, and the list goes on. These products and services are essential for the smooth operation of the business; efficient processes contribute to the quality of these resources. Common processes around selecting suppliers include:

  • Evaluation of required products, services
  • Research on available providers
  • On-site visit/phone calls
  • Quote solicitation
  • Evaluation of quotes
  • Contract/proposal stage
  • Periodic review of supplier performance
  • Contract renewal
  • Periodic assessment of new needs

Other processes are involved with the actual provision of products and services. For example, companies need to fine-tune logistics around payment, communication, and troubleshooting/repairs. Ensuring that these workflows are efficient, well understand by both parties, and satisfactory for both parties is essential for running a successful organization. This last component can sometimes be a challenge, as different management teams may have different preferences (e.g., a preference for paper vs. digital technologies).

3 takeaways

  • Looking at processes around employee hiring/satisfaction, customer service, and supplier selection/logistics is a good start for identifying areas for business process optimization.
  • Organizations can also review industry-specific business processes, such as processes around student testing in education or patient billing in healthcare.
  • In order to determine the adequacy of processes, they should be viewed through the lens of their efficiency; effectiveness; and acceptance by employees, customers, and suppliers.