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When And How To Create A Standardized Process For Teams

When And How To Create A Standardized Process For Teams

With many companies moving to a model where their teams can work from anywhere, standardizing key processes could be more important than ever.

All it takes is one simple question to discover the importance of standardizing processes in a team: ask a few of your colleagues how they send an email.

One team member might say they look up the address of the message recipient and put it in first. Then they come up with the subject line and begin writing the body of the email before they press “send.”

When you hear from a second coworker, though, sending an email could sound very different. They might open a new message and write the body of the message first, then add the recipient name and just leave the subject line blank. Another person might look up a previous email thread and simply add another message rather than writing a new one.

The list could go on — and on. This is despite the fact that sending emails is one of the most common processes within most businesses.

Not all processes in a business need to be standardized, of course. There are some which could allow room for autonomy or the ability to adjust approaches based on the circumstances in which the process is being completed.

Sales reps might close a deal in a wide variety of ways based on the needs of the customer, the number of people involved in the buying decision and how quickly it needs to be done.

There are other processes, though, where a lack of standardization can get a team into trouble.

If your CRM isn’t updated with customer data in a standard fashion, for instance, it may be difficult for some members of the team to get information they desperately need. Worse yet, if you’re still using a spreadsheet, you could have many different versions of the same information.

Taking an ad-hoc approach to managing payments could result in revenue not being properly tracked in accounting systems, creating errors in financial reporting.

Imagine if every customer service agent handled product returns through their own, made-up process. Needless to say, companies can’t afford for that to happen.

The surprising thing about many of our business processes is that they aren’t standardized until something begins to go wrong. Duplication of effort, missed targets, angry customers — it sometimes takes a critical or urgent issue for teams to give age-old processes more scrutiny.

With many teams moving to a model where they are not always in the same office but can work from anywhere, standardizing key processes is arguably more important than ever. This is a process in and of itself and can take different forms, but here’s one approach to consider:

1. Prioritize the Processes That Connect to KPIs

You have to start somewhere, and if a broken process isn’t already rearing it’s head you won’t go wrong by focusing on key performance indicators (KPIs). These might include the basics like revenue or customer-churn.

KPIs could also be more specific to a team. A marketing department might have KPIs associated with how well ad campaigns are converting prospects into customers, for instance, while customer service teams might be trying to improve first call resolution.

Whatever the KPI you choose, think through all the processes that are designed to help you move the needle on them. This is a good exercise to do when you’re first appointed to lead a team, but you can try it at any time.

2. Document the Process Variations and Their Impact

Take any of the processes you’ve chosen in the first step. Now, bring the team together and ask everyone to describe how they believe it is commonly done, just like the example of sending an email.

People on the team might be surprised to discover the number of variations in a process. Some might feel they need to justify their specific approach, and even get defensive. There could even be disputes about how people were trained on a particular process.

It’s important as a leader to create a safe space for people to be open and honest about the way processes are done. That’s the only way you’ll be able to introduce standardization that people will agree upon.

3. Establish a Clear, Consistent Standard

There may not be a single “right way” to do everything on a team, but there has to be a standard way based on a logical rationale. The standard approach to a process should be based on what makes sense from a productivity standpoint, but also in terms of what makes for a positive employee and customer experience. The standard should also lead most directly to the desired business outcome.

Remember the standards that are most readily accepted by a team are also the ones that are the clearest and simplest to follow. Given that many processes involve the collection, management and sharing of data, look for a single, centralized source of truth about your processes. This will reduce the propensity of silos happening within a single team.

4. Provide Avenues for Communication and Feedback About the Process

If standardization will change the way people work, you have to give them mechanisms to ask questions if they’re uncertain, and feedback if sticking to a standardized approach introduces unexpected new problems.

Select channels where communication is as quick and easy as it would be in person. Many organizations have dedicated Slack channels, for instance, where they can get a rapid resolution to a problem involving a standard process, or to brainstorm solutions when multiple team members need to be involved.

5. Set a Date to Review the Standard Processes and Change as Necessary

Businesses probably had a lot of standards around how surface mail was collected. Then digital channels like email and SMS were invented, and processes needed to change along with it. Even if the standards you put in place with your team are successful today, your business may evolve in unexpected ways tomorrow.

Committing to a review of your most critical team processes can also help make your coworkers more comfortable with adjusting their workflow and doing what’s best for the rest of the group.

Standardizing processes can be motivating — especially if it puts the team in a better position to be successful.

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