How can you ensure your SME does not outgrow its processes?

By Joanna Strahan, C2C Process Group

If you are going out for a meal where you know the food is delicious and hard to resist there is a good chance that you’ll wear something comfortable with a bit of give!

This is approach can be applied in business. You need to plan for growth and be agile and responsive to change. That way your SME will not outgrow its processes.

Let us start with defining what a process is.

A process is a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a task or goal. Processes can be as simple as how to answer the phone when a customer call or a detailed written procedure with a several hold points or approvals needed along the way.

Most SMEs will have a set business strategy or vision, this will show the direction of the company and the products or services it offers, it will also state what they want to achieve and who they will do business with. In order to achieve your vision, you will have a set of core processes that help you to deliver the company’s products or services. However, in many cases this doesn’t happen, and companies outgrow their processes, which can trap them, preventing them from expanding and increasing their profit.

Our experience tells us that there are three main reasons for SMEs outgrowing their processes.

The mistakes

1) Not taking time at the start to set core processes

When starting a business, it can feel like a race to the finish line and because of that people get swept away with the excitement of getting started, but if you don’t spend time preparing and planning, you’ll come unstuck.

Imagine you are brewing a new beer. If you don’t follow the 10 key stages of the brewing process, the end product won’t taste great and if you are lucky enough to create the perfect beer and you haven’t recorded how you got to it, you won’t be able to recreate it next time.

It is therefore essential, right from the start, to be clear what the process is, and to record it. This not only means you can repeat it, but others, as they come onboard and your team expands, can also repeat it.

Tweaking and revising your plan as you go is good practice – after all nothing stays static and you learn as you develop - but not having a plan, is you planning to fail.

2) Putting clients’ needs above your own

Whilst clients’ needs are important, remember they come to you to deliver a product or a service. And they chose you for a reason – in other words they like your product or service the way you do it. Remember this before you start pandering to every request.

For example, let’s look at an artisan bread maker and his/her vision of creating affordable artisan bread. The first few months go well, and sales are through the roof at the local food market. Then requests start coming in for gluten and diary free, all organic, cheesy topped bread etc. Should you adapt your recipe to satisfy these requests? Do they fit with your original vision? What are you left with if you change the recipes of the breads that made you popular in the first place? Have you now created an expensive bread that is no longer able to be made by hand?

Of course, it is important to listen to your customers, but you also need to consider your own needs and the vision of the business. Just trying to adapt what you do to suit everyone will almost certainly mean you end up with a process that no longer works and a product that suits no one.

However, there may be requests that make sense for you to incorporate in your products and services. Your customers’ feedback can be a great way to gauge how and when to expand the business. But before you do this, ensure the changes fit into your core process. Just bolting them on makes the process unwieldy and can mean that it is harder to replicate and ensure quality control.

If you are creating a completely new product, then take the time to create a suitable process for that new product/service.

3) Creating a tick box process to suit others

Several companies want or need accreditations or certifications, for example ISO9001, in order to compete in a market. To achieve this, they write a procedure that ticks the boxes for each requirement but is not created holistically and doesn’t align to the core process. The procedure ends up sitting outside the core process and is therefore often overlooked. People perceive it as a bolt on task – not something that is essential or needs proper care and attention, so it is neglected as are too busy doing their day job. Processes should be designed to reflect and align with the core processes so that all aspects and activities are considered to be part of job the person does.

The key to not outgrowing your processes is to focus on each individual process and find ways to fit the needs and wants of your clients and other interested parties into what you do best. To do this you will need to get both the performance measurement and the culture right. Never forget that people can make or break a process.

The solutions:


People are creatures of habits and we often hear “I’ve been doing it this way for years”. But if you do not want to outgrow your processes you will need to create an agile and responsive culture.

This requires joined up thinking and collaborative working, being open to change and empowering your teams to be creative and to make change happen.

A good way to build this culture is to establish Process Working Groups. These groups will have the responsibility for setting the process, reviewing its successes and looking for improvements. The people in these groups should be selected, not only for their knowledge and understanding of the current process, but for their energy, their edge, their ability to enthuse others and their capacity to get the job done.

When starting a Process Working Group, it needs to be given a brief to work to. In order to create a clear brief, the following questions will need to be answered:

· Why do we need to change?

· What are we trying to achieve (increase compliance, time or cost efficiencies)?

· What are the risks to the business if this is not achieved?

· Do we need to include performance reviews, measures or objectives?

· What is the timescale to implement any changes required?

The working group should be focussed on the bigger picture and must be open to feedback. It needs to be objective when reviewing the success of the process. Remember things change, processes grow and evolve and sometimes things just don’t work out how you would have wanted them to. Do not see these as failures, instead view them as lessons to learn from and improve.

The working groups should also be involved in the initial implementation and will need to be a constant champion for the new process. Communicating the change and the reasons for it, is key. People should know why they are doing something, not just what they need to do.

Performance Review

For a number of people performance reviews and audits can be a stressful part of their job. The worry of someone going through what you do with a fine-tooth comb and finding any mistakes or the things you just haven’t had time to do, can be very stressful.

As a business owner or manager, if you want to keep your processes agile and responsive you will need to change this perception.

One way to help reduce the stress is to ensure the team understands that the review is also about the process itself – not just the person carrying it out. This approach is more holistic and allows you to complete process-based auditing. This helps avoid the ‘tick box’ mentality.

These process audits should look at:

· The purpose of the process

· What business objective is it supporting?

· Is it managing the risk and exploiting the opportunities?

· Is it achieving its purpose? or

· Are there barriers, blockers or waste in the process?

Essentially, the process audit is checking that the process is effective and efficient.

These audits must be a true and honest reflection of the process and should not be carried out by anyone who is part of the task/project or the process working group.

The feedback from these audits along with any other performance measures should be given to the Process Working Group for review. The auditor and the working group should agree any corrective actions needed and should identify any changes or improvements to the process.

It is vital to start your business with robust process and then audit them regularly over time. That way your core processes will grow with your SME.


Joanna Strahan is founder of C2C Process Group and an expert in business improvements, management systems, achieving industry accreditations, auditing and inspections. C2C Process Group offers expert support in the implementation of process and risk-based approaches, driving operational efficiencies, compliance monitoring and collaborative working as well as helping businesses ensure high standards of quality, safety, and sustainability.


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