A client and I were walking back to my car when she asked “When should we start to get concerned about our business reputation?” After a few seconds of thought, I answered “Well, if you wait until you have one, it could be too late. So I suppose the best time to be concerned about your reputation is before you actually have one. Then you still have time to help shape it rather than recover from it.”
To make sure there is a positive connection between business processes and reputation, you probably need to choose what you want to be best known for in the market place: operations (cost and speed); innovation (cutting edge of the industry); or customer relationships (ease of doing business). Your business processes reflect favorably or unfavorably on which of those brand designations you choose.
Depending upon the size of your business, you probably have somewhere between five and ten core processes, all of which are designed to make it possible to sell, create/manufacture, deliver, and invoice your products and/or services. Typically, these processes would be categorized as Sales & Marketing, Accounting, Quality & Delivery, Management (Operations, Finance, HR, IT), and Product/Service Research. Once you begin to grow, these “fundamental five” may divide into more targeted areas of responsibility.
Regardless of how many major functions you have, their presence or absence will nurture the reputation you have in the market place. So, here are three questions you can use as a starting point to measure process effectiveness.
1. How easy is it to do business with us? If your model of excellence focuses on customer relationships, then the answer from customers had better be “Very!” If your focus is on operations or innovation, then you can get away with “easy” and still sleep at night.
2. How easy is it for our employees to get their jobs done? No matter which model you choose, the answer had better be “Very!” Whenever possible – and it almost always is – have the people using the process help design and refine it. Make sure they’re focused on the outcome the process is supposed to deliver, but get them involved. If you don’t, you increase the likelihood that how things get done will become more important than what gets done.
3. How much latitude do individual employees have to override the process to correct a “problem”? If the answer is “none to not much”, then your focus should be on operations rather than customer relationships. The more limits you put on the employees closest to the customers, the more likely you are to be strongly focused on “one and done” transactions as opposed to “now and evermore” relationships.
There is no generic “right” or “wrong” answer to these questions. The answer depends upon your model of excellence. Whatever model you choose, build your processes to support that model. Then you’ll have a close alignment between what you say you want to be and the reputation your customers, vendors, community, and employees give you. Once given, a reputation can become a prison where you labor or a garden where you grow. How much fruit does your reputation yield?