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Costly Neglect

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Companies are not paying enough attention to process and people change. What can be done to rectify this?

I was sitting in a meeting of a major hospital's leadership team when the head of nursing started to complain angrily about how healthcare records were being digitized. She knew that these computer systems could lead to better patient care and improved quality – aka, reduced clinical errors – but the systems were being implemented in a way that made the work of the hospital's nurses more difficult, not better.

Not enough attention had been given to how nurses do their work and how that work would change with digitized records. The nurses were still required to fill out redundant paper forms in addition to using the new technology. The change had become a major distraction from a nurse's real purpose: the care of patients.

I continue to be amazed at how companies and institutions – including hospitals – fail to recognize that new technologies cannot just be dropped into organizations. Large ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems that change the logistics of whole companies are often implemented with a disregard for how those systems will affect a company's business processes and people. A recent Gartner study estimated that for every dollar (or pound) a company spends on new technologies, that company will spend three to ten dollars (or pounds) to retrofit its processes and culture. This metric gets further out of whack when companies neglect process and people change.

Here's how to address the challenge:

  • Begin by holding every major computer systems project as a process change, not a technology change. Asses how the work of your people will be affected and prepare a road-map that describes how change will be accomplished.
  • Do a skills and cultural assessment of your organization. How much training will be required to operate differently? How will work behaviors change? Will training accomplish that change or will you need to replace some people? And be sure that you have agreement with your management teammates on the people and process changes. Most processes changes break down in the first couple of months because management isn't aligned.
  • Standardize your processes as you implement new technologies. In my experience, every branch of your company will argue that it is unique and needs unique processes. That will lead to non-standard systems, and systems that can cost ten times that of a single system and a standard set of processes. Real work is really not different from location to location. Hold the line on system and process modifications.
  • Drive a culture of operational excellence. All the plans and assessments that you make will be worth nothing if you cannot execute.

© Jim Champy

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