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13 December 2012

Process improvements just for the sake of change?

We have all been confronted with process improvements and adaptation of organization structures. The objective is always to improve efficiency, to be more customer-oriented or to reduce costs. While some are just small improvements, other may have a large impact on the organization and way of working. In both cases we are nevertheless often confronted with questions like ‘do we really need to change the process’ or ‘why should we change a process’. Asking these questions before changing a process is good as we don’t want to change processes only for the sake of change.


So when should we, marketers, invest time, energy and resources in improving processes or reviewing our organizational design? Even in times of budget restrictions during which we already need to do more with less, I believe process improvement is crucial if the answer on one of the 3 following questions is negative.

1)      Is the Marketing Strategy closely aligned with the Corporate Strategy?

Although it seems to be evident, in some companies marketing plans aren’t aligned with the business objectives. As a consequence, marketing budgets and efforts aren’t spent efficiently. Being aligned with the business strategy allows to focus but also to reduce the time to market for example. So we need to ask ourselves whether there is a structural communication dialogue or platform between the strategic department and marketing and whether the marketing KPI’s are closely aligned with the corporate KPI’s.

2)      Are the marketing & business processes customer-oriented?

Companies can no longer look at their business processes as isolated entities. Business processes contain different contact moments with customers and are therefore part of the customer experience. Working on ‘keep’ and good customer satisfaction isn’t only about inviting customers to a yearly event or about developing a loyalty program. It is also making sure that all business processes are customer-oriented. The question is to what extent marketers have control on the complete customer journey? It is clearly the role of marketing to stimulate and to support customer focus at all levels. When reviewing processes in times of budget restrictions, the risk is to focus on cost-reduction only. If you do so the company could reduce the value delivered to the customer on the long term and make it more difficult to compete. It is important to keep other elements such as customer centricity into account.

3)      Are all roles & responsibilities clearly defined and aligned along end-to-end processes?

A requirement to have an efficient organization is to have clearly defined roles & responsibilities. Without clear roles & responsibilities, a company will face slow decision making, poor communication, a lack of accountability, etc. We need to ask ourselves whether we have an optimal organizational structure and whether we have established process owners for each process within the company.

When facing issues with one of these questions, a company better invests time and resources to improve business processes and maybe to review the organization structure. As this is sometimes a quite complex exercise, you ideally start with a quick scan of the core business processes to identify pain points and improvement areas. The quick scan allows to identify some quick-wins and to implement longer-term adaptations step by step later on.

Finally who should take the lead to perform such a quick scan of business processes? I believe marketers should take their responsibilities here. Creativity is an important skill of the marketer, not only for being innovative with the product in the market or to find the right approach to the customer, but also to be innovative in continuously improving processes. Who else than marketeers should drive projects to make processes more customer-oriented? Marketeers must therefore be encouraged and empowered to think about process improvements in the entire company and not just only within the borders of the marketing department. A challenge in some companies, but a huge opportunity for marketers to enhance its position within the organization.