Processes designed for the wrong people: the #2 irritant of employee experience

We have seen that organizational complication was the main irritant of the employee experience. In the same vein, we are going to explore one of the forms that this can take through the company’s processes, particularly those relating to administration.

There is too much of a tendency to think that administration is only about administration, support functions, that it’s a kind of black box and that in the end it’s their job and their problem. This is a twofold error.

Administrative tasks do not only concern administrative staff

Everyone is concerned with the administrative tasks. For example, when dealing with HR, finance, purchasing, whether it’s our initiative or theirs, we are not exempt from our share of administrative tasks and online or paper forms to fill out and then have them do their job.

There are also administrative tasks related to business functions. For a sales representative, selling means documenting the progress of his activity. Depending on what he is selling, the sales administration function can be more or less cumbersome and, once the sale is made, a multitude of activities follow to report the sale in the financial systems, give the legal department the latest information to contract, inform other systems that will allow others to take over the execution of the service. And I’m only talking about pure administration, I’m not even talking about handing over more operational information to those who will eventually take over, which is the responsibility of the operational staff and not of the administrative staff, so spending more than half a day doing paperwork to be passed on to other departments once the sale has been concluded.

I remember talking to a software company more than 10 years ago. Their salespeople were making deals worth several hundred thousand euros on highly technical subjects. Great company, great product, great people, great skills, great motivation. Spending time on their deals didn’t scare them, on the contrary they loved the challenge, the complexity of the deals etc. But once the sale was made, what did the sales manager hear? “Sh…t we have won the deal”. Because at that moment a long list of administrative tasks, declarations, typing etc. started for the salesman, which took him almost a day. After the excitement, the depression and the feeling of being misused…especially since the information existed in different systems for the most part, he was just asked to copy and paste and pass it on to others. Let’s get along: the administrative side of sales (CRM, reporting etc) was very well experienced because it was a performance tool. But the administrative work of declaring the sale was an ordeal.

Same more recently in a service company. The main complaint of the sales people there was also, once an assignment was sold, to have to fill in a ton of documents to be passed on, once again, to finance, legal and others, with information that for the most part was already available in different systems. But it was up to them to collect it, to do double data entry, and to report the same thing in 2 or 3 different systems.

We can also mention, depending on the case, requests for training, expense reports, business trips when the company is not equipped with a traveldesk and it is necessary to go through an assistant…

And even when one is not directly involved, a large part of company life depends on what happens in the administrative “black box”. The speed at which it moves forward will depend on how fast the business moves forward. Let’s face it, business will never go faster than your administrative processes. It may get ahead at some point but will eventually have to stop until the administration catches up with it.

Reproaches made to administrative processes

What are the employees’ main grievances?

• Double-entry in different systems.

• Having to provide information that is already known and available “elsewhere”, in another tool, in another system.

• Spending a lot of time at the expense of their “real work”, the work for which they are paid and for which results are expected.

But the opposite reproach can also exist: having to go through intermediaries for things they would do more efficiently themselves, live. That’s another subject, that of self-service, which we’ll talk about in another post and which, while it has its advantages, also has its limits.

Everybody has to be efficient…

We’re not going to blame companies for asking their employees to be productive, efficient (I much prefer this second term), it’s the least you can do when you pay people to work.

Efficiency of the business functions first of course. That’s where the margin, the profitability of the company, is at stake.

Support and administrative functions are also efficient because they do not make money directly and are generally seen as non-productive costs in contrast to business functions. A mistake, however, if we open our eyes and realize the obvious as I said above: if business, in the medium term, cannot go faster than administration, then administration contributes to business performance. Put your legal, financial and HR departments to sleep for 15 days and you will see that after a while the business will end up slowing down and then stopping. That’s why if it’s easy to blame, for example, the HR function, one has to admit that it is often under-staffed for the reasons explained above and that consequently asking it to do more, to widen its impact, to go beyond the function and to reinvent itself is often the greatest hypocrisy considering the means put in front of it.

A bottleneck doesn’t go away, it just moves.

So whether you’re business or support, you have to constantly improve your efficiency. But at some point you run into a barrier.

As the theory of constraints has taught us, once you have hunted down the causes of inefficiency at home and dealt with your bottlenecks (because that’s what it’s all about), you haven’t finished the job. In order to continue to improve, you realize that the problem has passed…to others. Once you have reached your optimum, you are dependent on the efforts made by others to reach theirs. What is the point of having an efficient sales administration if the customer’s procurement is not? What’s the point of being able to assemble a car even faster if some of the parts don’t arrive at the right pace to feed the chain? It is the weakest, slowest link in the chain that dictates the pace of production (whether we are talking about material goods or services), hence the importance of our famous administrative processes, which are too often neglected.

But that’s the theory, or rather, when you want to make things right. There’s also another way of doing things that totally corresponds to the opposite approach: don’t try to deal wirth your bottlenecks and send them directly to others. And we’ve seen this at work, everywhere, for ages.

When one becomes more effective by making others work…

Today, unless you are a very large company, you will hardly ever meet salespeople selling software to you anymore. The process is online for all or part of it, and from qualification to deployment, setup, training and support, you’ll be doing the job that sales and professional services used to do. Then, depending on your size, your potential, the amount of the deal, a human will take over at some point. Very early if you’re a large account, never if you’re an SMB. Why is that? The bottleneck being the lack of employees to quickly address the whole market, it is better to make the customer work than to recruit thousands of people. Moreover, this allows you to address certain targets (Small and medium-sized businesses…) with low sales costs and therefore be profitable whilst you would not have been with the old system. It would be stupid to miss out on a market just for that.

But what we all see in the customer relationship also exists even if it is less visible or less acknowledged internally in the organization.

Sometimes this benefits everyone: the employee who in exchange for a little more time sees a process run much faster and the company because the person who used to spend his time doing a time-consuming task with little added value sees his time freed up to do things with more added value. This is the case, for example, with the implementation of online travel desks.

We can all be effective, but not at the same time.

Sometimes it’s more insidious. Remember the example I used to give with salespeople who spent a lot of time filling out multiple forms with information that was already available elsewhere, double-entry…

The company was quick to realize that:

  • 2 to 3 hours lost at each sale.
  • As much time wasted not dealing with sales.
  • Slowness that delays the operational launch of projects.
  • Unnecessary friction that generates frustration and sometimes leads to resignations because it prevents full blossoming at work.

Things, even the most stupid ones, existing for sometimes good, sometimes bad reasons, or sometimes were justified by past circumstances that are no longer valid, it was first questioned why they were doing so.

The first answer was logically “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. And that was true, for over 15 years. One can question the fact that as the company has grown, become more professional, the technology has improved, the people have changed, the process has never been re-evaluated, but so be it.

They dug deeper and found something. In order to avoid a long and tedious task of entering data into financial reporting, invoicing and project management tools, the finance department did exactly what they were expected to do. It increased its efficiency (more volume processed, faster and without recruiting) by making others work for it. The sales administration process had been designed under the constraints of finance and at the expense of sales efficiency, and no one had anything to complain about, except the sales people, but when the financial culture predominates in a company, the latter had no say in the matter.

Without multiplying the examples, every time you are asked to fill out a lot of documents with information that is already available somewhere in order to get a service from your company or trigger anything, tell yourself that you are being made to do other people’s work and that they have built their efficiency at your expense.

Bottom line: yes everyone in the organization must and can be efficient, but at some point in time, the efficiency of some people is built at the expense of others.

Another example. If you used to call a person to ask him to pay a certain supplier and now you had to go into a procurement system, fill in a form (and sometimes by going elsewhere to look for data that should already be shared) to validate the service done, the work of the accountant has been shifted to that of the operational one. So accounting is not efficient, it is just distributed and potentially less efficient because those who contribute to it in spite of themselves work less often on it.

The efficiency of internal, administrative and support functions has been built at the expense of the business.

It is therefore clear that every time a cost centre has been asked to become more efficient, it has done so at the expense of profit centres. No need to blame them, they just do what they are told to do. But by multiplying contradictory performance indicators between entities and looking at the effectiveness of a measure only in terms of its impact on a single entity and department, one cannot expect anything else. Give people objectives, it will dictate their behaviour.

Attention: I am talking about efficiency, I am not questioning the quality of the service provided or the final result, it has nothing to do with that. It’s the hidden cost of efficiency or even quality that we’re talking about as well as its long-term human impacts (frustration, demotivation, resignation etc).

So much so that I’ve already heard executives ask themselves the following question: given the cost and the importance in terms of sales and production of the people whose time is ‘stolen’ compared to that of the ‘little hands’ that have to be recruited to do the job, one might wonder whether we wouldn’t be winners by recruiting little hands…but it’s such an iconoclastic and inaudible idea that there’s no point in talking about it to at least evaluate it”. But, if they don’t recruit, some outsource (who said anything about uberization….), and maybe one day robots will do the job.

A real substantive matter that is anything but easy to deal with. But it corresponds to a real problem, it has many visible or hidden costs but everyone seems to be satisfied with it except those who live it on a daily basis.

We’ll talk about it in another post but a process must ultimately aim to serve the business in one way or another and therefore the employee selling, producing, etc.. It is for them that these processes must therefore be designed, for their efficiency, and not to serve the support functions, which have forgotten the meaning of their name.

Photo : design de process by Dmitriy Domino via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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