Are the top level executives in your company suspicious of the value in all this “process stuff”? Can you blame them with its strange language and odd flowcharts? And let’s face it–executives are often busy and focused on other things.
But having strong executive buy-in is one of the keys to successful process improvement. To achieve strong commitment from senior leaders for a Process Improvement Initiative, Lean Six Sigma, IT ERP implementation, or any other process re-engineering project, you must develop a compelling business case with a strong ROI (return on investment), speak their language, and focus on long-term benefits.
Define a Business Need that Matters to the Organization
If you are launching a business process improvement initiative, you need to focus your efforts on improving an area of the organization that matters to the customer and/or the bottom line of the company. Doing both will give you a strong argument to support and fund your case.
If your company produces products, focus on eliminating or reducting product defects. If your company provides human services, focus on improving the customer experience. Either way, your customer’s experience with your company will improve. You will reduce warranties, repair costs, and increase referrals.
The purpose of defining the business need is to sell your initiative or project to your management, senior leaders, board, etc. Ask these questions:
- Why would you want to do this?
- What is the business rationale?
- What benefit will you gain if you improve the situation?
- Where will you focus your efforts and how many resources, time, and budget dollars do you need?
- What goal of improvement do you want to achieve?
Develop a Business Case with a Strong ROI
To build credibility for your business case, you definitely want to partner with someone from the finance department. Hard-dollar savings (cost reduction that can be seen in the profit & loss account) is the most obvious form of return, but also revenue and customer experience improvements are ways to build a business case.
The latter two tend to be harder to quantify, and certainly for revenue improvement you will want a direct correlation, but here is where you will mostly likely find a critical link to the overall strategic plan of the company. One way to quantify customer experience improvements is to find a way to correlate this back to repeat and referral business.
Translate your work into a multi-year cost and benefit analysis, tie it to the profit & loss account, and in the case of customer experience improvements, tie it to credible customer satisfaction surveys. A strong ROI is where your improvement investment is earned back multiple times and the payback (speed at which you break even) is rapid (typically within 1 or 2 years).
Speak the Executive Language
Now that you’ve done your research and developed a business case, it’s time to focus on the presentation. Use these three strategies to better communicate with executives.
- Customize Messaging – Not everyone responds to the same messaging. If you are speaking to an executive that’s had a bad experience with “process” or “quality” improvement don’t use the specific word. The results are what matters, so focus on those.
- Mirror Executive’s Language – Be mindful of what words executives use and listen to the concerns they have. Then address those concerns by identifying poorly managed processes within the company.
- Use Process-Speak Cautiously – Consider how your words sound to non-process people. If executives are uncomfortable about what they think you’re doing, it will make improving your organization’s processes even more difficult. Don’t alienate your audience by using process improvement lingo. Communicate process goals clearly and early on to help put their mind at ease.
Focus on the Long-Term to Gain Financial Commitment
Executives aren’t always uninspired about beginning a process improvement. Often times they begin with enthusiasm, but this can decrease over time due to the lack of measurable results. At this point, getting executives to commit additional resources or budget will be difficult.
All too often executives focus more on short term expectations vs the long-term benefits of the process.
A process improvement is a long-term commitment. It’s important to direct the focus of executives past the initial months, and give them the opportunity to realize the financial and production benefits in the future.
Any program initiative needs a business case at the executive level. Buy-in and financial credibility are critical. These are the keys to making change last! Focus on the business case first, link it to the strategic plan, partner with finance who can point you to the greatest “pain” in the profit & loss account, speak the language of the executives, talk to departments that listen to the voice of the customer, and focus on the long-term benefits. All of these are rich resources for building your case.Learn More About the Critical Steps of Process Improvement
Did you find these strategies for achieving executive buy-in useful and informative? Please share in the comments below.