In my recent article about the Scaling Up Function Accountability Chart (FACe), I wrote about how powerful that tool is at ensuring a business has the right people doing the right things at the right time, using Jim Collins’ excellent analogy of putting “the right butts in the right seats” on a bus. This article will discuss how we keep the wheels on that bus so your team can drive it faster and farther—to ever-greater destinations.
As a Scaling Up Certified Coach, I find that efficient processes linked to specific, time-bound goals are too few and far between in the business world. High-growth companies excel at processes, and with the right methodology in place, your company can too. The Scaling Up Process Accountability Chart (PACe) simplifies designing and streamlining effective processes by nailing down the four to nine key processes that drive your organization, what results they are meant to achieve, and who is accountable for making them happen.
Start with KPIs: Better, Faster, Cheaper
The Scaling Up philosophy is to refine processes based on the Lean principles of eliminating waste and driving toward KPIs focused on better, faster, cheaper. The PACe is the best tool to use for the fundamental, meat-and-potato processes that are critical to the everyday running of your business, and less so for the strategic, “secret-sauce” activities which Michael Porter refers to as differentiating activities. Improving those kinds of activities is best left for quarterly strategic “swim lane” planning, although the PACe thought process can certainly be used to improve those as well.
Some examples of meat-and-potatoes processes that the PACe is phenomenal at aligning teams on are developing and launching products; generating leads and closing sales; attracting, hiring, and onboarding new employees; and billing and collecting payments. As fundamental as those types of functions are, many organizations struggle with the fact that these are actually cross-functional in nature. In my experience coaching clients, coordinating cross-functional activities can get more complicated as a company scales up and bottlenecks start to creep in. Optimizing these key cross-functional activities that require handoffs between departments is where the PACe really shines. I find that it is best to begin building your PACe out with a 60-minute, cross-departmental leadership meeting and then schedule follow-up sessions to add new processes and refine existing ones until you have processes that achieve your KPIs like clockwork.
I’ve included an example of a completed PACe chart below. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Straightforward as it is, it can really energize teams in every department to start looking at their business differently. As you will see in the chart’s description, the typical sequence is to identify the four to nine processes that drive your business in the middle column, then establish who is ultimately accountable for each process (column 1), and last to assign one to three KPIs that will tell you whether the process is achieving the right results (column 3). I find that many CEOs and their departmental leaders struggle to think it through in this sequence, so I often recommend that they start from the right of the chart and work their way backward. As with the FACe chart, starting with the “what” you want and then the “who” tends to create amazingly clear results. It also prevents politicking from executives who might be looking for a turf grab by wanting their name in lights.
As a best practice, I suggest making the name of your process so good that it is worthy of its own specific and evocative brand name. For example, rather than simply calling the first process “recruiting,” this client branded it “A Player Rifle-Shot Recruiting with Topgrading Interview Process.” This is because they know their process produces superior results and is worthy of a special name. I find this branding creates more buy-in amongst the users of the process.
As you select the process owner for each element on your PACe, make sure they are people with the authority to hold other executives accountable for the attainment of each KPI. It probably goes without saying but having A Players in those roles as opposed to B and C Players will be key to whether that process succeeds or not.
Precise KPIs Will Get You Precisely the Results You Want
It’s worth throwing in a word of caution here that fuzzy KPIs can lead to fuzzy results. No matter how uncomfortable your executive team may be at the idea of putting hard numbers down on the chart, force yourselves to nail down specific and quantifiable goals. Many business leaders struggle mightily with developing good outcomes and thus it becomes impossible to land on the lead measures that drive those outcomes. That’s not going to be you.
To give you an idea of how to create solid KPIs, I’ve included below some wishy-washy first stabs that I typically see with neophyte businesses. Although these may seem comically bad, you would be stunned to see how often CEOs and their teams try to get away with similar loose notions of performance. Don’t allow a notion-without-a-number to become a KPI—and banish all TBD and “X” measurements! The problem with TBDs and “X” measurements is that they never get updated and allow your team to slide in the bliss of unconscious incompetence.
If your executive team is struggling to develop razor-sharp lead and lag measures with specific numbers attached to them, challenge them to estimate those numbers. Ask them, “If you knew the number you wanted, what would it be?” Grab your calculator and tap out some rough numbers to help them along. You’ll find that people are actually great at estimating and it is far better to put a hard number down than to research and refine it later. If you were asked to add a pinch of salt to a recipe and wondered how generous that pinch should be, you wouldn’t decide to add zero salt to your dish and mull the issue over later. What kind of result would that get? Trust me, if the number challenges them, they will put in the critical thinking necessary to solve it or come back with a thoughtful, studied number that is realistic.
In addition to hard numbers, don’t forget to infuse your KPIs with one of the most important factors: time. Time is such an effective metric for a process KPI, not to mention one of the most critical elements of efficiency in your business. The PACe chart is ruthless at uncovering and resolving bottlenecks that waste your customers’, suppliers’, and employees’ time. I’ve seen businesses streamline their processes using PACe so well that days of lost time have been reduced to minutes.
Get Ready to Put Your Processes on the Map
Next, each process on the PACe needs to be mapped at a key step and decision level. A good way to do this in your meeting is to use colored Post-it Notes to represent different functions involved in the process. You’ll find that in this format, it is easier to step back from the process map and begin streamlining it, eliminating wasteful steps, and removing obstacles. Finalizing it in a Visio-like format should be your end goal. I’ve included an example of a sales process below to give you an idea of what this might look like.
The Power of Checklists
Once you have identified and mapped your process, you can bring each of them to life by developing checklists that employees can use every day. Checklists ensure that your four to nine PACe processes can succeed because the right things are happening consistently. I find that CEOs are often appalled to learn how often both executives and employees will simply ignore or omit items on the checklists. Don’t believe me? Map out your recruiting process and watch the business malpractice that quickly ensues with omissions. You would never fly on an airplane without a pre-flight checklist. Your business deserves the same care and precision. Some people seem to work for their own amusement!
It is also an incredibly valuable best practice to include your checklists in a concise, accessible playbook. In fact, the beauty of identifying and documenting processes using the Scaling Up tools is that they provide an excellent foundation for your playbooks—both for new employees or existing ones who are off track.
Achieve More with PACe
When the PACe is done correctly, i.e., with specific numbers for results/outcomes and leading indicators, it becomes a rallying point to dramatically improve cross-functional processes. As a coach, I have seen clients leverage this opportunity to achieve great results this way, such as lowering accounts receivable time by over 10 days or eliminating several days or even weeks out of the recruitment process. As with all Scaling Up tools, the ultimate goal of the PACe is to get your business running effectively and without drama.
If you are ready to be coached through using PACe and other Scaling Up tools, schedule a conversation with me today. You can work with me one-on-one to gain clarity on how elite companies are leveling up by refining their processes and how you can make those same tactics work in your business.