The COVID-19 pandemic has consumed our time and energy for half a year. Many organizations say it’s time to refocus, to both take care of now and build for the future. These philanthropic organizations are moving from being reactive to transformative to ensure they achieve their mission. How will organizations that are already working at capacity effectively take on their future? One tool to build that capacity is process transformation.
The Challenge: Creating the Capacity for Today and Tomorrow
Due to the pandemic, grantmaking organizations have been in reactive mode, setting up safe, remote work environments in order to continue daily operations. This has required all hands-on deck, with employees being heroes by working creatively and for long hours. Recently one foundation shared that at times employees work while sitting in their cars in front of each others’ houses, ready to hand off grant checks or paperwork to the next person for the next step.
Yet even with this all-consuming workload, philanthropic leaders are focusing on increasing their organizations’ community impact. These leaders tell me they are now attempting to step back to assess where they are in their mission while maintaining safe operations.
This is a challenging next step, as capacity is already tight. The typical work of assessing existing programs and making adjustments places a huge strain on resources in today’s already at-capacity environment.
Capacity, or the hours available to do work, is a tricky asset to manage. In my process training, I talk through this capacity constraint.
Each employee has about 2,000 hours of work capacity in a year. The tasks they perform use up that capacity. This work can add value to the community, such as issuing grants to qualified organizations. Or it can be squandered through wasted steps that add no value to the community, including rework or duplication. Each organization’s yearly capacity is based on the number of full-time people times about 2,000 hours. It is up to the organization to decide how that capacity is spent or invested.
When I coach teams, we measure their value-added and wasted steps. I find wasted steps account for between 40% and 70% of work. For example, creating grants takes many tasks for thousands of work hours to deliver the grant check to the qualified organization. Yet this process can contain rework and duplication, resulting in a waste of work hours that could be better used to serve the organization’s central mission.
Process improvement is a generic term that hints at the opportunity to improve efficiency. But process transformation—a higher level of process improvement training—builds employees’ ability to see the wasted steps and eliminate them. After receiving my team’s process transformation training, one leader said: “I just need to find these wasted steps, then solve them to get back capacity for the rest of my career.” And she did. She and her operations team took their intake for home ownership coaching processes from an average of 90 days to between 9 and 20 days. They found the capacity to deliver more, better, and faster services to their community.
Next Step: Get information on Increasing Capacity through Process Transformation
Even as grantmaking organizations struggle to get work done from their remote desks, untapped capacity is just waiting to be found. As organizations are completing this year’s work and planning for next year, including process transformation training and coaching in plans is a first step to recapturing lost or wasted capacity. With an investment in our process transformation training and coaching, organizations can recapture and reinvest $30,000 to $75,000 of labor annually. Learn more about what organizations are budgeting for in this companion blog post: This Year, Plan to Succeed!
Contact Lee Kuntz to share what you see at your organization and to learn more about how your organization can thrive during these challenging times. Other organizations are moving forward during these difficult times, your organization can too.
In this, my twentieth year in business, I thank so many for being part of my community. By collaborating with wise and dynamic people and organizations, I have had the privilege of assisting hundreds of organizations in solving their operational pain points. Working together, we have shaped organizational cultures for the better and have equipped organizations to fulfill their mission and serve their constituents effectively. Thank you.
In today’s blog, I am reflecting on that journey and sharing a few important learnings.
Twenty years ago this month, I was at a crossroads. I was burned out from a project director role and an accounting manager role and was out of work due to job elimination. Job elimination took me by surprise. Exhaustion did not. After catching up on my sleep and rebuilding my energy for a month, I naively decided I would do “consulting.” I had no idea what that meant, nor did I have a plan for how to succeed on that path. Yet I jumped in and promptly began both a new career and a new organization. That was the start of my real learnings about how to be successful in any career.
We all have skills in multiple areas, and how we choose to invest those skills is a personal decision. In my case, I was thankful for my previous experience with Cargill Inc. and American Express (later American Express Financial Advisors), both Forbes Top 100 companies. As I started my consulting journey, I was asked in interviews with potential clients, “What do you do?” I regularly replied, “Anything you need.”
The school of hard knocks soon taught me that when I tried to do everything, some things went well and others did not. If I lacked passion or relevant experience for a given consulting role, I became stressed, unfulfilled and disappointed that I failed to produce strong results for the client. In contrast, when I was both passionate about the task at hand and good at it, I was happy and my clients were pleased to recommend me to others because of the measurable improvements they experienced.
Skill is important. Yet passion is a priceless intangible. Passion fills a person with energy and drive—it’s the spark that engages others. Passion makes a person believable.
My early consulting forays taught me that my passion was achieving process improvement results. I came to believe that the only people who can improve how work is done are the employees who do those steps. I also observed that most employees do not yet have the process improvement skills they need to approach their work in the most effective and efficient manner. Few employees are familiar enough with the science behind quality management, lean operations, and human-centered design to attain process improvement results. ProSci, a change-management organization, published a survey saying that the majority of process improvement projects fail, with lack of skill being a primary reason. Embracing my role as a process improvement trainer and coach has fueled my business and services for many years. And I thank my first client, John Ahlfs, for taking a chance on me 20 years ago and launching me on my journey.
When I am talking to teams from around the country about how they can recapture time and deliver better results to their community, I get excited. And teams that engage me get inspired. They believe.
I periodically get asked to provide career guidance, which I do whenever possible. My time-tested career advice is to follow your passion, because being excited about what you do is the surest way to achieve success.
When I decided to go into consulting, I thought people would automatically listen to me. I was the expert, right? But after watching my advice go sideways several times, I learned there was more to my service to others than teaching about what I knew.
I found a book on consultative consulting, which suggested listening before providing insights. This made perfect sense, because how can a consultant help anyone without understanding where the organization or its employees are coming from? Even a person who is paid to give advice must earn the right to give it.
That is when I started really listening well to my prospects, clients, friends, and family. Once I learned to ask the right questions and listen attentively to the answers, I was able to provide a meaningful, well-rounded perspective. Understanding others’ views, drivers, and goals now has become second nature to me and has become an essential element of my success.
Initially I was going to show everyone just how to get consulting done. I thought I was smart and skilled and could simply prescribe the changes that needed to be made. I missed so much while I acted under that do-it-myself mindset. I missed how others saw things. I missed wrinkles and texture about situations. I missed building relationships with the people who would help me.
Since that time, I have built a community that supports my business. I have vendors who have been with me most of these 20 years, learning about my business and providing exactly what was needed again and again. I have had employees who have learned my company’s values and have applied them so well. I am also lucky enough to have supporters who provide wise counsel, share important information, and speak well of my work to potential clients. I believe I have earned their trust by listening to their needs and being committed to their success. And I have clients who trusted me to listen and meet their needs. These same clients are consistently available to provide a reference and a view into their work with my team.
I have learned that it takes a community to make a business or career successful. I am so thankful to you and others who have trusted and helped me during the past twenty years. Here’s to the next decade!