Is your organization looking to make a bigger community impact? Your operations—that is, how work is done—can be a powerful contributor in accomplishing your organization’s mission.
For philanthropic organizations, the nuts and bolts of operations are what enable teams to award and deliver grants quickly, set up and service fund accounts accurately, and work effectively with their boards. Some organizations have discovered that fine-tuning these operations equips them to magnify their community impact.
These organizations function at their best when their processes, systems, and people are maximized. Here are three ways organizations can maximize to operate for impact.
Better service to the community. When an organization’s grantmaking work steps are consistently carried out as designed (including substantial error proofing), grants are issued accurately. Proactive operations staff make these grants in the manner that is best for grantees, whether electronically or with hard-copy checks. Having processes in place to verify email and postal addresses eliminates the need to reissue communications or follow up on missing grant payments. When organizations manage processes for accuracy and a high service level, everyone’s time and energy can be spent wisely.
Quicker turnaround. Most organizations spend hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars on technology. From my experience, few of them use more than half their system’s capabilities. Instead they rely on manual processes and system work-arounds, all of which slow the delivery of payments to grantees and receipts to donors. When payments and receipts do not go out on time, grantees and donors typically start calling to find out the status of their payment or donation. Fielding calls and tracking down an explanation takes precious time away from the main purpose of the philanthropic effort.
A grantmaker who makes best use of the available tools, such as leveraging templates in Outlook and creating system reporting rather than relying on manual work-arounds, gets grants and confirmations out the door fast. The donor or grantee’s focus on creating an impact continues without disruption.
Efficiency that creates lower administrative costs, enabling more community investment. Philanthropic work, whether related to program design or operations, is paid for by fund expenses. Therefore, greater internal costs mean higher fund expenses and less money available for making a philanthropic impact. Doing operations work more efficiently can help decrease internal costs. A key component to that efficiency is maximizing staff time.
Yet too often, operations staff are hired and then shown their desk and a pile of work. This may unwittingly imply that their role is less important than the functions carried out by program designers.
Nonprofits that support their staff by defining clear roles, providing purposeful training, and delineating business rules find that their staff gets work done faster and better. And not inconsequentially, their employees are satisfied, productive, and energized.
Grantmakers and operations staff working in finance, technology, human resources, and other areas have an important role to play in enhancing efficiency. By proactively managing and improving processes and making best use of systems, you can increase the philanthropic impact of your organization.
Learn more about how to enhance operation in this recently published article: Invest in your operations teams to drive your mission forward – PhilanTopic | PND | Candid
Lee Kuntz is founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Inc. As a certified process coach, she provides process improvement training and coaching to help teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create tangible results in operations efficiency and effectiveness.
Use Process Improvement to Transform Outcomes.
Is your organization planning and budgeting for the next fiscal year? Are you tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, such as overwhelming workloads, demands for better or faster results, or challenges to maximize costly technology? During this year’s budgeting and planning season, consider investing in process transformation to recapture capacity and solve pain points.
Create a Plan that Succeeds
This is planning and budgeting season for about 30% of the organizations I know. Even with today’s unusual times, many are creating concrete plans and budgets to solve their pain points in 2021. If they do not, organizations will experience the same old pain and frustration in 2021.
Organizations that help and serve others are recapturing hundreds—even thousands—of hours of capacity. They are serving their customers, community, board, funders, and donors in half the time. They are retaining employees. Their secret? Investing to transform processes and results.
Most of us have done process improvement. We have tweaked processes and resolved breaks. Some organizations are taking their improvement work to a transformational level. They are cutting their work steps in half and delivering to their key partners in fraction the time. They are freeing up thousands of staff hours that can be used for other purposes
These organizations budget for an investment in process transformation training and coaching during in their annual plan. Here are the results they are achieving.
• Recapturing over 4,000 work hours.
• Sharing services across functions.
• Maximizing expensive technology.
• Remaining error-free for 3 years.
• Delivering to customers in half the time.
Does it work? In a survey of process redesign results, our customer cut their process work steps by 52%, improving quality and speed while recapturing time. Figure 1 illustrates the before and after steps of several organization’s redesigned processes.
Figure 1: Process Change with Process Transformation
In addition to achieving this enviable result, these leaders are committed to building a culture of ongoing improvement. They can easily fix and improve any process and result because they have learned the tools to see and solve transformation opportunities. Their employees are fully invested in the process transformation game because they have been involved as stakeholders since the inception of the training.
Invest in Building Process Improvement Muscle
Leaders are bringing the story of process transformation to their organizations’ annual planning discussions. Yet a common question is: What does the initial investment consist of?
The initial investment in transformational process improvement includes two components: dedicated staff time for learning and implementing new approaches and out-of-pocket costs for training and coaching.
A typical employee will spend between 5 and 40 hours annually doing successful process transformation.
The out-of-pocket cost of the training and coaching depends upon the amount, level, and number of hours needed. Our training to help teams think and act differently includes our live online or onsite 4-hour Concepts and our 4-hour Tools think differently process transformation training. After the training, we coach your team either onsite or live online to use their new process skills to dramatically improve a key process. Contact me to learn more about training and coaching options.
Plan to Solve Pain Points in the Coming Year
Organizations that train their employees in process transformation find that work gets done faster and with fewer errors. The time saved leads to better service to the organizations’ customers and community, and greater job satisfaction among employees. You can, too! Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more about how your organization can plan to solve pain points and thrive.
Did the pandemic impact your grant payments? Are employees moving paper from location to location to get checks out? Are they working extra-long hours? Does it take more time to get checks out? What feedback is your organization getting from grantees and vendors about paper checks?
One organization looked into their busy season and decided to proactively take action to help employees and the community thrive. Here is their story:
Streamline Through Effective, Paperless, Electronic Payments Case Study.
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!
The COVID-19 health crisis has created serious needs in nearly every community, and for the philanthropic and nonprofit organizations that serve those communities it has created a unique challenge: Organizations that were already working at capacity now see even more opportunities to carry out their mission, but they are struggling to find the resources to meet those needs. Disruptions caused by a move to remote work, declines in giving, and an unpredictable stock market are all making it more difficult for organizations to meet their goals.
Employees who were already 100% committed now find they need to commit 200%. So, where does that extra 40 hours come from? Increasing your organization’s capacity to have a positive impact on targeted populations is key at this time of scarce resources; and live, online, process improvement training and coaching is the perfect tool to help build organizational muscle while keeping staff safe.
Do your foundation staff face overwhelming workloads? Are you experiencing growing responsibilities but no funding to add staff? Are you taking heat for errors? Does your big technology investment need to be better utilized to get the promised ROI?
Philanthropic leaders can learn how some have cured such pain and become heroes to their staff, audit committees, and boards. One community foundation recaptured more than 60 percent of its working time and now delivers to their community both faster and more effectively.
First, hear the concepts that are getting results. Then, identify your opportunities to improve your foundation’s capacity to do more, delight the community, and get employees home at night.
No-cost webinar time and date: May 19, 2020 at 11 am to Noon central time.
Register in advance for this webinar:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Every day teams can manage their processes to deliver winning results. By both improving and controlling critical processes, these teams can both make a big impact and get home at night.
Most of us have improved processes. We have tweaked the steps of work, fixed breaks, and automated. The next step—process management—is a powerful approach that can be the difference between failure and success.
Now you can measure your team’s process management muscles through an eight-question survey. This survey helps you see beyond tweaking, to fix pain points and transform outcomes. Through the survey’s results, you can discover your team’s process management strengths and opportunities.
Select the survey answer that best reflects how your team handles your critical processes. Eight-Question Survey Link
Do you want to learn more about how these important concepts can create results for your team? Then complete the survey, add your email address, and submit your answers, thereby emailing yourself your answers.
Our process coach and trainer Lee Kuntz will also receive a copy. Your contact information will not be used for any other purpose. Lee will then connect with you to hear and answer any questions about how each of these key process capabilities can help your team achieve the results you need.
When a foundation or nonprofit updates its software system, the purchase typically requires years of research and a financial investment that can run well into six figures. So, it’s important to make the most of that purchase. The most effective way to do that is to use system upgrades as an opportunity to reexamine internal processes
That kind of self-reflection allows the organization to get the best return on their investment, while following best practices for a software purchase. In fact, in a recent Innovation Process Design survey, 100% of participants said process design is essential when adding new software. By maximizing internal processes, organizations can get employees out of the back office and back to serving their communities.
“It’s important to have a high-level outlook of what outcomes drive the process and not be married to current processes in order to achieve the same result in a more efficient manner,” wrote one respondent.
“I can’t imagine how you can put in new software without reimaging the process,” wrote another.
In all, 24 philanthropic and nonprofit organizations completed the survey. Approximately half of respondents were financial leaders. The other half were grantmakers and technology leaders. Most respondents — 80% — had recent experience implementing sizable new software projects.
Exactly what reimaging should look like depends on the type of project in question. If your software installation is small or low risk, following vendor best practices or holding internal discussions may be enough. Larger or more involved projects may require an outside coach to lead the process or provide redesign training.
Wondering where to start? Here are a few key questions to answer before you complete your next software purchase:
1. How should you redesign? About half of survey respondents said they typically manage process redesign internally. Another 41% said engaging an outside coach is an important part of the process. A coach’s process improvement expertise can be a powerful tool when employees are hesitant to make changes, too busy to fully focus on the task, or inexperienced in process design.
2. When should you redesign? Reimaging before selecting a new software system gives nonprofits a clear picture of how they can work more efficiently and may even help them realize they don’t yet need new software. Redesigning after a system has been selected but before it’s installed, on the other hand, allows foundations to build new processes with the new system’s capabilities in mind. Building processes after the system is in place is another viable option, but respondents said it often feels like “trying to build a plane while it’s in the air.” Half of respondents to the Innovation Process Design survey said the best time to redesign is after selecting the new system and before installation. Meanwhile, another 37% say redesigning before selecting a new system is the way to go, and the final 12% say redesign should be done after the new system is in place.
3. Should you go big? The answer to this question may depend on the size of your software purchase or the needs of your processes, but 60% of survey respondents said they received more benefit from major process redesign than from minimal or no redesign. For some, going big led to better outcomes, faster implementation, and more significant return on a major systems investment, while giving team members the confidence to ask and resolve questions. In addition, 58% of participants combined process improvement training with redesign. These organizations said they received significant value from process training and this approach.
Understanding the goals of work is the first level of process redesign. It creates a framework that organizations can use as they proceed to the second level, which includes process work — identifying the structure of who does what, and when they do it. The third level is process detail — identifying the screens, fields, reports, and steps used to complete the work. However, all organizations should incorporate level three – process detail – when implementing a new software system.
Once an organization has a clear picture of its needs and the scope of the software project at hand, the team can identify the steps needed for reaching its goal — whether that involves a major design or a few simple process tweaks. This thinking is summarized in a matrix you can use to identify the specific process redesign steps to help your team be successful. See the matrix and survey summary report here: Summary of Reimage Processes for New Software Survey
Changing the way things have always been done is intimidating, and there are inherent risks. But applying time-tested resources in a way that best meets your nonprofit’s needs will make it easier to successfully manage the twists and turns of process transformation.
Have you improved your work process, tweaking how work is done or fixing broken steps? Most agree process improvement is good. Yet many staff members are too busy fighting fires to think about how to do their work. They get stuck in the rut of doing things as they’ve always been done. The answer to this miserable dilemma? Moving from the small tweaks associated with traditional process improvement to radical process transformation.
A starting point in thinking about process improvement is understanding what the term even means. In a recent online search, I found ten different definitions for ‘process improvement.’ Many people see process improvement as adding, deleting, or modifying work steps to change how work is done.
The problem with this commonly held definition is that the focus is on tweaks to change to work steps rather than improving outcomes. For example, suppose I want to move from balancing between sources with an adding machine to using an Excel spreadsheet. This improvement seems like a positive change. When I pitch this to my boss, I focus on how the process will change. My boss asks how much time the change will take to implement. That use of resources gives her pause, as she knows our big workload. Most likely, she will say we don’t have time to make changes right now. We need to stay the course and take on the next emergency. We can do the improvement later, when things get better.
Since I did not identify the positive impact of my proposed enhancement, my boss didn’t see its value compared to the other big priorities crashing through her door. Too often, defining process improvement as tweaking how work is done causes this important tool to be ignored.
Process improvement can truly produce more favorable outcomes than had been realized before. Without it, employees can become locked in a vicious cycle in which underlying process flaws are not corrected. As in the example below of an improperly prepared check, both customers and staff can become frustrated by processes that don’t work as they should.
If the cycle consists of complaint-pull-fix without also investing time in fixing the issue for all customers, similar problems are likely to occur in the future. That means staff will work longer and longer hours responding to emergencies, getting further and further away from the good work they want to do. Eventually staff may burn out and leave, placing a greater burden on remaining employees to do the work.
I have experienced this vicious cycle in my own life. Early in my career, I accepted a job in an area that claimed to promote great work-life balance. My superiors promised there would be overtime only at year-end. Once I was there, I found that by overtime, they meant seven days a week for six weeks! I barely saw my young children for a month and a half. When I commented about the excessive overtime, the staff said it was always that way, and to just “suck it up” because it would not change. I questioned the culture and the paradigm, and I wondered if things would ever get better. That unpleasant situation has inspired me for the rest of my career.
To correct agonizing situations such as the one I survived, I rename, rephrase, and reposition process improvement in my training by sharing the story of process transformation.
Process transformation is the use of proven process improvement tools to maximize what the organization has now to achieve an improved outcome.
Process transformation solves pain points organizations experience so they can work toward efficient, effective, and high-quality outcomes for their customers. Organizations have achieved the following outcomes from this approach.
There are three important points in this definition of process transformation.
1. Proven tools. A recent survey by change management specialist Prosci indicated that the majority of process improvement projects fail, primarily due to lack of proven tools, experience, and support. The good news is that there are tools and training that offset this risk. The key is to leverage the tools and training that work with your industry and situation. For example, quality management tools require rigorous training on statistical analysis and are great for manufacturing organizations. However, statistical analysis principles have little use in a service organization. A better tool for a philanthropic or charitable organization would be one that helps employees identify wasted steps.
2. Maximize what the organization has now. Employers manage more than work steps or process to achieve the outcomes they need. They leverage business policies, roles and responsibilities, technology, work steps, and other elements to create desired outcomes. Some of these components are helpful and efficient, while others end up undercutting objectives. For example, the policy of a foundation I am coaching might require that grants be paid within two weeks after being approved. If the competition can pay a grant within three days, I ask my client to identify and maximize everything they have now to achieve faster turnaround.
3. Improved outcomes. To ensure that the desired results are achieved, process transformation identifies the needed outcomes before the improvement work begins. To illustrate, a team may decide they need to recapture and reinvest half the time they are now spending to issue grants. This may amount to one hour per grant, for a total of 500 to 1,500 work hours. Once leaders understand the payback from their investment in process transformation, they support the investment. Learn more about this concept in my companion blog post: Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End.
Process transformation requires an investment of both time and resources to be successful. When leaders and staff members learn about tools that will help them work smarter rather than harder, they find that their investment pays off. The graph below shows immediate results achieved when process transformation tools were used in four recent projects:
We have been coaching and training teams in process improvement and transformation for more than two decades. A recent study of our clients indicated that their returns overwhelmingly offset their investment. Typically, we have found that the first year’s results more than cover the costs of the training and staff time investment, with future years’ savings being “gravy.” Imagine sharing with your organization’s leadership or board that your team can take on more without additional staff because the team has recaptured and repositioned 1,000 to 2,000 work hours.
Now back to my story. After being told to “suck it up,” I was determined I would never again work that much overtime. Therefore, I sought and gained leadership approval to conduct a process transformation project. I committed to leadership that I would shorten the year-end work time for everyone. To do so, I partnered with my team using proven improvement/transformation tools to maximize everything we already had. As a result, we cut the steps to complete our year-end reporting in half. In the next year-end cycle, the team worked only one weekend rather than the six weekends we had with the old process.
If your team works overwhelming hours, reacts to constant emergencies, or is not maximizing expensive software, process transformation may be the answer to your problems. With an initial investment, your team can solve its pain points, recapture time, and deliver better and faster outcomes to your customers.
Learn more by leveraging our free website assessment tools to diagnose your pain point, or contact Lee Kuntz to talk about your needs. Organizations have found hundreds—even thousands—of work hours to reinvest in serving their customers. You can, too
Adding new software is a major investment for philanthropic organizations. While improved tools can help automate business processes and create more efficient workflows, adding a new software solution can take years of research and hundreds of thousands of dollars for implementation and system integration.
It’s a big job, and new software alone is no guarantee that an organization will improve outcomes enough to cover the cost of installation. Read more and take part in a 10 question survey on best practices here.