How more effective workflows can help your department succeed 

If Frankenstein tried to win the Olympic medal for gymnastics, he might feel a lot like today’s department managers. Bogged down by unwieldy workflows cobbled together over the years, many are struggling to meet demands for greater agility, efficiency and value. 

Workflows—the systems and methods we use to get things done—can make or break a department’s ability to meet sky-high performance goals. Yet most are left to develop organically, created by employees as they complete their daily tasks—often without attention to strategy or efficiency. They’re also typically tied to outdated legacy systems that require complex processes and workarounds.

“The result is this kind of Frankenstein workflow where people just attach this one here and attach that one there,” says business strategist Erin Robbins O’Brien. Before you know it, you have a monster on your hands. Employees end up serving the workflow rather than the other way around.

Every organization has workflows that could use improvement. More than half of businesses need a better way to manage expense reports, while two in three have suboptimal workflows for:

  • Customer relationship and customer service management
  • Marketing and sales management
  • Employee performance
  • Enterprise resource management

Developed and viewed in isolation, these homegrown workflows may seem logical for the task at hand but often don’t make sense within the bigger picture. For example, one major retailer struggled with an inventory workflow that required store buyers to manually look up every item in every store on a green screen terminal. It took two weeks just to get a picture of their stock situation. After that, they still had to email to individual store managers with instructions for what products to mark up or down.

The company turned to Sapho for help with creating more effective workflows. Now, buyers receive an alert when inventory reaches a certain threshold, and they’re able to instantly notify store managers of price updates. Less time spent—and more responsive pricing across the organization. That’s a departmental win.

So how did we do it?

Here are three key tips to creating more effective workflows:

1. Design around your goals.

Too often, workflows are designed to conform to the demands of outdated policies or systems. They may continue to rely unnecessarily on paper-based processes, for example, or involve complicated workarounds to access legacy systems. When these types of inefficiencies are built into the very fabric of your team’s daily work, it’s impossible to perform at peak levels.

A well-designed workflow should serve as a roadmap, directing your team how to accomplish your department’s goals. To do that, you need to start with the desired outcome and build the workflow around it. For instance, of businesses that focus on optimizing workflows:

  • More than half aim to save money by cutting costs or improving productivity.
  • Forty-six percent are looking to improve customer satisfaction.
  • One in three seek to improve products (or create new ones) to stay competitive.
  • Three in 10 want to improve organizational responses.
  • Nearly one in five aim to minimize business risks.

When workflows are designed around desired outcomes, they become powerful strategic tools for advancing your department’s mission-critical goals.

2. Automate repetitive tasks.

How many bright, talented employees do you pay to perform drudgework? How much time do they waste on cumbersome administrative tasks? An employee's value lies not in performing repetitive tasks, but in making decisions that cannot be automated.

Automation helps make departments run more efficiently by reducing the number of steps, hours and people involved in each workflow. Many businesses have achieved up to 15 percent cost savings through automation alone. Not every task can be automated, of course—but you’d be amazed at how many can.

Take hiring and job change management, for example. Typically, the new hire process requires a lot of back-and-forth between stakeholders. A promotion might require as many as six levels of approval before it becomes official. Instead of chasing down all these approvals manually, a micro app can do it for you. As each step in the workflow is completed, it automatically triggers the next one by notifying the appropriate stakeholder, who can view the relevant data right in the app and finish the task in a single click.

Of businesses that employ process automation:

  • Nearly half do it to remove bottlenecks and speed up workflows.
  • More than 45 percent seek to prevent duplication of work.
  • One in three use it to overcome difficulty locating documents.
  • Nearly a third gain more visibility into their business processes.
  • One in four aim to curtail high error rates.
  • One in 10 say it creates a frictionless, “straight-through” process
  • Nearly 15 percent seek to reduce reliance on multiple systems or screens. 

3. Put data front and center.

Since employees’ value lies in their ability to make decisions, they should always have the right data at their fingertips to make the best decisions possible. Yet many are forced to slog through complex, multi-step processes to retrieve the information or documents they need.

Sapho’s micro apps communicate with legacy data systems to collect information from across the organization and incorporate it into the workflow as it’s needed. That means whenever a department manager receives a notification to approve an expense report, the alert includes all of the data needed to make the decision on the spot. Sapho can even flag the request if it falls outside certain predetermined parameters—like if the total exceeds the amount allowed by the company’s reimbursement policy.

Furthermore, the entire workflow is tracked so managers can collect and use the data to continue improving business processes. If there’s a bottleneck in the onboarding workflow, for example, HR personnel can use trend data to pinpoint where the process is getting stuck and take steps to address the problem.

When departments struggle to meet increasingly demanding goals, it’s often inefficient workflows that are holding them back. Using a modern portal like Sapho to create micro apps that help make existing workflows more effective can help departments become leaner, more agile and more successful.

Want to learn more about creating effective workflows?  This solution brief discusses how to develop structured workflows that make your department more effective.

 Read the brief

Elle Sidell is a Digital Marketing Manager at Sapho. She joins from AVG Technologies where she worked on web content for business stakeholders. Her previous experience includes content creation, copywriting, and managing the online presence of several SaaS services.

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