Innovation is one of those business topics that always seem to be on the front burner. We can’t seem to get enough of it. And for good reason!
Innovation is the way to create growth, keep a leg up on competitors, and achieve cost savings, among other things.
Innovation can often be spurred when someone unfamiliar with what we are doing encounters our work processes. Questions that were long-ago answered and then forgotten are asked again, requiring thoughtful and intelligent thought. Often, we find that they are answered differently than they were originally.
How can we get a “fresh set of eyes”?
Rotate for Fresh Viewpoints
It is when things are fresh and new that we usually ask questions about someone or something – why are we doing this? What is it for? How does this work? What do I have to do next? What choices do I have to make?
When two or more people hold a similar role, sometimes the work can be reorganized differently. If both people do tasks x and y, then we can reorganize it so that one person does all x and the other does all y.
We then rotate these people through the various roles periodically.
The benefit to this is as follows: if someone has been performing x for the last week, then at the time they move over to y they are doing something they haven’t done in a while, and they are going to be much more likely to ask questions about the process.
Swim Upstream and Down
Another mechanism to invite scrutiny from another perspective is to meet with our “upstream process suppliers”, or our “downstream process customers”.
We can do this in a meeting setting or a site-visit type of format. The objective with this is to show the other group what we do, how we do it, walking them through the process and its results.
Since this level of detail is new to others, they serve as our “fresh set of eyes”, and their questions as they seek to understand the information can lead to new ways of thinking about what we are doing.
For example, most payments are approved through an automated process, but there are various areas where specific exemptions to this are in place. The payment processor would need to refer to several tables and lookup screens to identify the appropriate exemption.
Once we realized this, we were able modify the process with a simple fix “upstream” that avoided almost all of the extra time and effort involved with the exceptions.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
One of my favorite techniques is to do my staff’s jobs from time to time. My own eyeballs become the fresh set.
One task someone on the team performed was to prepare a report using downloaded data from a system. As I performed this task, my understanding of VBA programming led me to the conclusion that we could likely program a large portion of the task.
We ended up creating a simple Excel routine that automated 80% of the task.
Use Your Bankers
Most banks have treasury personnel that are happy to tour our facilities, sit with our people, and witness how we accomplish our various tasks.
These folks have seen a lot of organizations, witnessed a lot of tasks being accomplished in a myriad set of ways. Their “fresh eyes” on our processes, combined with that background of knowledge, can often generate surprisingly easy improvements.
For instance, upon noticing an operation that required the person to refer to several documents back and forth in succession, they recommended we install dual screen monitors for those performing that function. This very simple recommendation saved over 20 minutes per day per person.
When I was in the asset based lending field, we would do an annual “Legal File Review”. This entailed sitting down with the five-inch thick set of documents with a lawyer, and laboriously plowing through each one.
As part of this process, a lot of questions were asked. According to x, we should be doing y, how are we going about that? These questions provoked a lot of re-examination about the loans.
When I moved over to the corporate side, we continued this tradition with the agreements that Treasury and Finance undertake. It forces us to put our eyeballs back onto things we might otherwise not, and it has driven changes and improvements, and it has certainly ensured compliance!
Set the Stage
There is resistance to opening up work processes to outside examination. We fear we will be criticized, or appear incompetent, or that we will likely need to change. All of these feelings work against the suggestions here.
As leaders, the more we are able to create an environment where mistakes are allowed, where growth is valued, where learning and trying new things out is encouraged, will make a difference in the effectiveness of these simple techniques.
It is a necessary prerequisite.
There are simple, homegrown and inexpensive ways to keep the work fresh in the eyes of our teams. Once we have created an environment that eases the fear of change, we can create a setting for innovation by:
· Rotating roles within the team
· Bringing in our process partners as observers
· Jumping into spots ourselves to perform the work involved
· Asking our banks for assistance
· Scheduling reviews and asking questions
· How do you keep the work fresh in a way that brings about new ideas that improve the process?
Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!