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How Processes Saved My Career (and My Fingers)

I wouldn't be sat here, writing this, if it wasn't for processes. Don't underestimate the power processes have to not only save you time & money, but also save your career and your fingers too!

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My stomach was churning. My mind was whirling. I had butterflies, sweaty palms, and I felt sick. 

I had such brutal first-day nerves as I sat on the bus, on the way to my first ‘proper’ job after University. 

Where do I go when I get there? Where will I sit? Who will I be working with? What if I can’t do the job? What if they’ve made a mistake

I nearly went home. 

Thankfully, I didn’t and thankfully it all turned out ok. 

Why? 

Because they had a tried and tested process in place for onboarding new starters like me. 

Following their new employee onboarding process settled my nerves. It introduced me to my team, established what was expected of me, and enabled me to do the job they’d hired me to do, from the word go. 

Not only that, but it made me feel part of the company straight away. It gave me a good first impression, and I stayed in that job for over two years. As statistics show, having an engaging onboarding program retains 91% of first-year workers

Processes do more than help nervous newbies find their feet, and stay in their new jobs though. 

We’ll be digging deep into the realms of processes to find out: 

  • What are processes & what do they really do? 
  • Why I’d be out of a job without processes
  • What happens if you don’t have a process to follow (with a true story)
  • How to create a process in 4 simple steps 

So, let’s start at the beginning….

What are processes & what do they really do?

You follow processes all the time. They’re everywhere; both at home and at work.

You follow a process when you prepare breakfast. When you put petrol in the car, take the dog for a walk, create a budget at work, clean a room, set-up a meeting, or refuel an aircraft.

In its simplest form, a process is a set of steps that are taken to achieve an end result. 

What do processes do? 

Processes streamline the way you get to your end result and reduce costs.  

If you follow a set of steps when completing a recurring activity or task, you don’t need to think. You don’t need to work out what to do next, there’s less room for error, and you find that the next time you need to complete that task or activity, you can do it quicker. 

Take flat-pack furniture for example. 

Say you’ve bought a flat-pack chest of draws from IKEA

You have the screws, nails, hinges, bolts, and knobs arranged into neat little piles. You have the step-by-step instructions laid out in front of you. You have your tool box next to you, and you’re ready to assemble draw number one.

You’re carefully following each step, but it’s proving tricky. You somehow misunderstand the instructions in number 4. You need a different type of hammer than the one you’ve got. You can’t tighten the screws properly and it takes a few goes (and a few expletives) to get the first god-damned draw finished. 

But, with the second draw, you follow the same set of steps and it’s surprisingly easier. Right? 

The steps are familiar, you’ve learned from your mistakes, and you have the right tools. As a result, you finish draw number two way quicker. Draw number three is even easier, and by the time you get to your fourth and final draw, you’re able to successfully follow the process with one hand strapped behind your back, while standing on your head. 

When everyone follows a well-tested set of steps, there are fewer errors and delays, and there is less duplicated effort Mindtools, Improving Business Processes

So that’s what processes are and what they do, but why are they so important? 

Why I’d be out of a job without processes

I’ve given you a couple of examples of how and where processes come in handy both at work and at home. 

At home, processes aren’t typically thought of as “processes’’ are they? They’re just things you do, usually without thinking. For instance, I don’t consciously follow a set of steps when making my breakfast each morning. I just do it. 

At work, on the other hand, processes are a different story. 

Processes make up the skeleton of an organization. They dictate how an organization runs. They establish how important tasks get done. They ensure mistakes are kept to a minimum. They boost productivity and they enable everything to be done in a systematic, organized, and efficient way. 

For instance, to make sure tasks get done in the right way and as efficiently as possible, you might want your employees to follow a process each time they manufacture a product or handle a customer complaint. Or, you might want to follow a process yourself when you contact a client for the first time or generate a sales report.

I wouldn’t be here, working as a content writer for Process Street, without processes. 

When I first started, although I knew how to write content, I didn’t know how to write Process Street content. 

I soon found out that there are 75 individual steps that go into writing an article for the Process Street blog. 

Yes, 75! I know this because we have a process for writing Process Street posts, and I follow it every single time I write a new article. 

I’d be lost without it. Can you imagine trying to write a piece of content that met the criteria of 75 steps, but without knowing what those 75 steps were? 

I can! I bet, every time I’d submit a piece of content to the editor for review, I’d get it straight back. I’d then need to spend hours re-writing, deleting, and adding sections until I’d got it right. 

That’s no fun for anyone, and I have no doubt in my mind that without this particular process in place, I’d have either resigned or been fired by now.

Without proper processes in place, chaos descends. 

What happens if you don’t have processes (with a true story)

To hammer home the importance of processes, I have a grim story for you. 

I nearly lost two fingers while backpacking around Australia. 

It was on a hot, dry sunny day, during my 3-month stint as a grape picker (a temporary profession that most British backpackers do) in Western Australia.

An old (and outrageously ocker) Ozzie called Wozza was my grape picking supervisor. On a typical day, Wozza spent his time driving up and down the vines, checking in with me and the rest of the grape picking team, giving us water, telling us to pick faster, calling us in for scheduled breaks… that type of thing.  

That day though, Wozza wasn’t checking how many grapes I’d picked. He was using a wire pulling machine to attach a wire from one end of each vine to the other, to help them grow in the right direction. 

The guy who usually did this was off sick and good old Wozza had stepped in for him. 

I’d begged and pleaded with Wozza to let me have a go on this wiring machine. I’d have done anything to get a break from the monotony of picking grapes. 

But he’d said no; 

There’s a daily process for you pommie backpackers to follow, and it involves picking grapes, not using dangerous machinery! You flamin’ galah!” 

I didn’t know this at the time, but Wozza had never used the wire pulling machine before. He’d had no formal training, and although there was a daily process for me to follow to make sure I picked grapes properly and safely, there was no process for him to follow to make sure he wired up the vines properly and safely. 

Within the first 20 minutes of using the machine, the wire, as the machine reeled it out, had wrapped around Wozza’s thumb and first finger and tore them clean off. He’d unknowingly had his hand in the wrong place, and he couldn’t find the emergency stop button. 

He lost his fingers because there was no training, and no process in place to take him through how to use the wire pulling machine, to wire up the vines safely.

I think that says it all. 

(If you’re concerned for Wozza, he’s ok. They managed to re-attach his fingers. Although he can’t use them like he used to, he can still hold a can of cold beer at the end of a long day counting grapes)

Anyway, let’s move on to happier subjects. 

How to create a process in 4 simple steps 

Hopefully we’re now all agreed that processes are incredibly important, for any business and any type of recurring task or activity. 

Now all we need to know is how to create a process. 

Below are four simple steps that you can follow to help you create a process from scratch. 

Step 1. Choose your process tools 

Before you can start creating your processes, you need to decide how you’re going to do it.

You could write your processes out on big sheets of paper and stick them to the walls in the office if you want to. Or, there are a tonne of easy to use platforms, tools, and pieces of software that can help you create processes. 

Document authoring platforms like Google Docs, knowledge management systems like Tettra, or business process management (BPM) software like Process Street are three, great, examples.

Do some research and choose a tool that’s affordable, easy to use, and can be accessed by everyone in the company.

Step 2. Identify the process you want to create 

As we’ve established, you can create a process for absolutely any recurring task or activity – from how to answer the phone and how to conduct a meeting, to writing reports and welcoming new staff. 

The list of processes you can create is endless. 

If you’re starting from scratch this can be overwhelming, so I’d recommend starting with a process that you’re likely to use all the time. 

If you choose a process that will be followed on a regular basis, you’ll get a chance to review that process every time it’s used. When you do this, you’ll start to notice where improvements to that process can be made; which steps are unnecessary, where you could add a shortcut, what’s not working etc… 

As you make changes to the process, it’ll get more and more efficient, which will save you time, money (more about this in step 3) and stress. 

Follow these four tips to help you choose a process to create:

  1. Choose a process that’s important to your business goals
  2. Choose a process that’s recurring, and not a one-off task
  3. Choose a process that’s done on a regular basis, so you can improve it
     
  4. Choose a process that’s followed by others on the team, so the benefits can be multiplied

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are great examples of processes that are used on a daily basis and play an incredibly important role in how your business is run.  They’re also super simple to set-up and write too, so a great place for you to start!

Once you’ve chosen your process, name it and provide a brief description.

Step 3. Document the process

When I say you need to ‘create a process’ what I really mean is you need to ‘document a process’. For a process to be followed, you need to document it; you need to write it out for all to see. 

But why? You do the process every single day. You know it inside out. You can do it backwards with your eyes shut, so what’s the point in writing it all out? 

  • If it’s not written down, no one else can follow it

Let’s revisit what happened to Wozza for a second. 

The guy who usually wired up the vines followed a process every time he did that job. He’d been doing it for ten years, and still had all his fingers. 

But because that process wasn’t written down anywhere, no one but him knew it. When he called in sick, it was down to poor old Wozza to work it all out – which didn’t go so well.

  • It’s easier to improve if it’s written down 

Processes are iterative things. They need to be constantly reviewed and improved, otherwise they become inefficient and ineffective, and inefficient and ineffective processes cost organizations up to 20-30% of their annual revenue. 

If your process is written out, you can see each step clearly. You can therefore review, analyze, and improve the process easily. If it was in your head, this would be incredibly difficult. 

  • It ensures you don’t miss any steps as you work through it 

We’ve all had days when we forget what we’re doing. When you’re tired, busy, and stressed it’s easy to lose your place a little, even with tasks and activities you do every day; what am I doing with this? Where did I get to? What do I need to do next?  

Having a process that’s laid out for you to follow, lifts the brain fog, and allows you to find your way through, without tripping up.

Step 4.  Follow the process & keep improving it 

As we’ve already discussed, every time a process is run, you should be looking for ways to improve it – to make it more efficient, easier, and simpler to follow. 

You should be actively looking to spot inefficiencies and make improvements all the time.

When you follow the process, you might discover that it’s taking too long, that there are too many steps, or that people aren’t following it correctly. 

Keep looking at where you can save time, cut steps, automate sections, streamline tasks. Ask those that run the process why they don’t follow it and what they think could be improved. 

If you keep improving your processes, your processes will keep improving your profit margins. 

And there we have it. 

Processes; what they are, why we need them, and how they not only saved my career, but my fingers too. 

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