Before progressing the business or making significant decisions affecting its future, it is essential that it be known both where it is and what is its real capability and capacity to making that progress.
Using an analogy there little point in my planning on making a trip to Sydney unless I:
- Know why I need to be in Sydney,
- Understand the consequences of not going,
- Know where I am now,
- Understand whether I require a passport,
- Know when I need to arrive,
- Am fully aware of what options I have for transport and
- Realise what funds are available to me.
Without full knowledge any trip planned is likely to be a less than optimal.
A baselining exercise for the business provides the knowledge which can guide the decision making and planning processes.
With a good understanding of where the business currently sits, it is better able to express the length of the change journey needed to achieve its vision. With good knowledge the business is in a better position to:
- Identify the size of the gap between current and desired performance
- Appreciate its leadership team’s willingness to close the gap and
- Understand the its capacity to absorb change
When gathering knowledge about the business in order to establish what it is truly capable of undertaking. it is important to gain some insight into the obstacles that can be put in the way of progress.
These could include:
- A lack of executive or key stakeholder support,
- Having a silo culture placing too much emphasis on organisational structure and lines of management,
- Exhibiting political or tribal behaviour protecting business patches,
- Having people regarded as commodities rather than assets,
- Having incomplete, missing or inappropriate skills and resources,
- Stifling innovation through lack of recognition,
- Not recognising that change does occur,
- Having no strategy for identifying or addressing risk,
- Experiencing difficulty in defining the best process projects so lessons cannot be learned,
- Having ever shifting priorities deflecting efforts, increasing inconsistency and impacting schedules and budgets.
For many businesses the challenge when addressing any problem or opportunity can be expressed: (non definitive list)
- Where are we actually starting from?
- Where do we begin?
- How high is this barrier we are trying to climb over?
- How do we start?
- What issues do we need to address?
- What are the risks and can they be mitigated?
- When are results and benefits likely to start to occur?
- Who do we need to involve?
- How do they go about it?
Problems and opportunities cannot be fully addressed without an honest assessment of both the business’s aptitude (ability) and its attitude (desire). The business must be both capable of solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity and want to do so without reluctance.
Regardless of business aspirations, it must start from a realistic base. Being able to understand and play to its strengths, whilst accommodating its weaknesses, is key to making real progress.
It is essential that the business:
- Understands its current position with regard to process maturity and readiness for change
- Identify the gaps and their size – from where it is now, to where it would like to be
- Formulates a strategy for change that encompasses people, processes and technology
- Is aware that any change can have a domino effect on other parts of the business.
Assessing the current capability of the business and identifying the gaps, helps create the basis for developing a strategy to proceed. It is important to recognise that different parts of a business are likely to be at different stages of process maturity.
Any strategy developed must be tailored at accommodate the ‘readiness for change’ that is found across the whole of the business.
Baselining the business starts by deciding, with input from the defined goals and objectives, which measurement criteria are relevant to support ongoing progress. Using these criteria, assessments can be made of attitude, capability, gap and aptitude.
The process itself is perpetuating, with new baselines being established at regular intervals.
Key questions that can be included in the assessment phases
- Can leaders express strategy in business process terms?
- Is there an understanding which business processes have to be improved, by how much, to achieve strategic goals?
- Is the capability or ‘aptitude’ to improving critical business processes understood?
- Is there clear accountability and responsibility defined across all existing processes?
- Are there clear, reusable process measures and metrics?
- Is there a developed enterprise view of a business process relationship map?
- Have key performance metrics been linked from a customer’s point of view to key financial metrics?
- Has the business invested in training key people in a robust framework for change?
- Have recognition/reward systems been aligned with process objectives?
Baselining the business is a vital reality check. It provides fundamental information vital to effective process review, decision making and project planning. It can support the justification of timescale and resource requirements for a new initiative, both of which are often under-acknowledged.
Not to be underestimated when undertaking a baselining exercise is the absolute essential need for honesty. The end result will only be as good as the information provided and the rigour applied.