I spoke to Sacha Gera, the Vice President of Business Strategy and Operations at GENBAND, a 2015 CNBC Disruptor 50 and global leader in real time communications software solutions for service providers, enterprises, independent software vendors, systems integrators and developers in over 80 countries. Gera leads a number of functions including p/l and services product management oversight for their maintenance business, corporate quality and business intelligence, as well as business operations for their product management team. In the following brief interview, Gera defines process improvement, explains how he approaches process improvement and more.
Dan Schawbel: How would you define process improvement, and its importance to your business?
Sacha Gera: For me, process improvement is a about taking a systematic approach to driving efficiency in order to attain business outcomes - it could be about reducing cost, growing profitability, improving quality or a combination of these.
In our business we’ve put a tremendous amount of effort, with a renewed focus over the last 18 months, in improving quality and the customer experience through process improvement and strengthening our Quality Management System. The outcome has been fabulous – we were just awarded Gold in the ‘Transformational Customer Experience’ category in the 2015 Gartner & 1to1 Media Customer Experience Awards.
Schawbel: How do you approach process improvement within your organization?
Gera: Process improvement comes in different shapes and sizes – each demands its own approach. I break it down into two categories: 1) hygiene process improvement or continuous improvement, and 2) larger scale initiatives or business transformation initiatives.
When it comes to continuous improvement it has to be embedded in the corporate culture. I believe this is best achieved by having a clear strategy and driving a complementary approach to performance management, encouraging SMART employee objectives and tying in year-end evaluations and variable compensation accordingly, as well as driving frequent communications around both hot spots, improvement plans and wins.
When it comes to large scale process improvement or business transformation initiatives it’s a marathon not a sprint. It starts with a shared vision from the top down and takes leadership cross-functionally to align the troops tactically to the strategy. In these types of initiatives there are always folks that resist the change and persistence and effective change agents are key to success. These types of process improvements often take two years to bear fruit and patience amongst management is a must.
Schawbel: What are the biggest challenges you have from a tools / systems perspective to support process improvement?
Gera: In our case we’re a company built on a number of strategic acquisitions. We’ve been very successful in absorbing new acquisitions efficiently, especially with integrating the tools and systems that come along with them. Inherently, the number of acquisitions we’ve executed over a short period of time has posed a number of challenges with ensuring ‘One Source of the Truth’ for data, driving process consistency and data integrity, and gaining stakeholder buy-in such that we spend less time debating the data and more time using it.
Schawbel: How do you allocate resources / personnel to support process improvement?
Gera: Over time I’ve learned that there’s three ingredients to this recipe. First, it starts with a strong and accessible data infrastructure that is trusted – three rules apply: 1) it’s got to be available when stakeholders need the data, 2) data integrity rules – no compromises, and 3) historical data should never be lost – trending is foundational to process improvement.
Second, the data is only as good as the improvement it drives and having strong business analysts that understand the business goals, can digest the ‘big data’ and can balance their views by complementing the data with anecdotal insight to provide advisory services on process improvement is key.
Third, having strong process effectiveness leaders to take the data, work cross-functionally and implement change is what inevitably yields the improvement outcomes. It’s an art as much as a science and the best ones are not just process experts but effective change agents and internal consultants too.
Schawbel: What strategies have you found most valuable to overcome those challenges?
Gera: Over time I’ve learned that the most theoretically-effective process improvement solutions aren’t always the best cultural fit and that the best cultural-fitted solutions aren’t always the most effective for driving results. It’s a delicate balance and a challenge that is best overcome with developing a shared vision top-down and bottoms-up while keeping a constant eye on the business goals and having the courage to steer the ship through choppy waters.
Of particular note in our company was the challenge of overcoming the cultural divide – we had folks that religiously used data to drive process improvement and others who relied purely on experience and gut feel. What I’ve learned is that ‘good’ leaders use data to drive decision making and process improvement but the ‘best’ use data to get 60% of the way there and complement the rest with experience and consideration for cultural fit.