I spoke to Greg McLaughlin, who is the Senior Director or Business Automation Solutions at AppNexus, which helps the world's top publishers fully monetize their content. In his position, he drives business operations solutions and business automation strategy through conceptualization, implementation and management of CRM platform vision, development and program leadership. Before AppNexus, McLaughlin was the Director of CRM at Neopost and a Senior Vice President of Marketing and CRM Leader at GE Capital. In the following brief interview, McLaughlin talks about how he defines process improvement, his approach to process improvement at AppNexus, his biggest challenges and more.
Dan Schawbel: How would you define process improvement, and its importance to your business?
Greg McLaughlin: As a high-growth leader in the AdTech industry, AppNexus has thrived on its ability to leverage and invent new technology innovations and address the complex and rapidly evolving needs of our customers.
Our operating values include “Seeing & Improving the Whole System”, “Learning and Teaching what we Know,” “Empowering Our Customers” and “Making Greatness Happen Every Day.” In order to execute these values we need to embrace process improvement as a means for adapting to and leading constant change and staying a step ahead of our customers and competitors.
With the exceptional pace of change has come a need to organize and reorganize our business quickly as well as to implement process improvements regularly. We view process improvement as both an enabler of as well as a result of our growth. It would not be possible to invent new technology solutions as we have without seeking new ways of thinking, new ways of solving business challenges and new ways of operating as an organization.
Schawbel: How do you approach process improvement within your organization?
McLaughlin: We have a highly collaborative culture where continuous change is expected and viewed as opportunity. We are also an innovative environment where inventing new ideas, approaches and solutions is encouraged and rewarded. Our offices are set up in an open floorplan where everyone sits together at common worktables to maximize collaboration and discussion.
All of these cultural elements contribute to our focus on continuous process improvement. Each Business Unit has an Operations Leader and we have an SVP of Global Operations that works with the General Managers and Business Unit Operations Leaders. This group of leaders work together to drive alignment of objectives, change management and process consistency across the organization.
Our Business Automation Solutions team then works toward supporting the company’s business processes with innovative technology designed to drive efficiency while minimizing process waste and encouraging collaborative work practices.
Schawbel: What are the biggest challenges you have from a tools / systems perspective to support process improvement?
McLaughlin: One of the challenges includes keeping up with the pace of change and the organized chaos resulting from our rapid growth. Our program management teams have come to accept and expect priorities to shift and new projects to supplant old ones.
Sometime we struggle with the scalability of the technology itself. When the company was small, our inclination was to acquire smaller-scale, less costly software that may not have been able to ramp to the needs of a larger enterprise. As we’ve become a significantly bigger organization, we’ve outgrown some of our software. And the interim period where we are not ready to upgrade to a bigger solution, but still struggling to stretch our existing solution to meet our expanding needs can be difficult for the program teams and the end user community.
Schawbel: How do you allocate resources / personnel to support process improvement?
McLaughlin: We are a strong operational organization focused on quality and customer-centric processes. We recently rolled out a Customer Support portal to improve our already robust Case Management program. This offered our customers an improved user experience in self-reporting issues they experience with our platform.
Organizationally, much of our process consistency and standardization stems from our leadership team and our SVP, Global Operations. We also have a strong Sales Operations team that manages the roll-out of our Sales Methodology and other efficiency programs. Our Business Automation Solutions team, in conjunction with our technology team drives process compliance and adoption through innovative roll-out of CRM, Marketing Automation, Customer Portal and other Customer Success tools.
Lastly, our Operations leaders within the Business Units balance corporate process consistency within our customer-facing teams with localized Go-To-Market strategies specific to the entrepreneurial needs of their business teams.
Schawbel: What strategies have you found most valuable to overcome those challenges?
McLaughlin: We have a goal-setting process where we review Major Business Objectives quarterly as opposed to on just an annual basis. This enables us to be nimble in adapting to changing business conditions and letting go of priorities when new, more critical objectives arise.
This contributes to the culture that our executives have built around growing and changing with the marketplace.
The real strength in our ability to allocate resources to support process improvement lies in our willingness and readiness to reorganize ourselves around new market trends, customer needs or technology innovations and still maintain our growth momentum throughout the transition.
Constant change is expected in our business and accordingly, continuous process improvement is a way of life at AppNexus.