24 Apr VP of Next Steps
By Gregory Demetriou, President & CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications.
It helps to talk to contemporaries, other executives, and CEOs; it is then when you realize that your organization in not unique and you really don’t suck as a leader.
The topic over breakfast this morning was “next steps” and how they are or are not managed. A friend who runs a large company with over 130 employees was bemoaning the fact that there are times when it appears there is no real process for completing certain tasks other than “we just get it done”. Then, when the task goes sideways, is quickly followed by “John didn’t give it Mary” or “Alice took forever to give it to me”.
He was sure that If he asked four different employees how a particular process happens he would get at least two alternative versions. That should immediately tell you there is no real process. A process people are free to interpret for themselves is broken.
Why is process important? It puts everyone on the same page. It assigns how a task or interaction is to be handled, a timeline, and accountability for tasks very specifically. Anyone can plug in at any time and have a clear understanding of what has to be done next and when it has to be completed. Handing work off to those responsible for “next steps” requires trust in the process otherwise follow up becomes a persistent headache for managers and executives alike, who must continually ask for progress reports.
Over our second cup of coffee we agreed, tongue in cheek, that a new position was needed. We determined that job would be the Vice President of Next Steps, Director of Next Steps or maybe Chief of Next Steps (CNS). The main responsibility for this position would be to create, teach, manage and enforce each and every process necessary to make the organization run smoothly. The effect of having such an executive would be gaining an elusive comfort level regarding important work that someone else was responsible for. We determined that we would no longer wake at night remembering to check up on our downline and we could stop writing lists of follow up items if we had a CNS.
The answer is not a person. The Vice President of Next Steps or Chief of Next Steps does not need to be hired but a real written process needs to be established and become the way things get done, each and every time. The challenge is instilling in those “we just get it done” people that they must follow the process. Expect resistance. The staff comfort level tells them they know better and management doesn’t understand that they always “get it done” anyway. Staying the course from history to process will need oversight and enforcement for the period it takes for the next steps to be known. Executed in proper order, with a hand offs done completely, correctly and additionally with clear timelines and yes, most importantly with next steps defined.
To break the historical way of doing things, staff needs to be invested in creating the new paradigm of a well thought out, detailed and efficient process. Whether it be how to onboard a new account, how to keep clients informed about ongoing projects or any of the accounting or billing operations. Distilling the variations, nuances and roadblocks in any department will provide the guideposts for building a process that not only streamlines the work but also brings the clients expectations into play. An important consideration is that clients are both internal and external. Internal clients need a clean hand off and good foundation so they can move the work along. External clients pay the bills and must be at the core of any process.