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What’s next after Lean?

All businesses need to continuously perform better. This can be done either by reducing costs or generating more revenue. Lots of organizations run transformation programs to improve or gain in efficiency. You may have worked on creating better processes for operational and supporting services (facilities, marketing, procurement, HR, sales, finance or accounting departments). These programs, often successful, offer direct results. Most times both financial benefits and improved client service. Each department is optimized, digitized and automated as much as possible. Costs were cut and service improved thanks to Lean management. That’s great, but not enough to stay ahead.

In an age where more and more small players challenge the market, innovation is crucial to respond to disruptive technology and the ever-changing market needs. But how to keep that innovative spirit alive? That is quite challenging, especially for larger enterprises. Digital Impulse consultant Andreas Van Poucke explores some techniques for you.

A clear mission

All successful businesses have something in common: a clear mission. Everyone inside and outside the organization knows what the company stands for. Besides creating a strong brand name, it has other important advantages. When there is a well-defined mission, it’s clear why everyone sits together every day. That common purpose creates a space in which everyone can dream and experiment. Channeling this energy comes natural in a start-up but is more complex to manage in a large established player. You need to embed this “start-up mentality” in your organizational structure and corporate culture.

Self-managing teams

Innovation can come from anywhere in the organization. Traditional company structures are inadequate in utilizing this infinite source of new ideas. More agile structures, when properly implemented, can unlock this potential. Ad-hoc, self-managing teams have the freedom to develop and test out innovative ideas in collaboration with the client. When an idea shows real potential, you can put procedures in place to scale and further develop. In addition to more innovation, this working method also creates more engaged employees. It requires a radical cultural shift that completely redefines the roles and responsibilities, for the employees and especially for the management. This process demands companywide analysis, followed by carefully managed sessions with all layers of the company.

Unlock lost potential

Support services (such as procurement, HR, accounting departments) are often seen as cost centers. They are reduced to their core task and pushed to gain efficiency. It is good to have efficient processes, but there might be uncultivated potential in these departments. A way to discover this potential is to analyze what the service means for their internal and external clients. A big part of their role will always be to support the business. To support others in creating value. But what if, on top of that, they can help others to find new ways to create value, or even create value themselves. Information they have, sometimes without knowing it, can be valuable for either the client or the business.

Procurement, for example, plays an important role in the collaboration with suppliers. It can support innovation internally but can also drive innovation from the suppliers’ side and help find new value creation opportunities. HR needs to find the right talent, but also has crucial information of which talent is available. When included in the discussion early enough, they help match the two.

The process of reinventing the role of supporting services can take time. The first step is always to understand, before proposing changes. Following a structured approach, it can really transform their role in the company from a costly support to a valuable driver of innovation. It speaks for itself that the right tools to manage information flows are crucial. They can either obstruct or encourage collaboration. An obvious correlation, but one that rarely receives the correct attention.