Most companies consider their creative employees to be in the marketing or advertising departments. At least, that’s according to Elizabeth Grygo, a business process consultant who’s worked with Fortune 250 companies in the U.S. and Russia. But, she warns, ignoring the creativity of employees in other sectors costs time and money – and leads to low worker morale. She advises her clients to tap into that latent creativity to help improve core business functions and allow employees to help improve the way they work. She spoke with FleishmanHillard TRUE about this creativity, ways to tap into it and the challenges companies face.
TRUE: Why is it important to reassess core business processes such as accounting or logistics?
Grygo: You lose a lot of productivity when, every day, people are doing the same thing the way they’ve always done it, just because that’s the way they’ve always done it. When you lose productivity, you are losing money. If you look at standard business processes, most people who do the work are highly analytical, but not results-oriented. They are used to taking orders, not thinking outside the box for ways to do what they do better.
I worked with a very large company that until (recently), in order for sales people to be reimbursed for business expenses, they had to charge something, get the receipt, fill out some paperwork, attach the receipt to it, have their boss approve it and get the paperwork to accounts receivable. Then accounts receivable would go through it, find out there was a missing receipt, or the receipt was attached to the wrong piece of paper, and send it back. So the salesperson had to find the missing receipt, restaple it to the correct piece of paper, get the boss to reapprove it and give it back to accounting. They were being reimbursed three or four weeks after it was initially submitted. People were tired of the paperwork, they were tired of getting reimbursed a month later, accounts was tired of spending so much time going through everything.
TRUE: So what’s the solution to a process like that?
Grygo: You work with all of the stakeholders, get them to think about how they work, where are the problems, where is the pain point, what is everyone complaining about? That’s where worker creativity comes in: The employees are doing (the work) all day, every day. They know where the problems are. What can they suggest? What would make life easier for them? What should be changed so (sales) can spend more time visiting customers and less time filling out paperwork, and accounts doesn’t have to spend so much time making sure every receipt is stapled to the right piece of paper.
Employees initially can be afraid to speak up. Maybe they tried and were shot down in the past. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll become obsolete and lose their jobs. Also, when you are doing your job this particular way day in and day out, you become personally invested in it. To question how something is done is to question your competence and your capabilities. People can become defensive. The hard part is turning the conversation.
TRUE: How hard is it? Employees must know there’s a problem?
Grygo: Oh, yes, they generally will acknowledge there’s a problem. But frequently, they disagree about what’s wrong. You get them in a room and starting to think about how to make everybody’s job easier. I love flow charts. I draw a picture of what they do today and show the lines going back and forth and crisscrossing and this one doubles back around here. They see the spaghetti and see how it’s impacting them and go, “Ugh.” When they get that lightbulb experience, most people start thinking more creatively and having conversations about solutions that will be beneficial to everyone. I can usually tell in that first meeting who is going to resist change, and who’s afraid to speak up. I have separate conversations with them and try not to drag the boss into it, because that is usually counterproductive. When you’re done, you have something that isn’t perfect, because it’s always a compromise, but it’s better than it used to be, and when your employees have contributed their ideas to it, they’ll take ownership. I’ve also found it makes them feel more confident. Once they’ve started thinking outside the box, they continue to come up with creative ways to make things even better, or address other issues.
TRUE: What’s the biggest impediment to this sort of creativity in the work place?
Grygo: Most people are not incentivized to be creative, they are incentivized to do their jobs. But creativity in business allows a business to be flexible, to be dynamic and to be responsive – and that means being responsive on all levels, not just the sales and marketing side. If a company wants to grow, or wants to be more profitable, they have to think about how to get there. And that’s really hard when you’re not customer facing. If your customers are internal, like the sales reps who you do the expense reports for, or your customers are the administrative assistants, the trick is getting them to realize they add value to the business by doing their jobs better. They add value by working cross functionally, by coming up with a great idea for improving a process. Because they do it every day, they aren’t just drones. They are employees who can make the workplace a better place.