Innovation should not stop because of COVID-19 and the activation of business continuity plans. Businesses have faced significant cash constraints, liquidity concerns, and a need to reduce cash outflows. Leaders should take advantage of this time to encourage their staff to innovate, and it does not require additional cash investment.
Many processes involve lists, forms, and calculations. Templates staff are currently using may not be the most efficient or sometimes are not flexible enough to support bespoke reporting. Management can encourage innovation but updating its policies and processes to encourage:
Connecting spreadsheets to databases - Processes which are heavily manual, especially in the Financial Planning and Analysis area, can be improved without system upgrades. Most ERP systems have the ability to integrate directly into Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access (for example: using an ODBC connection). Managers can request bespoke reporting in areas of importance, and their staff can provide them without delays because a report or set of master data needs to be modified.
Using macros - Daily activities can be innovated with simple macros. Staff can "record" their some of their daily tasks and activate them with buttons on their spreadsheets or in databases. There is no need for SQL knowledge. If at the end of each day, a report needs to be sent to managers or customers, creating a macro which automatically sends attaches the report to an email at the push of a button will reduce the amount of time someone sending out reports. Macros such as these are useful, especially when many reports need to be disrupted at the end of each day.
Thinking outside the template - Database software, such as Microsoft Access, is a great way to query data from an external system, organise it, and prepare reports. Databases can process large amount of data faster than spreadsheets and can integrate with other email software even allowing customers to enter their own information or to distribute quickly information from the database.
Employees are your biggest asset, and if they are not asked to perform the right tasks, the company will run inefficiently and slowly. Staff need to understand what's important to the company so that they can make it a priority.
Bringing staff together to discuss areas of improvement is not only a way to engage them, but it makes them part of prioritisation discussion. Day to day operations are managed by them; therefore, they are expected and can provide the best set of feedback to innovate them. This will encourage innovation and foster an environment where staff feel connected to the business.
For example: If your company is struggling to determine its liquidity positions, management should discuss how to develop a more detailed cash flow. Management should ask staff what types of reports they can develop, and staff should advise how long it will take to design, test, and implement. Agree with them this priority amongst what they see as other priorities. These new bespoke templates could foreshadow efficiency improvements to other related procedure. The company can use the gains from these efficiencies to re-purpose the human resource which could be used, for example, to generate new revenue or to continue innovating in other areas.
When to determine if a consultant is needed
Simple changes can snowball into major process improvements. To ensure efficient operations, sometimes managers should retain a consultant, even for a few hours, just to review how the bespoke changes should be implemented. This makes sure that resources are do not waste time on a innovation that requires extensive implementation or will require more changes. Chayim Messer Consulting can help managers review and map their processes to ensure that the right resource is used in the right places.
Innovation does not have to stop, and should not stop, just because cash is not as available. Times like these require companies to reinvent what they do and how they do it. Challenge yourself and your staff to come up with new ways of working. Contact Chayim Messer Consulting for a free consultation and for innovation support.