Designing for people change: key takeaways from our latest Innovation Summit

November 15, 2019 Matt Vermeulen

We’re constantly finding ways to work better, faster, and smarter. It’s why Ford perfected the assembly line, why Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin, and why Christian Lanng, Gert Sylvest, and Mikkel Hippe Brun founded Tradeshift. They all used new technologies to create innovation and drive the state of work forward. But they didn’t just innovate for the sake of it, they did it to empower the people that actually do the work.

That was the focus of our latest Innovation Summit in New York where, for two days, discussions centered around “designing for people change.” We explored how people drive change, both internally as employees and co-workers, and externally as customers and partners. And how that drive for change leads to technology that is meant to empower those people using it. Here’s what we learned:

Focus on outcomes not processes

Automating a bad process is, well, automating a bad process. But when many companies decide to digitize, they focus on just creating digital versions of what they already have. This may make it easier and faster, but it won’t lead to it being better. Instead, adopting tools that automate tasks and digitize processes should fundamentally change how a company operates. And that’s done by focusing on the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. Case in point, you don’t digitize invoice processing to speed up your approval process. You do it to pay your sellers faster and give them a better experience. Accelerated invoice approval is just a means to reach your goal. When you focus on outcomes, amazing things happen. For example, if you implement technology to automate invoicing processing so that you can pay your sellers faster (thereby giving them a better experience) your accounts payable team will be more focused. Instead of spending time processing invoices, they’ll have more to actually analyzing the invoice process. Now, they’re much more strategic in actually finding ways to minimize the time between receiving invoices and paying them by gaining valuable insight into the process itself, not just being a part of it. And they can work more closely with other departments, like finance, to share what they’re seeing for continuous improvement. All of a sudden, you’ve created true organizational design by having people work more strategically in their roles. By focusing on what the ultimate goal is will help you understand how technology will get you there.

Work improves when people focus on outcomes

Understanding and focusing on outcomes is the first step but you also have to effectively communicate that throughout the organization. If you don’t, your people are more likely to dismiss new tools as just another business fad that won’t affect their work, leaving you with great tools that never get used. But when you can communicate the value of the new tools, and provide relevant training for you’re people, you’ll empower your people to focus on outcomes and improve your business processes. Whether it’s through a self-service suite of training videos or through a more targeted training cohort of leads that can help bring credibility to the efficacy of the tools is up to you. What’s important is that you make change transparent and training readily available so that your people can look at it with more insight and understanding. When people have a real interest in achieving outcomes and investing in change, they’re more likely to invest in learning new processes. That doesn’t mean that now suddenly your accountants are going to learn the ins-and-outs of distributed ledger technology, but it does mean that they’re willing to learn the core concepts of new technology so they can communicate with multiple people across departments. When you can do that, you can help advance outcomes instead of reinforce processes.

Want to measure change? Align KPIs with your outcomes

Since you’ll be changing so much, you’ll need to change your KPIs, too. Your KPIs in the enterprise will need to evolve in step with your evolving business, goals, and strategies.

Yes, there will always be time-tested metrics: AP, for example, will always track invoice processing times as a measure of success. But just as you’re thinking outside the box and challenging your organization, you’ll have to do the same for your metrics. Which are most important to thrive in a digital world? First, look to align your KPIs with your outcomes, but feel free to get creative. You’ve worked hard to buck the trends of the status quo: do the same for your metrics. Think about how businesses are changing and set metrics that point towards those changes.

Give your people the freedom to be themselves

And what that all comes down to is supporting your people to be themselves. Your goal is to provide the tools and training to help your people use the skills you hired them for to advance your organization’s goals. Because change happens in both directions — it allows people to work how they want to work but it also gives them the best tools to work more strategically. That balance is key to creating an organization that's motivated, continuously adaptive, and poised to compete tomorrow. You can watch all the full panel discussions or learn more about how to use technology in your digital transformation journey by downloading our latest e-books for finance and accounts payable.

About the Author

Matt Vermeulen writes about B2B commerce for Tradeshift. Whether he's writing about Accounts Payable best practices or debunking AI myths, Matt enjoys making complex topics easy to understand and fun to read.

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