How to “Re-engineer” Your Business for Safety

How to “Re-engineer” Your Business for Safety

Process reengineering was a massive trend in the 1990s. By focusing on improving either cost, quality, or service, a company could gain benefits in all three categories. Today, the principles that underpin process reengineering can be applied anew, with safety as a core category to improve that will carry benefits across multiple other dimensions. By focusing on improving safety as companies begin to reopen — always while keeping the company’s purpose front and center — companies will gain benefits on four other dimensions. First, they can increase reach, by using virtual connections that attract customers who can’t be physically present. Second, they can create new customer experiences that consumers will want regardless of if they were created to overcome quarantine. Third, they can help re-invent the business as companies see new markets to serve through the lens of safety. Finally, they can improve costs.

At a time when companies are severely challenged, considering a safety reengineering effort may help create valuable new innovations, and revenue streams.

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If you’re old enough, you might remember back in the 1990’s a popular business trend called process re-engineering. If you’re not old enough to remember, this is what it was: Companies would look at core processes in terms of cost, quality, and service, then pick one of those three dimensions, reinvent the process around it, and gain benefits across all three dimensions. When done well, it works. I know this from personal experience. While CEO at Best Buy, for example, we worked with vendors, the supply chain, stores, and customers to improve the quality of getting TVs from manufacturers to our stores and finally to buyers. By drastically reducing the number of TVs damaged at any step in the process (quality), we reduced returns (costs) and increased customer satisfaction (service).

I was thinking about this idea recently in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis. I see an opportunity to apply the same principles behind process reengineering on a new dimension: safety. Conversations with fellow leaders have convinced me that a wave of process or product innovation driven by safety concerns can create benefits that go beyond safety. Importantly, it can help uncover and unleash the kind of growth and efficiency opportunities that will essential to offset what is likely to be a challenging environment for many companies.

Take Adobe, the digital creativity company. Before the Coronavirus crisis, they would hold an annual conference in Las Vegas for 15,000 people. This year, they could not physically gather their customers and partners, because of social distancing and safety concerns. They pivoted to an all-digital conference, and attendance skyrocketed to 80,000. By focusing on safety, the company removed meaningful barriers — attendees’ need to travel and the costs of doing that, and the restrictions of facilities where capacity couldn’t have accommodated the amazing turnout.

Or consider Best Buy. In April, the company decided to re-open some of its stores for one-on-one consultations. Shoppers can make appointments and arrive to a safe environment, with a limited number of people inside, all following social distancing guidelines. By reimagining the process of assisting customers and putting safety first, the company created a valuable, concierge-like experience with customers, with higher close rate as the shopper who makes an appointment is probably keen to get the solution they have been looking for, as opposed to simply browsing.

Applying process re-engineering principles to safety looks like this:

The first dimension this can help expand is reach. Adobe’s conference is a good example of this. Other companies are also discovering how digital conferencing and other technologies can bring people in who were simply, literally, out of reach before. For instance, many people around the world love Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York City, which is housed in a French Renaissance revival mansion. But, if you live in Minneapolis, you can only visit it infrequently. During the pandemic, Erik, one of the experienced sales people at the mansion began giving remote tours of the store and sharing his wardrobe suggestions. Whether or not the store is open to foot traffic, the store can vastly expand its reach to current and new customers. Similarly, consider the mission of the Minneapolis Institute of Art which is to “Inspire wonder through the power of art.” Driven by this purpose, the museum staff have responded to forced closure by launching a flurry of activities to allow the exploration of the museum’s collection from your home, browsing the museum’s collection by gallery or by object, creating podcasts and virtual events, and more.

The second dimension re-engineering for safety will help on is customer experience, as with Best Buy’s consultations. Customer experience in healthcare will benefit too. Telemedicine is experiencing a long-awaited boom, triggered by safety concerns, boosted by technological progress, and unlocked by the removal of regulatory barriers. Telemedicine allows patients with certain conditions to stay home but be seen by a medical practitioner, without the need to travel to a hospital or the office of their physician at a time when they least want to travel, as they are sick. Government is improving customer experience as well. New York state has streamlined administrative processes. Executive orders issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo mean you no longer need the physical presence of a notary public to get a document notarized and, thanks to the New York City clerk’s Cupid application, you can get a marriage license without having to physically show up at the city clerk’s office. Let’s hope we never go back to the old ways!

Third, reengineering for safety can lead to a profound re-invention of the business. Connecting your company’s purpose to safety leads to breakthroughs. Best Buy’s purpose, for example, is not to sell electronics. It’s to “enrich lives through technology by addressing key human needs.” With this purpose in mind, the company had already started before the Coronavirus crisis to launch a program to help seniors stay in their homes longer by deploying remote monitoring technology for them. This remote monitoring is good for seniors and their care givers, and helps reduce costs. In the context of the crisis, it provides safety for the seniors who can stay home, avoiding hospitals that put them at high risk of infection, and help hospitals keep patient numbers manageable.

If the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s purpose was “to be a museum,” it’s hard to imagine how it could re-invent itself in a pandemic. But in fact its mission is to “inspire wonder through the power of art.” In this light, with the building closed for safety reasons, you can begin to imagine how it can create new offerings — such as virtual classes — for a variety of populations, including disadvantaged, remote groups of individuals. There is also of course the example of restaurants who have developed a pickup or delivery service, or even a new business around delivering the food ingredients to recreate at home their most believed recipes, which can allow them to reach a population in excess of their seating capacity. And, if you consider that Axa is not an insurance company, but a company whose mission is to “help customers live their lives with more peace of mind by protecting them, their relatives and their property against risks, and by managing their savings and assets,” which again opens a world of possibilities, such as creating preparedness and prevention services.

The fourth dimension safety re-engineering can help with is costs. Many companies have now realized how effective they can be by working remotely from home and save on corporate travel, meetings and events, and ultimately office space. The cost savings from these new ways of working are material over time.

While it is early in this new world to assess with confidence the effectiveness, sustainability, and economics of some of these innovations, borrowing on the decades-old idea of process re-engineering in the context of safety and purpose has the potential to help companies generate valuable revenue streams at a time when many companies will be severely challenged. Even though these concepts were born out of necessity in a pandemic, there’s no reason they can’t continue as the world resumes. What these organizations are learning now can help make a difference even when it’s not the only option.

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Hubert Joly is the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Best Buy

How to “Re-engineer” Your Business for Safety

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