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What are Processes?

Processes are a series of steps and decisions taken to complete work in your organization. 

Why is it important?

Processes are everywhere, whether you realize it or not. Even something as simple as preparing a bowl of cereal for breakfast in the morning is a process – it includes a series of steps and decisions that must happen, one after another, in order to result in the outcome that is needed (in this case, a bowl of cereal ready to eat!). For an employment social enterprise, processes are especially important because they: 

  • Define how work gets done throughout the organization: Documented processes clarify how things get done (or should get done) throughout an organization. This includes the steps involved in producing and selling a product, delivering a service, or running back office operations. 
  • Create transparency in expectations for who is doing what and how: Documented processes can function as a communication tool, helping to provide clarity around each person’s specific responsibilities as it relates to a project or function. In doing so, processes provide transparency over the sequence of steps and dependencies, which can contribute to enhanced job performance for all team members and further both program and business outcomes.
  • Are a way to identify opportunities for improvement: Documented processes and good process management help to identify areas where improvement may be needed. These improvement efforts can help to reduce frequent errors, increase safety, or enhance overall efficiency.
  • Become increasingly more important as growth occurs: Organizations who are undergoing growth or considering a growth plan are most likely to be in need of documented processes and good process management. As an employment social enterprise grows its workforce, documented processes facilitate onboarding and training, allowing team members to more quickly begin work and be effective on the job.   

Self-assessment checklist

Generally, the need for documented processes and good process management increases as an organization grows. Smaller organizations may not see an urgent need to invest heavily in this area, but all organizations should have some form of documented processes. Consider investing in documenting processes and process management if: 
  • There’s occasionally confusion over who’s doing what and when
  • Customers or clients have raised concerns about the quality or timeliness of product or service delivery
  • Jobs or tasks seem to take more time than they should
  • You are growing or plan to be growing soon
  • You want to improve overall job satisfaction for your team members

Best practices 

  • Getting started with the basics
    • Identify 2 or 3 processes or procedures that your organization would like to document: Consider all regular activities that your team engages in, and select two or three of them that are important to document. You may want to focus on processes or procedures that involve the greatest number of team members or those that are most critical to the organization’s operations. 
    • Document the steps for each important process or procedure and the key inputs and output(s): This can be done with the help of any number of templates for documenting processes or procedures. Be sure to ask for input from individuals who are currently involved in the process or procedure. Also, it is important that – as you document a process or procedure – you clearly define the key inputs and outputs of the process (or, what is needed in order to start the process and what the process is expected to deliver when it is complete).  
    • Communicate the process or procedure: Once a process or procedure is documented, notify the individuals involved in the process. Share the documentation with them, and if needed, take time to walk through the process or procedure with them. 
    • Check in periodically on how well the process or procedure is functioning: It’s important to open a dialogue with those involved in the process or procedure and inquire about how well the process is functioning. When you’re getting started, you may not have formal metrics in place to measure process performance, butteam members will often be willing to share their feedback, which can help identify areas for incremental improvement.
  • Keeping momentum with high-performance practices  
    • Define and track metrics, especially for critical processes: Metrics should help to monitor the health of processes and alert you to issues. Use guidance on key metrics and data to help determine what should be measured and how to gather the data.
    • Involve the right people in process design and improvement: Identifying an owner of each documented process or procedure can help to create accountability and empower others to incrementally improve processes and procedures. For larger scale or more complex process improvement efforts, consider forming a steering committee that can take on the responsibility of identifying opportunities for improvement and chartering improvement efforts. 
    • Develop a culture of continuous improvement: Continuous improvement is a part of organizational culture, and is achieved by recognizing that there’s always an opportunity to incrementally improve how an organization operates – to include its processes and procedures. Establish good communication channels and clear reporting procedures that alert team members to process changes and allow for feedback on current processes and procedures. 

Process example: Employee onboarding 

  • Employee onboarding is a process that all ESEs should have in place. The onboarding process is critical to an ESE, as it is an essential step before an employee can begin working and receiving a paycheck. A good onboarding process can also signal to the employee that the ESE is well-organized and will treat the employee well (which may have the added effect of motivating the employee and reinforcing the organization’s culture). Additionally, sensitive data is collected during the onboarding process, so an organization should ensure that good data management practices are followed during onboarding to protect and secure this data.  The details of the process may vary from organization to organization, but the main components of a typical onboarding process may look like the following:
    • Inputs: 
      • A prospective new employee who has accepted the organization’s offer for employment in writing.
      • Required documentation from the prospective new employee that will be important to the onboarding process, such as government-issued identification and a canceled check for setting up direct deposit.
      • Forms that must be completed and/or signed by the prospective new employee (in some cases with assistance from the employer), such as federal forms W4 and I-9, direct deposit authorizations, emergency contact forms, and the organization’s employment contract.
    • Outputs: 
      • A newly-onboarded employee who is fully aware of the organization’s expectations of them, and who knows what is required immediately after to continue training and/or begin working.
      • Completed and/or signed forms that allow the employee to legally work at the organization and receive a paycheck.

Process Steps

  1. Send the prospective new employee the employment contract, employee handbook, and other required forms. If needed, set a time for an in-person onboarding meeting: Provide your prospective new employee with adequate time to review their contract of employment (usually, at least a few weeks before they are expected to begin work). This legal document outlines the employer’s and employee’s rights, responsibilities, and obligations as it applies to the individual’s employment at the organization. An employment contract can also include a summary of the organization’s policies, or in some cases, those policies may be in a separate document that is often referred to as an employee handbook. In addition to the employment contract, send the prospective employee any other forms that will need to be completed or signed. During this step in the process, it may also be useful to arrange for an in-person meeting for the following week (but on a date prior to the individual’s start date). 
  2. Offer an opportunity for the prospective new employee to ask questions about the employment contract: Ultimately, a prospective employee must agree to the employment contract before starting work. However, a prospective employee may have questions or concerns about the employment contract or about the organization’s policies. It’s a critical step to ensure that the prospective employee clearly understands what is expected of them before starting work, so ensure that someone in your organization is made available (by phone, email, or in person) to the prospective employee to answer and respond to any of these questions or concerns. 
  3. Meet with the prospective new employee to receive the signed employment contract, receive or finalize other forms, issue badges or uniforms, and discuss next steps: It’s often a good practice for ESEs to plan for or allow time for an in-person meeting with a prospective employee during their onboarding process. In many cases, prospective employees have questions about forms they must complete, or may need to offer hard copies of items such as a government-issued ID or a canceled check for direct deposit authorization. An in-person meeting also allows for the organization to issue items such as badges or uniforms to the new employee. This in-person meeting is a good opportunity to revisit the mission of the organization, introduce the new employee to their direct supervisor (if they are available and if they haven’t yet met), and discuss next steps. Next steps should include specific and clear instructions on where the employee should be, when, and with what items (e.g., uniform, badge, or type of footwear) in order to begin work or training. 
  4. Ensure that the new employee’s data is captured and entered in the required databases and systems, and is stored securely: As soon as possible following the above steps, ensure that the new employee’s data is captured in the databases and systems that are important to managing the employee’s records. At a minimum, this usually includes entering the employee’s information into the payroll system. Additionally, ensure that you are following your organization’s data management practices to store data securely. Note that the federal government provides guidance on retaining and storing forms such as the I-9; this guidance should be incorporated into the organization’s practices for storing the forms and data that result from the onboarding process.  
  5. Issue or initiate digital accounts for the new employee for software or applications to which they require access: Using your organization’s data management practices as a guide, issue the new employee accounts to software or systems to which they require access. It’s a good practice to ensure that these accounts are set up prior to the employee’s first day of work so that the employee’s time can be spent on any needed training (which may include learning how to use certain software or applications that are critical to their job function). 

Additional Resources

About Emerging Market Enterprises

Emerging Market Enterprises (EME) is an advisory firm based in Washington, DC, that works with startups, scaleups, and intermediaries in the impact ecosystem. EME provides a variety of services to its clients and partners to include market strategy, operations improvement, and leadership coaching.