To Standardize or Harmonize?

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To streamline operations for optimal performance, businesses look for ways to garner benefits from consistent practices. The two most common approaches are harmonization and standardization.

Harmonization is a way to stitch varying practices together so that the handoffs from one area to the next are problem-free. Standardization, on the other hand, is about adopting a uniform approach to tackle specific work. Which approach is better?

Customer and Partner Experience

From the customer’s perspective, standardization serves best in offering the same consistent experience. Businesses that have a presence in multiple locations, either locally or globally, would want to establish standardized practices.

Consider Staples Inc. which operates in the US and Canada. For a trainer who uses Staples for printing, he would like to be able to submit a job for printing and pick up the printed materials in any city. Image the inconvenience if he needs to submit a print job in a different manner in different cities. Similarly, businesses that offer multiple channels for sales and customer support would like to standardize their policies on shipping, returns and refunds. Inconsistent practices create havoc for customers.

In dealing with business partners such as suppliers, the suppliers benefit from working with the same policies and procedures across locations and channels. They don’t need to develop multiple versions of instructions, creating confusion for their employees. Managing diverse practices add costs for the suppliers.

Internal Operations

For internal operations, harmonization could be effective when transitions between different business units or handoffs between functional units are streamlined. Standardization might not be necessary.

Consider a business which has grown through acquisitions. The acquired company’s operations are different. It would consume significant effort to standardize all processes. Harmonization is sufficient when operations are autonomous with little need to share resources. This works, for example, when the customer segments served are different, consumers versus corporations.

For businesses which use multiple third-party vendors to deliver their services, it is not possible to standardize all their vendors’ practices. However, it is important to harmonize their customer-facing activities so that there is continuity for the customers. For example, a regional transit company which outsources its local para-transit services. It would be good to harmonize the delivery so that customers won’t have different experiences when they travel from one locale to the next.

When there are widespread disparate practices in a business, standardization could be ideal but it will require time and effort. The changes could be disruptive. For many businesses, harmonization offers a rational transition to streamline operations and simplify business rules.

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