Theoretically all processes are equal, but some processes are more equal than others. Some processes last; others quickly end up on the scrap heap of our professional lives.
It’s possible to try to ensure a new process will last by creating incentives, but even incentives can be of limited value. Plus, not every company has the resources (and infrastructure) to offer major incentives.
And on the flip side, no company can afford to devote significant management resources to ensuring compliance to new processes.
Here are some of the warning signs of a process destined to fail—and more importantly what to do instead:
The process feels arbitrary.
The most important question to answer, in almost every business situation, is “Why?” Even further, you should ask, “Why is our mission important?” and “Why is this project so critical?”
And in this case, “Why should we follow this process?”
A process without a solid “why” requires enforcement in the form of deadlines, punishments, etc. Tell me what to do and I’ll probably do it, but you’ll have to make sure I do it. Tell me why I should do it, help me understand and embrace why doing it is important, and you won’t have to check on me. I’ll do it not just because you care but also because I care.
And if I don’t care, I probably shouldn’t be your employee.
The process is a broad reaction to a specific problem.
Imagine you’re a member of a group of individual contributors. Some of you tend to get to work around 8am. Others arrive closer to 8:30am. The start time is largely irrelevant. No one punches a clock, everyone works hard and everyone gets all their work done, except for Joey. Joey never gets to work before 9am. And he never stays “late” to finish his work.
Joey is a problem.
The solution? Instead of just dealing with Joey, everyone on the team is told they must arrive at work by 8:30am.
That’s a simple example (if not an all too common example) that can be applied much more broadly. A proposal with a pricing error gets sent to a customer; now all proposals must be double-checked by a supervisor. A quality mistake is made; now a supervisor must perform a quality check on every new job before full production can begin.
Ever been part of a group that was punished for the “transgression” of one person? Initially everyone complies, but everyone resents the need to comply. And soon they find ways to get around the new process.
The best processes improve a situation for everyone. The best processes guarantee better outcomes for everyone. If an employee or department makes a mistake, deal with that employee or department. No one likes to feel “punished” for something they didn’t do and would never do.
The process is an add-on, not a replacement.
Most people feel overworked (even if, strictly speaking, they are not). Most people feel they operate at the limits of their capacity (even if, strictly speaking, they are not).
Add a process without removing another process—or streamlining some other function—and an already overworked employee feels even more overworked.
And something will give.
That something might be the new process. Or it might be an established process. Either way, the company loses.
The best approach is to create processes that streamline and improve. For example, you could say, “We’ll be using this new database to track customer interactions. Not only will that enhance relationships and improve sales, but also it will take you less time to stay in regular contact and free you up to…”
The best way to ensure a process will succeed is to make it a win-win: good for the company and good for employees.
The process imposes structure to an inherently unstructured interaction.
Every customer is different, which means every customer interaction is different. There are a wide variety of ways to solve an individual customer’s problem. Expediting shipping may not matter when designing a custom product bundle. Replacing defective equipment instead of repairing a faulty part may matter more when the time and cost of a total re-installation is burdensome.
Where customer service is concerned, the best “processes” involve broad guidelines that give reps the freedom to customize the solution to a customer’s individual needs. In some cases, the best “process” is to provide the rep the authority to do what is best.
Of course, broad latitude is not a process—and that makes some leaders uncomfortable.
Although employees who work in functions where decision-making discretion and leeway are critical will (grudgingly) follow rigid processes, is that the result you want? Don’t try to impose rigid systems where flexibility is truly necessary. Accurately completing a process is an outcome, but it’s not the most important outcome.
A satisfied customer is the outcome you really need.
The process has no owner.
Ultimately, people matter. People count on other people. People try to come through for other people. People try not to let other people down. People try to make a difference for other people.
I will always try harder for a person than I will for a company.
And that’s why every process needs a champion. Every process needs a person to whom that process matters.
When I know it matters to you, then it naturally matters more to me.
Share in the comments below how you have streamlined a process at work and the successes/challenges you have faced!