In the 90s and early 2000s there was a rediscovery of “process” and it’s power to drive and systematize progress. Championed by the likes of Dr Michael Hammer (MIT) it was extracted from its deep roots in manufacturing and applied to the optimization of every conceivable part of business. Of the many distinguished members of the “management silver bullet family,” this definitely became one of the stronger siblings.
The “process frenzy” that followed produced mixed results. On one hand, indisputable gains in terms of quality, efficiency, scalability, etc. On the other, a “people experience” often very negatively characterized by restriction, complexity and reduced autonomy. This was especially amplified by the rebirth of entrepreneurship and innovation as a “counter-force” that receives some of the credit for the economic recovery after the collapse in the late 2000s. The following became the most popular criticisms of “process.”
- Inhibits creativity…creativity and innovation happen when we mentally “jump the tracks,” so you can imagine what happens when there’s so many rules that make you stay “on the track”
- Inhibits flexibility…similar to the above, in an ever-changing environment, restricting options or capability to respond could be the difference between life and death. In many cases, the strands of rope so carefully braided together to pull the company forward, becomes the noose it hangs itself on.
- Slows things down…when it becomes all about “checking the boxes” and going through the motions significant energy and time is expended just to navigate the process. Rather than working on outcomes and results, valuable time is wasted just navigating the maze.
- Makes things complicated…while the initial version of the process may have made sense for a given scenario, so many layers have since been added to account for all the possible variables, we now find ourselves caught in the anecdotal web of forms & templates, committees, multiple levels of approvals and sign offs…all symptoms of bureaucratic complexity.
There’s no doubt we’ve experienced the above in some form or another (..and have battle wounds to show for it). So, what do we do now? Is it time to “demote” the concept of “process” or jettison it all together? Can it find some sort of redemption by being properly repositioned?
It’s a provocative and loaded topic begging for leaders like you to weigh in. I’d like to hear your thoughts…(and will share mine as well).
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend and speak at a conference on innovation. Although the speakers and content were interesting, one speaker made a particular impression on me – John Warden III, retired US air force colonel. While his talk was very short, without media supports and not necessarily about innovation, his points on “principles & characteristics of good strategy” hit home…even more so as I learned they were rooted in his incredible experience as one of the key architects of the Gulf War air strategy. John Andreas in his book John Warden and the Renaissance of American Air Power (2007), describes him as: “the leading air power theorist in the U.S. Air Force in the second half of the twentieth century” and also “one of the most creative airmen of our times. John Warden is not just a creative airman; he is one of America’s premier strategic thinkers.”
- Gives a clear vision of the future: it answers the question “what does the outcome look like?” in enough detail that allows to work & plan backwards to create a roadmap to get there. It contains detailed descriptions, dates, timelines, etc.
- Identifies centers of gravity for change: it considers internal and external domains (inside/outside of organization) to identify key areas of change whose impact can be assessed and modularized into specific workstreams.
- Time compression: the longer the change takes to happen, the lower the probability of success. A good strategy can take significant time to plan, but should be swift and decisive in execution, even if this means dividing it into smaller “time chunks” with intermediate strategic outcomes.
- Provides an exit plan for success or failure: understands the risk of “organizational stall” by clearly answering the questions: “what happens when we get there?” OR “what’s ‘plan B’ if it’s not working…and how will we know?”
Leaders like you are always working on some element of strategic planning (or should be). What’s yours? How does it measure up? How can you improve it to be more in line with these principles?
Judging from the widely proliferated “people-are-our-greatest-asset-vision statements,” the importance of people and their critical linkage to an organization’s success would appear to be a “generally accepted management principle.“ However, based on the following poll and its very sobering findings, there’s either a fundamental disconnect between “talk and walk” (i.e. we’re not serious) or the methods predominantly used in companies are largely ineffective (traditional tactics are not working). Which is it?…I’m interested to hear your viewpoint. Either way it represents a monumental opportunity for improvement and a potential source of competitive advantage for those that can “get it right.”
The poll is based on the responses of 23,000 U.S. residents employed full time within key industries and across functional areas. It was conducted by the research organizations of Harris Poll and FranklinCovey.
- “Only 37% said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.
- Only 1 in 5 were enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.
- Only 1 in 5 workers said they have a clear line of sight between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.
- Only half were satisfied with the work they have accomplished at the end of the week.
- Only 15% felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.
- Only 15% felt they worked in a high-trust environment.
- Only 17% felt their organization fosters open communication that is respectful of differing opinions and that results in new and better ideas.
- Only 10% felt that their organization holds people accountable for results.
- Only 20% fully trusted the organization they work for.
- Only 13% have high-trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.”
For all organizational leaders who are interested in having highly engaged employees the following is invaluable and practical. Five years ago the Gallup research group did an extensive study covering 125 million people in 189 countries that concluded on the following 12 questions that are “the best predictors of employee and workgroup performance.” Want to know if your people are engaged? – ask them!…or bring it a little closer to home and ask YOURSELF. What are the answers? What resonates? Any conclusions?
Gallup’s Twelve Questions
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the tools and the equipment I need to do my work right?
- At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work that encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
- Do I have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
- This last year, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?
Want to be a great manager? Of course there are different styles, but there’s a common denominator…Continuing on the theme of people, and their vital relationship with their superiors, here’s a zoom on what sets great managers apart. It’s written by Marcus Buckingham author of several best-selling books including StandOut 2.0: Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win at Work (Harvard Business Review Press).
“In my research, beginning with a survey of 80,000 managers conducted by the Gallup Organization and continuing during the past two years with in-depth studies of a few top performers, I’ve found that while there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess.
The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.”
Harvard Business Review