Why “Process” has a Bad Rap…

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.

Picture-31The “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).


4 Characteristics of an Excellent Strategic Plan

John_Warden_Commandant_ASCS_1994Earlier 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.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?


Vision to Action: People – and their Dynamic Role on the “Bridge to Growth”

This is the final video (for now) in the series on “Vision to Action – Bridge to Growth.” In this segment I take time to underscore the vital importance and changing roles of people- & leadership- profiles as a company grows. Just like a football coach situationally adapts roles throughout the game (ex. special teams, defense, offense, etc.) your organization depends on you to leverage the full power of your people to win. Understanding these dynamics is the first step towards being able to manage them.