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Processes don’t fix people!

Recently, a former colleague of mine was lamenting about some of his current organizational challenges to me. He works for a mid-size organization, which grew from being a family owned business, and he holds a pseudo HR/Operations role. Bottom line, he deals with the “HR stuff’ at his company as well as managing an operational based group. He had been feeling his stress levels increase dramatically over the past 6-12 months and was also feeling very frustrated with his organization on a regular basis – mostly due to challenges they were having with product service and quality.

Process Fix“Steve” had mentioned to me that various organizational programs, initiatives, product offerings, etc. did not seem to be taking hold like they used to. His company was experiencing greater (worse) than normal quality issues and customer complaints. Steve also said that he was experiencing a lot of corporate “double-speak” from the CEO and VP of Production of the company. That is, they were prone to saying one thing and doing another and they weren’t providing clear direction to the management team about what the organizational goals were. He also felt like they were (indirectly) pitting departments against one another and they were reluctant to address a lot of the organizational ambiguity that was enveloping them all – in short, it felt like the company was out of alignment.

His solution was to propose that they adopt a series of concise processes that would govern the operational decision making, product control and quality assurance issues they were having. In short, he felt that the lack of clear processes and procedures were the reason the organization (and he) were in the stressful mess they were in. When Steve ran this by me, I simply asked him, “Do you think this will address the root cause issue?” Steve was confident that it would as processes would show who owned what “piece of the pie,” it would govern decision making and it would get all departments on the same page. It would also eliminate the ambiguous direction setting he was getting from the head of production.

My next question to Steve was what caused him to want to end our conversation. I simply asked him, “What do you think will happen when someone doesn’t follow the identified/agreed upon processes?” Steve hemmed and hawed and stammered and then finally and reluctantly admitted – “nothing.” He felt nothing would happen as the Sr. Leadership team would ultimately not hold anyone accountable. They were used to running the company as if it was still a small family owned business where they controlled everything and would make whatever decision they would want to make, albeit on the fly. Steve was almost broken as it killed him to admit that all the processes in the world weren’t going to fix his problem and Steve had a people problem.

You see, at the end of the day, all the processes in the world aren’t going to fix people. If your leadership team is unable and/or unwilling to hold people accountable for their results (or for following processes) then you won’t be able to change anything by simply developing fancy new processes. This will only serve to mask the underlying issues. Developing programs, initiatives and processes to address leadership issues is like putting a band aid on the wrong cut – it feels like you are doing something to fix a problem, but you are really only fooling yourself.

I am sure Steve wished it was simply a matter of developing processes as that would be a lot easier to do than what he is faced with. If Steve wants change at his company, he needs to change the people or have the people change. Regardless, it is a daunting task either way and if you have a Sr. Leadership group that is firmly ensconced in their roles (and unwilling to change how they do things) then you are facing an uphill battle. No amount of process or programs is going to fix a leadership/people issue.

So, you need to focus on these very people that are the problem. Are they coachable? Do they understand what they are doing? Do they comprehend the organizational damage and chaos they are causing? Do they see the collateral damage they cause by their behaviour? That is an area that HR can coach them on. If they don’t want to change, it may be time to discuss with your board of directors or ownership group – but that is a post for another day. Bottom line, processes don’t fix people, so don’t waste your time applying the wrong solution to a people problem. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses

  1. I would just add, Scott, that if leaders don’t inspire their people they will only get compliant, not inspired, behavior when implementing those processes. Those processes will just yield satisfactory rather than outstanding outputs.

    Great post, I love it!

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