Processes blog

What we need are processes! (and other lies)

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Growing, dynamic companies experience growing pains. Fact. It’s an oxymoron that you need to stay lean, but that also leaves you exposed. There are enough people to handle the day-to-day, but bursts of activity will push companies and their people hard (sometimes too hard).

Then something hits a fan. Not a single person’s fault. It could be called a ‘bad alignment of the stars’, cascade failure or a cluster f@&£ (depends on the person and circumstances). The post-mortem – regardless of good intention – turns it into a defensive situation where people protect themselves or their team. The subsequent passing on of responsibility for failure until no one can be found often leads to the sentence ‘we need a process’….

We need a process…

‘We need a process’ scares me! Processes are dull, boring, static… did I mention dull? You get good people in to do a job and they are self-motivated and responsible. ‘Process’ in this circumstance devalues their ability to react and manage a situation. A process implies the company line/ethos, THE White line. Cross the white line at your peril! The white line will likely be a boring over-simplification of someone’s job but will definitely curb their ability to creatively solve a problem.

Alternatively, as you accrue staff you might start begging for a health and safety manual.  Give it six months or a year though and this carefully crafted document will be out of date. Who has the spare money for a process person in a small business? I know I will be too busy to read revision k of this week’s how to ‘how to boil a kettle’ process review after a failure to refill the kettle (incident 3). But who did read it?

So, what is a growing company to do? Damned if you do; failure if you don’t. Or, trust the people to do the job you gave them.  Isn’t that why they got the job? Every company – regardless of how small – has processes.  It’s just informal, based on experience, passed from person to person. Sometimes improved on; sometimes hurt by Chinese whispers. Often the biggest pain point is misunderstanding and assumption; but always a lack of communication.

Picking up a box

How do you solve this? Well, in a larger, rigid company structure you would pass to your manager. They would discuss in meeting x and review at cross department meeting y. Then pass an amendment to the process, or clarification for more information weeks later.  Doesn’t that sound fun?! Where was that health and safety manual? I’m sure I missed something on how to pick up a box.

Or, you take a leap of faith and give people the chance to discuss their piece of the puzzle with someone that has a view of the whole jigsaw. They know their job better than anyone; just not where it fits. The full puzzle person might be able to explain why? Or not? That then starts a quick question with person a or b, because they know the other half of the picture. Discuss possible remedies with them and implementation. Make everyone’s life easier and your business moving forward.

Everything is easier said than done, but if you don’t talk or allow a place for the constructive conversation you will end up with a manual no one reads or have ‘we need a process’ forever ringing in your ears.

p.s. The boxes – it’s with the knees isn’t it? And, it’s the red folder, right??

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