We need a better process

Posted by: on November 5th, 2020

I have always been a bit of a process oriented person. What about you? What fascinates me most is that the way we say we do things, on paper, rarely matches the process that unfolds in real time. For instance, we write a process for the way resident complaints will be addressed and it looks like a smooth, linear flow chart. 

But when we sit down and talk to the frontline people who do the work, we often learn that the “process” has many components that are not adequately captured. For instance, the issue raised by the complaint can get stuck anywhere along the process path, maybe because 

  • an organization rule needs to be reviewed by one person and then researched by another and this results in an untimely delay; or
  • a supervisor loathes to address the issue with the department manager and finds an alternative way to solve the problem; or
  • maybe that department manager wants to run the complaint by the manager before deciding and the complaint gets lost in a tunnel of emails; or
  • maybe a regulation comes into question and outside counsel is required, again delaying the resolution.

This may not be rocket science, but it can indeed be intricate. In a dream world, which is coming into reality, a frontline customer staff person can record and track a complaint so that when a Board member comes in, fired up, because a resident confronted him on the golf course, or a department manager wants to know how she did not know about a particular complaint, there is a way to look at the situation and know where it got hung up.

A good process is not linear but reflects a system that is networked and a situation that is fluid. Before we employ technology, we have to sit down with the people and talk about what really happens and why. Good documentation is helpful when we transition to technology.

At the same time, technology is often not the answer. A good process requires a step-by-step examination of how we produce a result and involving people in the examination will often improve the process without the need for detailed forms or technology. 

Here are two definitions that come to my mind. I would love to see other definitions of process that inform the way you think about process.

A process is a series of steps designed to produce a product or service. It should be seen as a value chain, that is, each step should add value to the preceding steps.  -Geary Rummler, White Space Revisited

Process emphasizes the links among activities showing that seemingly unrelated events are often part of a single unfolding sequence. – David A. Garvin, MIT Sloan Mgt Review, The Process of Organization Change Management

What is your experience in creating processes in your organization?

About Nancy J. Hess

I help leaders pioneer extraordinary change through high engagement and whole systems approaches that focus on HR and People.