Solving Problems with Process

“Process for process sake is not good for goodness sake.” — Lynn A. Edmark

I hope before everyone that knows me thinks I have had a stroke, joined a cult or lost my mind; I trust you understand my title is meant to be fully sarcastic. But, unfortunately as a organization, it is a natural reaction to an underlying problem.

It typically goes something like this …

“Bob, people in X group and not doing Y thing we need so it’s causing us not to get ‘the big thing’ done”.

“Well, Carol we have to get this done. Failure is not an option!  As a leader of this organization, I will mandate a process that will ensure the deliverables are being met so that we can stay on track. (inferring heads will roll if not)”

Leader walks away and crafts his corporate edict that is going to “fix the problem” by ensuring people comply to a certain way to work and “follow the process”.

Anyone else see the glowing problems here?

  1. It’s reactionary. Instead of understanding the underlying problem of the delays within the interdependent work, they are treating a subset without understanding the problem as a whole.
  2. The personal acceptance by leadership that “compliance means acceptance”. What are they potential side effects to their overall organizational culture in doing this? Did they just create an air of favoritism by siding with Carol’s concerns through their immediate reaction? Did they just create a situation in which, without sufficient understanding of the problem, they alienated or made worse the organizational experience for another group? Often time, we do things with the best of intentions that have horrible side effects. Just read about the feelings of the scientists when the results of the atomic bomb showed true human horror in the goal of “protecting the USA”.
  3. It’s immediately alleviating the people involved in the problem of the responsibility of taking ownership of the issue. It is not encouraging them to creatively work through the issue together with the people directly involved and foster candid conversation to solve actual problems (as they will appear again). It is truly taking away the expertise that you as a leader hired in the people doing the work and saying “apparently I cannot trust I hired the right people who can solve problems to support and overall goal of the company, so I will solve it”. (see my previous blog of problem solvers versus solution enablers).
  4. It’s a missed coaching moment to help make your company stronger by encouraging people to work together in diverse, coupled or interdependent groups to work through and issue and embrace an experimental mindset to solve the problem (as you have to be comfortable that failure is an option and remove as much fear and doubt as possible by encouraging this approach).
  5. The worst thing I see here is that you are establishing the idea that if something is broke, an edict will fix it. If I am trying to get a round peg into a square hole, I can easily solve by mandating all holes be round. But what happens when I get a cubed piece? Isn’t it better, just like we do with kids, to encourage the examination of the shape in comparison with the potential holes and try another one?

Before folks get too worked up, I am not “anti-policy”. We all have rules to follow, compliance guidelines we meet for human rights, laws that may govern us (that sometimes we may not agree with), general company policies we have to follow and even those things that dictate the way we work. That is a given.

But, what I am getting at here is that the implementation of a process should be value-driven and not reactionary to a problem. You cannot script people into following something with blind compliance. Some will follow any rule. However, others will question it, fight it or do everything just to subvert it as it does not address the actual underlying issue.

For instance, some of you subverted the rule of the speed limit so you could settle in today and read this blog. But maybe I am a bit delusional myself there. 😉

So as a leader, before you “solve the on the surface problem” by issuing an edict or wrapping something inside a process, do one thing. Listen.

Quiet the inner voice of your own that is screaming “we’re not going to make the production date, I am going to get screamed at or fired” and hear what the issue really is. Ask questions for clarity and help coach someone towards examing their thoughts for resolution.

Encourage those close candid relationships between the area of disjunction and even help guide them through examining the actual problem together.

Foster the idea that the goal of doing this is to create a plan of action to attempt to resolve it but encourage a culture that understands that failure is always an option. Teach people to say “I was wrong” and use information to reframe and try another solution in an effort to  our find a solution.

Instill in people that solutions are often fleeting and have to be examined and nurtured and often changed over time as they become ineffective. Don’t instill the idea in your organization that solutions are chiseled in stone but more often written in pencil to be changed again later.

Ensure that before you fire open the word processor or pick up that pen, the process you intend to release actually holds real value and allows for sustainability, not a knee jerk reaction from fear or frustration.

Processes, like gaining weight, are often easy to indulge in and can create bloat and damage to organizational health even with good intentions or to make the situation better. And just like losing weight, they can be twice as hard to change once established and you may not fully know the effects of the damage you have done to the body as a whole until the weight comes off.



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