The word that most often comes out of my mouth with my team as we seek to continually improve our service to clients is process. If there’s a problem, my default is always to ask about the process. Is a process refinement needed? How can we update our process to reflect changes in our clients’ expectations and needs?
What I’ve been finding out lately is that most missteps and breakdowns occur not because the process is flawed, but because we are.
For all the hours we’ve spent in process planning meetings, for all of our painstaking attention to detail, for all of our documentation of steps in a process, when we discover a mistake, it’s usually because:
- We created a process, but didn’t communicate about it to the team fully — resulting in no one knowing how to implement the process, or
- We knew but didn’t follow the beautiful process we had previously outlined.
Why is it so easy to create processes and so difficult to follow them?
In some cases, we created the process but neglected the next steps.
Has the effort in creating the process depleted our energy for improvement? What would it take to not only create the process but also slow down enough to implement it step by step? In this case, part of our process improvement must also include a step by step timeline for communication, training, and implementation. We need to realize that any improvement will take time, and we must be patient enough — both with ourselves and with the process — to see the change through from plan to implementation.
The only great process is one we execute fully.
When we create a process, we want it to be simple, clear, and understandable. We have to know what happens (in order), who is responsible at every step, and what the handoffs are. We need a way to communicate process, and a plan for how to handle delays or breakdowns. We need a way to measure success. Anyone who is expected to follow the process ought to have a say in the process; people are far more likely to stay connected to and committed to a process they’ve had a part in designing.
In some cases, we create the process, follow it for a while, and then revert to past approaches.
Are we rushing, short on time, and dropping steps in order to get finished faster? If we find ourselves abandoning what we once determined was a best practice or process, we need to take a hard look at our own contribution to problems that arise. We need to think through our choice to go off course and imagine possible negative consequences that could arise if we neglect to follow our process.
If we are resisting a process, it may be a sign that the process needs an update or adaptation.
Sometimes we ignore a process when it’s stopped working. It may be because we’ve grown beyond our process and it’s important to trust our intuition. At this point, if we unilaterally abandon a process, there can be disastrous results. Before abandoning a process, we must involve others! When a process stops working for one team member, it’s time to initiate a conversation to realign with others about what is best moving forward, and to chart a new course that everyone can commit to implementing.
Beware of creating a process you know you won’t follow.
Not long ago, I called my assistant Sarah and asked her to start a new process of scheduling me for no more than four hours of calls in a day. I wanted to create extra margin in my schedule. Sarah agreed, even knowing I would likely immediately schedule over the time she blocked. She knew I wouldn’t follow the process and I knew I wouldn’t follow the process. A couple of days later, I admitted this, and we put a halt to our new process.
While I will continue to ask my team about our processes, I intend to adjust my approach moving forward and also ask about how we’re doing in following our processes. I don’t just want to have processes, I want to know whether they are working well for us, and how we might improve our implementation of the processes we’ve worked so hard to outline. It’s the only way we will be able to keep getting better at what we do.