Does Process Come First?
Process has become an American business obsession. I am not a scholar but I saw the importance of “Process” rise because of the Japanese quality invasion in the 1980. We have now taken it to new levels. Recently we are seeing examples where process has become the outcome. The most visible example was at United Airlines where a customer was brutally dragged from a plane and the CEO initially defended / congratulated the employees who followed company procedures. These are not the “Friendly Skies” United promises their paying customers and that is precisely my point.
Process does not come first. Process is designed as the third step to ensure an organization functions as a coordinated team. The first is to establish an overall purpose (vision) for an organization’s existence and the second is to establish specific objectives (often cascaded down within an organization) that will focus employee activities to attain that vision. Process is then designed to organize those activities into a consistent and repeatable pattern that deliver those objectives.
Assessing Your People vs Processes
The issue is how employees react when the process does not achieve the objectives nor is it consistent with the purpose of the organization.
- The first question to determine is whether they have been trained on the purpose / vision.
- The second question is whether they understand their objectives.
- The third question is what authority they have to deviate from process to satisfy organizational direction.
- The final question is whether the employee has been trained to understand how to handle such situations and how to escalate them successfully without violating the overall goals of the organization.
My suggestion is that sadly most organizations are more interested in training process with less emphasis on purpose or objectives. Too often, when questioned, I initially hear an employee respond with “There is nothing I can do about it”. However, as I challenge that response within the organization’s hierarchy, alternatives become clear. Southwest Airlines, in the same industry as United, is a rare exception and I believe it is with good reason. Purpose and objectives create their culture. Their training is focused on their mission and purpose of giving great customer service with processes that support those goals.
Have we become too strong as “Disciples of Process”? Do not get me wrong. Process is critical. It allows employees to understand how things work. Employees rely on dependability. They enjoy consistency. Best practices allow enhanced deliverables within an affordable cost structure. My point is that every team within an organization must ensure that its practices are consistent with the purpose / vision of the organization and the objectives that have been established for them. Employees must be empowered to identify situations where the process will not meet expectations and are trained how to respond appropriately.