People Are the New Process

By January 12, 2015 Entier No Comments

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We’ve all been there on that ‘computer says no’ phone call with a call centre – the one who’s already kept you waiting for 30 minutes whilst repeatedly telling you that “your call is very important to us”, only to find the person at the end of the phone is not empowered to help you at all!
It got me thinking about how much organisations are overrun with outdated and inappropriate processes, and how much their employees must be feeling this same frustration.
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It’s a bit like the emperors new clothes; everyone knows they are not delivering a great service but still they keep their head down and keep following the script thinking “I know it’s not right but at least I know what I’m doing”
This just can’t continue. Not in a world increasingly driven by customer experience. Because companies who don’t adapt will not survive. Process can’t save them this time.
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Here are 4 reasons why ‘process’ is no longer the answer:
1. It’s seen as a ‘Magic Bullet’ to solve all problems
It sounds strange but the biggest problem with process is its usefulness.
Process has solved many historic problems in manufacturing to create consistent quality and efficiency of production. It has unlocked the potential to scale and maximise profits using cheaper resources. To the point where every aspect of a business function gets turned into a process whether it needs to or not.
Everyone knows what they are doing, but are they doing the most productive thing for their organisation? Are they even allowed to? We now see larger organisations being completely overrun with governance, method and process everywhere you turn. And the consequence of all this process and governance is that it has made them slow – slow to change – and slow means expensive.
2. It only has the intelligence you build into it
Inherently process has no intelligence –  just a sequence of steps to be followed with a defined input and output. Yes, you can build all sorts of ‘if’ statements and perform all sorts of scenario planning to cater for common occurrences. But the bottom line is that processes need ‘predictable’ environments to work at their best. Which is why they are so well suited to production line and repetitive tasks. They don’t like ‘volatility’, which is why there is such a wealth of research going into artificial intelligence.
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So processes only have the intelligence and context you put into them, which is typically very little. Remember that call centre conversation…?
3. It de-skills your organisation
I’d argue the biggest impact from an over reliance on process is the effect on your people. A culture heavily reliant on process stifles creativity, creates something to hide behind (“I was just following the process”) and creates a checkbox culture. People become just cogs in a big machine. It makes us lazy.
 When you don’t need people to think about what they do, you can pay them very little. Great for when nothing changes or a personal touch isn’t needed, but not great for a changing economy focused on customer experience.
4. You can’t process Care
The rules of business have changed and seemingly over night. Technology has enabled a world where customers can now easily talk to each other. They demand convenience, an “experience” and great customer service. They will hold you to account for this by taking their business elsewhere and telling all their friends.
People want human contact with people who care about them and their problems. People empowered to help, not people who can only follow a process.
In fact it’s worse than this because the people who do care can normally do very little but follow a process they know won’t solve your problem. And there lies the crux of the matter. In a world of process, ‘experience’ counts for little – irrespective of the value it could add and time or money it could save.
Yes, in this new world ‘process’ is a blunt instrument typically used out of context. When the only tool you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.
And why do companies keep hammering? Because the alternative of investing in great people and building a great culture where people can work intuitively and to their potential is difficult to do.
Don’t get me wrong, process still has an important role to play in helping people do their job better, but not in doing it for them.
Next Time I’ll share my thoughts about the difference great people and empowerment can make

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