by Paula on February 29, 2012

So we’re all agreed that marriage takes work. Two people fitting together, growing and developing over the years naturally need times of re-tuning, listening and working things out to make sure the union still fits.

But what about people and systems?

I was on my way to work with an Ovation Better Business Team client recently, and tweeted that I would be “interviewing individuals to separate the facts about a business procedure from the perception, emotion and blame”. A few people were interested to know more, so let me explain.

There are two ways that businesses approach processes:

  1. They specify a procedure to carry out a business function, put it in writing, assign people to the various roles, and expect it to be followed.
  2. Things just evolve, and when, after a time, the process breaks down, they go back and attempt to document what the procedure should be.

In both scenarios the procedure is seen to be a static recording of the order in which things should be done and the time it should take.

However, processes that are carried out by people are never static. People’s ability and speed change. People are replaced by others with different skill sets and abilities.

The process and the people carrying out the process become one.  This is where problems arise:

  • Someone in the middle of the process works much faster than anticipated, causing a bottleneck.
  • Someone else is given the excess work and feels resentment.
  • Someone adds another element to the process without fully understanding the impact of this change.
  • Different people have different ways of providing information. Standards slip.
  • People’s frustration at the expected process not working leads them to invent their own systems to work round it.
  • The system is not working, individuals get blamed, motivation falls and the expected outputs of the process are not being met.

So when I work with clients to resolve this, it is exactly as I tweeted. We start with:

  1. What is the requirement of this process? What does it need to do?
  2. What does the existing process look like?
  3. What does each individual see as the issues with the process & how would it look like from their perspective?
  4. How can we re-tune the process to achieve the goals for the business while meeting the needs of the individuals?

As with any relationship, this is not just about systems.  It is about people, feelings, job satisfaction and business goals. Systems, processes and procedures may not be exciting, but ensuring they are cared for, considered and fine-tuned means you have more time to deal with the bits of the business you really enjoy. Having a fresh pair of eyes look at these processes for you means it can be an entirely objective and painless process.

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