It’s time to take process off the table

“The reason most process led change projects fail is that they ignore culture”

I was listening to this during a programme meeting. Some consultants had come to present to us a sure fire way to deliver a successful programme through a focus on cultural change.

My colleagues around the room were all nodding wisely but this statement made me feel a little uneasy. What is a ‘process led change project’… and just because this person says they ‘fail’, do they really?

The conversation moved on to how this approach worked, a ‘process’ they employed to drive cultural change. There were a lot of group meetings, holding hands and singing and somehow the programme would be successfully delivered.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of useful techniques being discussed to help us engineer a culture for success. However, we came back several times to why process was bad. People don’t engage with it, it’s confusing, it’s too rigid and documenting this stuff takes a lot of time.

Just as we were about to throw the baby out with the bathwater I was suddenly inspired by Daniel Pink’s talks on motivation. I remembered a scene where he talks about the contradiction of money as a motivating factor. He describes how money only acts as a motivator up to a certain point. Then its effectiveness drops off and other means are required to motivate workers. He goes on to say “pay enough to take money off the table”. Then you can focus the conversation on other factors such as empowerment, freedom, flexibility, all the things people aspire to once they can pay the rent and put food on the table.

It struck me that process is the same for a change project. Change almost always results in a change to the way we work, the way we do something at work. Therefore process is an essential part of any change.

Just like workers are unlikely to turn up for work in a profit making business without getting paid, a change project isn’t going to work without understanding how things work today and how we’re going to change them tomorrow.

Conversely too much process (too much detail, too much control, too much analysis) will put people off, constrict them, take valuable time away from them. And ultimately impact the successful delivery of the project.

What we need to do is focus on taking process off the table so that the rest of the programme team can focus on all the other aspects of the project in order to engineer a culture of success.

What does that mean exactly? It simply means we help understand the current state in a clear and simple way (even if that means the current state is incredibly complex). Processes should be captured in a way that all members of the programme team, and stakeholders, can use it to communicate effectively.

If process documentation is difficult to read and understand it becomes a barrier and that means it’s still very much on the table as an issue.

The documentation should be at the right level of detail: too much and it becomes too restrictive, too little and it doesn’t provide enough guidance.

Design and validation of changes should involve key people that will help drive the change. If you want to empower people try to get them involved in the design. You can’t include everyone so make sure there is a clear and simple way that everyone can be heard and provide feedback and ideas.

Finally don’t fall in love with the first version of a process you capture. Make use of the freedom to capture multiple versions of the same process and ask people what works well and what doesn’t. The best ways of working will emerge as others share ideas and feel free to discuss how they do it.

Want to learn more about how Skore app can help you take process off the table? Contact us [email protected]

Image by Fabian Blank – Unsplash

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