Process Diet – You Are What You Eat

  • 20 July 2015
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Process Diet – You Are What You Eat

“If the process is right everything else will take care of itself” (An ex-boss)

My manager in a company I once worked for was an avid reader of books on management theories. He kept repeating the quote above to the rest of us for reasons that never became clear. What was clear though was that many processes in the company were right and generally poorly managed, so everything else took care of itself any which way it could. And when things went wrong we jumped to the conclusion that the processes were wrong rather than first looking at whether we actually used them as they were intended. Much time was wasted agonizing over process design and still no one paid any attention to their ownership and maintenance.

All companies have processes, formally written down or residing in peoples’ heads. From one-man bands to multinational corporations with several thousand employees, whether private or public sector, working for profit or not for profit – every organisation has processes in place which in some way determine and characterise how the business operates.

Processes vary. Some are short and to the point others are long and complicated. Some have been developed others have simply evolved over time and have become the accepted way of working. Some must be in place to comply with relevant legislation, such as HR, Health and Safety, FDA etc. etc. Others are in place because they make sense to the individual organisation and the way it wants to work. And then there is the mountain of processes which are just ignored or too cumbersome and a hindrance or simply not written down and formalised.

Processes reflect people. They have been created by people, used by people, abused by people, changed and adapted by people. You can tell a lot about a company by its processes. Processes are the diet of any organisation and the saying that you are what you eat is also true for companies.

A heavy and stodgy diet of processes makes a company sluggish or rigid or both. Overindulging on processes only to discard them again quickly leads to confusion and disarray and totally starving a company of any processes creates a very fragile organisation.

Companies need a well balanced and appropriate processes diet to perform at their highest potential and the diet should be under constant review to ensure it provides the right balance of structure and flexibility.

If eating disorders are common amongst people so are process disorders in businesses.

Process Obesity

Symptoms of process obesity include: slow decision making, long admin processing time, enormous amounts of bureaucracy and red tape, employees refusing to act without reference to a specific process or set of detailed procedures. Mountains of forms and templates a lot of which are never being used, low morale combined with lethargy and aversion to risk taking. High staff turnover, but probably not high enough. In this environment you will find people with 10, 15 or more years of service.

  • Employees with initiative and ability to take risk will hate this environment
  • Employees who are conformist, seeking security and stability and loving rules and regulations will love this working environment
  • Long and wasteful processes may drive customers away
  • Process obesity damages an organisation’s competitiveness

Process Bulimia

The process “make and throw away” culture. Symptoms of process bulimia include: confusion, slow or disjointed decision making, frequent changes to processes that have not yet had time to be fully embedded, arguments about how to do things, adherence to different processes for the same thing according to personal preferences amongst the choice of present and past processes, frequent spring cleaning replacing old processes with new, low morale combined with sarcasm, too high staff turnover.

  • Employees who prefer stability and structure will hate this environment
  • Employees who are happy to play the game and see where it takes them as long as the pay cheques keep coming in will have few problems with this working environment.
  • Process uncertainty causes rework and double work.
  • Not knowing clearly who does what, why, and how results in loss of business and business opportunities

Process Anorexia

An organisation starved of processes will show symptoms of process anorexia including: confusion, decision making on the hoof, reinvention of the wheel, rework, lack of structure, items and documents being lost, inconsistent quality, customer complaints, low morale combined with maverick and disloyal attitudes, too high staff turnover

  • Employees who prefer structure and stability will hate this environment
  • Employees who think processes are for nerds and something we will get to when it is a bit quieter will love this environment.
  • Running to stand still adds very little value and customers will soon go elsewhere

Process Health Check

If you discover the signs of process malnutrition in your organisation, you need to act quickly and decisively. Quality issues do not go away by putting more people in the Quality Control Department. Persistently high levels of customer complaints do not go away by retraining the staff in Customer Services. Staff moaning in the corridors and at the vending machines and the anti-management graffiti in the toilets happen for a reason. When you spot the symptoms, you most likely have to look somewhere else for the root cause.

Processes should be there for a reason – to add value. If you cannot demonstrate that a process or procedure is in some way contributing to the greater good of the organisation it should be scrapped or redesigned. Processes for compliance reasons we have to live with, Everything else an organisation can decide for itself. Manufacturing, warehousing, sales, planning, new product development, HR, IT, logistics – the list goes on – and everywhere processes must be linked to value.

“If the process is right it can be managed and if the process is managed it will remain right” (Peter Abrahamsen)

Contact us for a FREE no obligation consultation and find out how we can help you health check your processes.



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