The Problem with Processes
When I first took the Center for Agile Leadership’s® Agile Leadership Class (back in 2016), I had been an Operations Manager for over 25 years (at two different organizations). One of the first things students are asked to do in that class is walk around the room for the purposes of examining 10 Agile Leader “Conversation Starter” posters. Essentially, each poster displays a provocative statement that takes aim at mistakes “traditional managers” commonly make, and students are asked to apply sticky-dots to the posters of statements with which they agree. So there I was…merrily rolling along, nodding my head in solidarity with every statement…and liberally applying my colorful sticky-dots accordingly …UNTIL I got to the last poster. It read: “Your Processes are Bogging You Down”.
Anyone who knows me knows that my brain sits so far to the left that it’s astonishing I don’t walk with a tilt. And if you happen to know any far-left-brained people, you know how much we LOVE our processes. Sequencing, steps, numbering…they all give us comfort and confidence. They soothe anxiety like an Opioid …and can be just as addictive. In fact, I was famous…some might say infamous…. for my SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) at my last job. So I just stood there…glaring at the poster… as if I were at an Intervention… spontaneously coming up with dozens of arguments and excuses that would support and justify my habit.
Hello, my name is Rikki, and I’m a Proce-holic.
It’s been over four years since that fateful moment, and I think I have finally managed to merge my affinity for Processes with my understanding of Agile leadership. In the end, I think everyone would agree that overusing Processes can kill productivity, but more importantly, I would contend that processes are an even greater threat to five (5) of the most sacred principles of Agile leadership…which I have enumerated (of course) below (SorryNotSorry):
- PROCESSES CAN COMPROMISE EMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT
Processes can sometimes create more and more hoops for employees to jump through, only to end up waiting for approvals and sign-offs before they can take any action. This is very demotivating, and does not help build a sense of trust between employees and management.
- PROCESSES CAN SHIFT LEADERSHIP FOCUS AWAY FROM PEOPLE
When processes become the sole focus of leadership, personal preference and originality of thought can easily be discounted/ignored. This can easily lead to a sense of marginalization and mechanization amongst team members.
- PROCESSES CAN DISCOURAGE ESSENTIAL INSPECTIONS/PIVOTS
If there is too much of an emphasis on processes, management is more likely to ignore great ideas from their team members.
- PROCESSES CAN KILL CUSTOMER SERVICE
There is nothing more aggravating to customers than excessive delays or demands related to Process, particularly when the customer service reps themselves are as powerless to change the Process as they are frustrated by it.
- PROCESSES CAN KILL A COMPANY’S VISION
Out-of-control processes can kill a company’s vision, particularly if they take precedence over the core values and creativity on which a healthy company vision relies.
And for a bit of a comedic dramatization of item 4. above, take a listen to another episode in our “Traditional Manager Mistakes” Podcast Series called Their Processes are Bogging Them Down (episode #5, released 04/04/19). In fact, I’ve created a podcast for every one of those “Conversation Starters” that changed the trajectory of my career…and my life…way back when; and you can listen to ALL of them by subscribing to Becoming a True Agile LeaderTM.
In the end…it’s like anything else: The dose makes the poison. So here’s my challenge question for you. Are your processes poisoning your organization’s Agility? Please leave your comments below. As always, I love hearing from you!!
And if you’d like to make that same gallery walk to change your own life….find a Becoming a True Agile LeaderTM class near you!