Good Intentions OK. Documented, Repeatable Processes Better!

May 10th, 2017

Contributed by Robert Curtis

How many employees do you know that say to themselves, “I am going to go into work today and make a mess of things.” Hopefully, none!  Most everybody has good intentions to do the best job possible based upon what they've been empowered with and trained to do.

As an organization grows, more of the work occurs outside of leaders’ direct line-of-sight. The number and complexity of decisions increase, as do the challenges of communicating and coordinating among the parts of the part of the organization.  Leaders use repeatable, documented processes to guide the organization beyond their direct line-of-sight, and to allow their influence to persist over time. A repeatable process can be defined as a set of actions that are documented and can be easily duplicated.

Here's a sampling of some additional ideas that help us develop our own processes.  When these are implemented, tested and tweaked, we can then document them and create Standard Operating Procedures for our team.

Tool - Within a complete process, the tool is the structure that a leader creates in order to implement changes. The tool is what transforms the set of inputs into a set of outputs. Tools can be simple (at The Fulcrum Group, we create core values and tenets to align thinking across all parties, and guide future decisions), or complex (we also create solutions that automate critical business decision). The tool helps the business leader accomplish large goals.

Adoption - Leaders create tools because they want to accomplish things that cannot be done by one person alone. The larger their goal, the more leaders will need to rely on others. Leaders cannot “do” anything without getting others to broadly adopt and implement tools. The first step in adoption is understanding the different groups who need to implement the tool, and creating shared goals.  Leaders use many skills and tactics to drive adoption, including informal influence, formal authority, creating metrics that track adoption, and setting rewards and incentives for reaching the adoption goals. Leaders must make judgement calls about how hard to push adoption. The best indicators of successful adoption are engagement, ownership, and other signals that the repeatable process is gaining momentum beyond the people under the leaders’ direct direction.

Inspection - Inspect as much as you expect!  Although leaders may have limited line-of-sight, they cannot be blind. Leaders need to be able to see if a tool is being adopted, and to understand if the use of the tool is leading towards the desired outputs. Inspection gives leaders the opportunity to audit, course correct, and to teach.  Here at The Fulcrum Group, we believe that decisions that can be based upon math, generally should be. We use precise, statistically valid data to drive decisions, and we use math to track our progress against goals. However, we know that math and metrics do not always present a full picture of what our clients experience.  Because of this, we have a unique respect for anecdotes, and they are often at the core of our inspection process. We assume that uninspected data is always wrong. We use anecdotal data points that contradict our current understanding of metrics as opportunities to inspect our data and process for flaws. Treating customer anecdotes seriously teaches us to build inspection methods into repeatable processes that leaders use to scale.

Iteration and Reinvention - It is unlikely that your repeatable processes will operate as designed from day one. Usually a leader will spend a great deal of time developing a sold mental model, then will move on to experimenting with various tools. Adoption starts when there is a strong sense that the tool is working, and worth pushing out to a larger scale. Inspection occurs when the tool is broadly adopted. At each stage you may find that alterations need to be made to your repeatable process leading to continued success.  And, of course, don’t forget to document your repeatable processes into Standard Operating Procedures that your team can easily use.

We hope these ideas have been helpful for you. Share this article over your social media and reach out to us with feedback if you'd like!