Will world class processes give you high performance teams?
Since the industrial revolution, managers of businesses have been fixated on processes. Doing work faster, cheaper, and more productively has been a driving force as organisations seek improved return on capital. From factory lines to customer service centres, processes have become the main focus for performance in many industries and workplaces.
Processes are fabulous. They can move information, products and ideas incredibly far and startlingly fast. They can enable solutions to be developed, built and transported across the country or around the globe with miraculous efficiency and life-improving effectiveness.
In fact, one of our team literally wrote the book (well, several books actually) on how great process creates and sustains many of the organisations and activities we depend upon (see the link to Morgan Jones’ profile at the end of the article).
So yes, you might say we are fans of process.
At 4iLeadership, the challenge we often see is that processes can be viewed as an answer in isolation to the riddle of improving team and organisational performance. Processes alone are not the cure to poor performance. In fact, when an organisation’s leaders introduce new processes, or attempt to enforce existing processes, they can very easily make individuals and teams work execution worse. In doing so, a lot of time, resources and profit gets wasted.
Whilst the highest performing teams may have amazing processes, the presence of the former by no means guarantees the latter. In this article we’ll explore the reasons why this is the case, what you can do about it, and how to leverage processes as a key tool and enabler of high performing teams.
For this article, allow me to quickly define a process and how teams work with and through them. In my view, a process is a pathway along which the tasks necessary for a goal to be achieved must progress.
This pathway in the modern workplace is comprised of:
- numerous systems (CRMs, ERPs, Inventory Processes, Project Management tools),
- workspaces that are physical, virtual and/or a combination, and
- people, capital and resources that are spread over geography, time zones and cultures.
Having consistent processes through these various systems and environments, and the transitions between them can provide efficiency, consistency, skills transferability and productivity. The visibility that the systems provide can also enhance transparent governance, reduce risk (operational, human, fiscal and fiduciary) and crucially, much improve safety and the experience of work.
Processes also extend beyond the protocols and procedures locked within these systems and environments. They include:
- the modes and means of communication that allow the tasks to be discussed, reviewed, revised and updates transmitted through the system,
- environment and culture to inform progress, flag obstacles or opportunities, and
- request additional resources or convey readiness for the next task.
Crucially, processes also include the decision-making framework upon which the process relies for consistent and dependable activation, improvement and remediation.
Processes, teams and the leaders’ crucial role
When 4iLeadership applies this definition of processes specifically to developing high performing teams is via our preferred measurement tool, PCS. Processes are an element of the PCS model, and one of six key elements which is measured according to both the leaders’ and the team’s assessment of current capability. As we’ve stated in previous articles in this series, the role of the leader is crucial, and is divided into 3 areas:
- Protocols & Procedures; The leader’s approach to these, how they model and comply with them in their own work, as well as how they hold the team’s modes of work accountable to them, provide the key influence on their success and contribution to team performance. Also, the attitude of the leader to how often these are reviewed and revised gives reassurance and motivation to the team that the protocols and procedures they work with today can be improved, and that the leader is open to change.
- Communication; I know, I know, we sound like a ‘broken record’ repeating ourselves over and over, but how leaders communicate about and around a process can be more significant to the success of a process than any system, regulation or procedure that underpins the process itself. If a leader believes in the benefit of a process, and communicates and transmits that belief effectively, the team is much more likely to adopt the same approach. At least they’re more likely to give it a go! If a leader does not communicate their positive beliefs effectively, or worse, they communicate a negative believe about a process, then the process will either not get used at all, or a simple ‘follow the leader’ mimicking will occur, or the use of the process will not be fully adopted and thus any improvements diminish over time.
Development; this is a process
in, or of, itself. However, how all the
processes the team use to drive their performance are reflected on and embedded
in the performance development process, effectively defines how likely they are
to be deemed as important by each member of the team. Once a process is fully adopted and the
continual improvement of it becomes assumed behaviour, it may not be such a prevalent
feature during personal reviews. We
would contend these are the opportunities to celebrate performance in well-established
process areas, as much as learnings and successes in new processes.
Also, as we have noted, this is a process in itself. It is vital for effective, proximate leadership. This process demonstrates a level of care and interest as a leader in the activities, wellbeing, harmony and development of the team as both a unit and collective of individuals.
So, when is the leader a problem in the process?
“If culture eats strategy for breakfast, it moves right on and eats process for lunch”
Process, like strategy, gets eaten by culture every time. A culture created and maintained at the team level, and most significantly influenced by the leader, can delay this ‘feast’. This is especially if that culture values process, appreciates the benefits of process and puts process central to the team’s way of doing things. But that culture, if it loses its sense of value from process, or if that sense was not there in the first place, will find a way to diminish the role of process.
Many a time in our culture, consulting, or leadership coaching engagements, we come into an organisation where the leaders are expressing frustration that the awesome processes they have designed are not delivering outcomes. Or the very expensive ERP or CRM they have implemented to drive their process efficiency is not demonstrating the ROI they anticipated. Worse, and often, the process is not achieving what the leaders told their Board or the shareholders it would return. They ask us to help them understand why and what they can do to improve it.
Very often the answer is a simple one, and a fundamentally complex one, at the same time. The team, or teams, don’t believe the process adds value. To them, their lives, or the customers, or even suppliers. As people, we are highly adaptable. As naturally intuitive problem solvers, if something presents us with a challenge, we find a way to work around it.
If a new system creates more work in the short term, individuals and teams revert back to the old way to get things done faster. If the new process isn’t as straight forward to a worker as the trainer makes it seem, their capability is threatened. Employees will continue to use the method that’s worked before the imposition of change, and often encourage others in their team to do the same. Individuals do this to defend their own capabilities and maintain the status quo. In their mind and by their own assessment this is what has always worked and has been successful for the managers they serve. Employees are especially likely to do this if the new process impacts in a way they see as negative to their role, or the roles of those who are most aligned with them in their team. In other words, individuals and teams will resist the imposed process at all steps and at all levels.
The leader’s role in all of the above is the key to success or failure. How a leader works through these issues, ideally proactively in advance of their occurrence, or if necessary reactively when problems have been recognised, matters. It will make all the difference in how the process is adopted, adapted positively to improve it, or adapted negatively to maintain the status quo.
So, how can leaders leverage process to drive performance in teams?
As we’ve covered so far when we’re working with teams to develop high performance using a PCS program, we highlight that a leader can use process to lift performance in 3 key ways.
- Protocols and procedures:
- Discuss with your team how to best go about reviewing your current procedures and protocols.
- Be open to talking about what you’re doing badly around process, at least as much as extolling what you’re doing well.
- Celebrate the success of others, which protocols and procedures are working, and who is the ‘Champion’ of each one within your team.
- Examine what’s not going so well, without attributing blame as much as possible. Avoid singling out individual infractions.
- Work as a whole team on what’s slowing tasks down and preventing goals from being achieved. Identify where the work-arounds are and why they are occurring, and if they are helping, should they become a new P&P?
- Reflect on how you communicate around process. Be honest.
- Are you a process fan? I know I haven’t been at times, and my communication either directly expressed my sentiments, or impacted on my communication. Both reduced the extent to which my team benefited from the process I didn’t believe in.
- Do you communicate consistently? Do some team members hear news about a process first? Why is this? Is this the best way to do things? Do some hear bad news about process first? How does this affect them?
- Do you communicate enough?
- Is your communication timely; and is it proactive, or reactive?
- Performance development:
- This is the most important process for you as leader to manage. How are you including process in your team’s performance development?
- If you undertake informal catch ups over coffee, are these included in your development process? Are they consistent across the team?
- In your formal 1-on-1s, reviews and feedback, do you evaluate process and how it could be improved?
- When you gather the team to review performance together, how are you considering process use and development, and celebrating success and addressing failure?
Action Stations, time to make a change…
So here’s an idea. If you’ve got this far (and thank you for bearing with me), I’m guessing process is close to your heart, and you’re a process fan too.
Think of the process that delivers your favourite outcome. The barista creating your morning latte. The hydro project that generates the electricity that powers your A/C. The transmission of light and reflection and interpretation of shape your brain is doing right now so you can read these words.
If you could make one change to one process – no amateur neurosurgery please, so don’t use the last suggestion! – in one way today, to improve your favourite activity by one small outcome, what would it be?
Ok, so now you’re the leader responsible for making that process change happen. How will you communicate the message? How will you convey the value the process delivers now, and the additional value the change will make? How will you develop your team to ensure they can make the change beneficial to the process? And how will you ask them to hold you accountable to keeping them on track?
So now that we’ve finished our thought-experiment, and you’ve improved the team’s delivery of your latte, now for something real. What can you do to improve a process in your workplace, your team, your world? Choose one thing in one process and make a change today. And another tomorrow, and the next day, and so it goes.
Where to next?
As I mentioned up front, you can check out Morgan Jones’ profile and find out more about his work here.
If you’re interested in how we work with leaders to develop high performance teams, especially about our favourite tool to do so, PCS, you can find out more at pcs.4ileadership.com
Thank you for your time and attention.
Be well, lead well, and lead the process the best you can.