If you have a people- and process-related focus, rather just one or the other, you can create a culture for your business that changes work and work habits.
(You’ll find this illustration in Beyond Booked Solid)
People have misconceptions about their role in standardization:
- Misconception #1: Managers or team leaders (you) often think standardization is about finding the one and only best way to do something and then freezing it.
- Misconception #2: Team members often think that standardization is a coercive tactic designed to enforce rigid standards that will make their job boring and demeaning. They also often assume that once what they do is standardized, they’ll be replaced. If not immediately replaced, then they will be as soon as someone else is found who is cheaper.
In order for you and your organization to grow, these misconceptions that a process is a negative thing to be fought against must be overturned.
Don’t hire people who won’t document what they do.
Early on in my business, I had a team member who would not document her processes, no matter how many times I asked, begged, and pleaded. I spent hours coaching her on how to do it. I offered to hire someone to walk her through the process and essentially create the system for her . . . all to no avail.
She eventually admitted to me that she thought that if she documented what she did, then I would just let her go. She seemed to think that standardizing might render her useless, as if it were somehow like mechanizing her job. Or maybe she thought that if I saw what she really did, I wouldn’t think she was doing a good job.
I told her that I wanted to standardize her tasks so her job would be easier and improve workflow throughout the organization. And furthermore, at this point, if she didn’t document and standardize her tasks, I would be forced to hire someone to fill her shoes. Sadly, she didn’t come around, and we parted ways.
Of course, this was ultimately my responsibility for not testing an applicant’s ability to document a process during the hiring process.
Systems are positive constraints.
They create ways of doing things that constrain people from doing things any old way. They also can create constraints that actually foster continuous improvement.
Here’s a checklist of how to think about whether the systems you are creating are coercive or enabling:
- Performance versus best practices: A system that sets performance standards risks highlighting poor performance, without offering any constructive solution. Instead, create a system that focuses on best practices and how to achieve them. If you can provide people with the information and tools they need to do a good job, then the likelihood is that they will, if they can. Best practices guidelines are one of the surest ways to ensure good performance. If people know exactly what is expected of them, it’s much easier for them to deliver what is expected. Without such guidelines a performance standard operates in a vacuum.
- Standard versus custom: It’s true that you want to create a system that reduces the possibility of disorganized and irregular behavior and monitors costs to keep them low. But too much standardization can bind good people and prevent them from doing the best job possible and eliminate the desire to continuously improve. It is better to build a system that allows some flexibility for good people to customize a process to suit their level of skill and experience. I don’t mean a free-for-all, of course, just enough play in the system to enable people to work to their best potential.
- Out of control versus in control: Systems should not be used to control people. There is an idea that for processes to work effectively, employees need to be left out of the control loop. Not so. Systems should be there to help people control their work, not vice versa. When people have control of and understand the workflow they are part of, then they better understand the importance of their role and will perform better. This is what P.S.Adler in his article “Building Better Bureaucracies” in the Academy of Management Executive called a “glass box” system design. Just as it sounds, it means a system we can peek inside of, a process that is visible to everyone.
- Ironclad instruction versus best practice: Systems in and of themselves should be templates for the best practices in your business. That’s why they are always in a cycle of improvement. A best practice implies something that adapts to the future—new imperatives or new demands of the business. A system cannot be an ironclad rule to be followed and never challenged. You’re creating dynamic systems in your growing, changing business.
The perfect place to work.
Ideally, enabling systems foster extensive team involvement, high levels of communication, innovation, flexibility, great morale, and a strong customer focus. Sounds like the perfect place to work.
Untimely, the ideal enabling system contains two seemingly opposing principles:
- You need to build information processes right the first time. It’s much more effective and less costly than inspecting and repairing process and quality problems after the fact.
- But once you’ve standardized and, thus, stabilized the process, the cycle of continuous improvement starts.
Stability and change. Standard and flexible. Controlled and open. The challenge is to develop a learning organization that will constantly find ways to reduce waste and improve productivity.