I think the first place you need to begin is with the idea that for most senior executives — or quote unquote decision-makers — within an organization, business process is sacrosanct to the point that it’s more important than people. That’s probably not good: your processes and your products drive revenue, yes, but … your people are those who interact with customers — and apparently customer experience is now an important business trend — and that has a lot of value too. There’s long been confusion at organizations around ‘how to treat customers’ vs. ‘how to treat employees,’ and this whole thing is coming to a head in terms of business process recently.
Business process 101: Why it’s relevant
Oftentimes people come across a post like this around business process and they assume the author is some disgruntled byproduct of the overall system. I probably am that, for sure — got laid off from a corporate gig in November ’15 — but I also understand the relevance of business process.
We need systems and ideas and concepts and collaborative tools and all that to make sure that (a) everyone is on the same page, (b) everyone is ‘singing from the same sheet of music’ (which means the same as A), and (c) everyone is able to find and access the resources and tools they need to complete their tasks.
The dirty little secret (No. 1) about business process
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Read that last part above: “everyone is able to find and access the resources and tools they need to complete their tasks.” You may read this from an utopia where Slack or Trello or Asana or Google Drive works perfectly, but in all likelihood you’re reading this from a place where you often need documents or charts or whatever and you can’t find them … and as a result, you need to e-mail someone (e-mail is the new equivalent of the dark web, as an aside) and ask for it. And they probably have it — praise be! — which makes them feel more and more relevant and is ultimately tied more to the quantity of work than the quality of work, but to get it, you still had to chase that extra step.
The dirty little secret (No. 2) about business process
As you were chasing that extra step, what happened? I guarantee you about six people e-mailed you or messaged you explaining what “the process” or “the protocol” for this thing is, taking various forms:
- “That stuff is loaded in Basecamp!”
- “Check Google Drive for it, GAWD!”
- “The way account management works is…”
This is our inherent problem. This is the point of this post. We took business process — which is inherently a good thing, that should drive ideation and development — and we basically let it become this concept that completely gags innovation and ideas and things moving forward, because nothing can happen unless it aligns perfectly with business process. This is ostensibly the same thing we did to ‘branding.’
Let’s do a little thought exercise for a second. Stop and pause, and think about your current job or gig. Think about the last 8–10 interactions you had with someone there. Were those interactions rooted in ideas and concepts, or were they rooted in process and protocol? Now score it. What was the business process number? If I had to guess out of 10, I’d say 6–7. Hopefully it’s lower for you. It might be higher.
How to decrease the focus on business process
Step 1: care about people.
Step 2: think about how you hire people.
Step 6: let people be people.
Step 7: realize that ‘explaining’ ideas (such as business process and data) back to people is also crucially important.
Step 8: figure out how to measure things aside from financial metrics that might be tied to business process.
That’s an eight-step process that is moderately off-task. More below.
The transition away from business process
Look, like I said above — I see the value of business process. It’s important (even crucial) for people to understand what’s happening and how it’s happening (the “how” might be the most important part, since the sheer concept of “how” implies “process”). But if business process is everything — if all your conversations become “Well, that’s not in scope!” or “Why didn’t you save that to Google Drive?” — you’re not going to actually drive results.
Here’s the rub on business process: it matters in terms of organizational, responsibilities, and tasks. It doesn’t actually matter in terms of business goals or growth; if anything, those come from the customer. (The senior leadership team probably thinks innovation comes from them, but … it doesn’t, ultimately.)
So you need to move away from business process and towards real KPIs — although that can also be a buzzword for many managers — and concepts that drive the business. Business process is a part of it. It’s not the entire thing.
I have about 3.7 million stories about working with different managers and their over-focus on business process, as opposed to actual, tangible results. I won’t/can’t share them all.
What say you — seen target-chasing managers focused on business process above all else?
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.