Four reasons why your process introduction may have failed

You’ve come up with the perfect process, written a summary document which explains what people must do at each stage and got the go-ahead from your boss! Fast forward to three months later and your colleagues haven’t read your document, some are still working through back doors to get things done and an annoying few are ignoring the new process completely.  Here are four reasons why it might not have gone to plan…

1. You didn’t have the right people involved

Swooping in and enforcing a change that affects a persons responsibilities can disrupt their sense of purpose. Dan Pink tells us that purpose is a major player in intrinsic motivation and so rapid change could cause an individual to become difficult during a transition. Changes can also give the perception that those that are part of the existing process are not performing well enough and this in turn can be very isolating for them.

Of course, this is rarely the reason. Introducing change is more often due to shifting business requirements – the need to scale or the need to meet accreditation requisites for example.

Making those that will be affected by the change a part of the decision making process can be an effective way to manage potential upset. It’s also worth remembering that the people who are part of the process are also the people that know the most about it. They know what works, what doesn’t and where the opportunities for experimental change are. The experiments that provide positive feedback can be amplified and with everyone involved, the change can come about steadily (and safely) without a shock factor.

In the case of having too many people, use a small group that represent those involved across the entire process. It’s important that this group cuts along the hierarchy vertically, not horizontally, though. Involving only top level managers could lead to a process that is ideal on paper but which doesn’t meet the needs of those below.

2. There isn’t enough flexibility

Another of our intrinsic motivators, autonomy, comes into play here. If we don’t have a say in how we do things then it can cause demotivation. People work best in different ways, at different times and in different settings. A strict process can also spell disaster for complex environments where something unexpected is more likely to happen than in stable environments. The process will force people to use workarounds or backdoors if it can’t adapt or flex in these scenarios.

A lot of processes use checklists to “ensure” that all bases are covered. In reality checklists can only work in cases where work is highly constrained and predictable. It is very easy for people to check items on a list without performing the action to their best ability. They can also stop people from thinking about things that aren’t on the checklist for work that varies beyond the norm because they consider the checklist to be comprehensive.

When modifying a process, first consider whether the work being done sits (or sometimes sits) in the complex domain. If it does, Dave Snowden suggests using heuristics rather than rules so that people have the room to flex and get the work done with an appropriate level of constraint.

3. The energy requirements are too high

If someone is provided with two options that reach the same outcome then they’re going to pick the one that requires the least effort. If you find that people are going around a process in order to get things done, work on how the process can make it easier to accomplish what they are trying to do. If the issues can’t be resolved due to, say, regulatory issues, be transparent about why certain actions need to be taken. Making it clear as to why these additional steps need to be taken and being clear about the value they provide can help people ease into the new structure.

If a process doesn’t work for someone then they will seek a way to work around it.

4. The environment is too stable

Attempting to introduce a process in an environment that has remained stable for a long time can be challenging. If everyone involved feels as though things are working well for them, why change?

Instead, take note of when things go wrong and use those as starting points for new experiments. When the issue resurfaces, suggest your change. In times of need, people are going to be more perceptive as it will be more obvious that something needs to improve.

Chaotic situations are ideal for this but be cautious. Chaotic problems always resolve themselves but not necessarily in the way you predict! Be prepared for your suggestion to backfire and ensure it will be easy to revert if necessary. Consecutive small changes with intervals for reflection are likely to be safer than one big-bang change.

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