Organizations are best run when we strike the right balance between processes and people. The more we try to repeatedly achieve an outcome over time, the more we need some form of process to help us do it efficiently – but process alone is not enough. We also need to act and behave effectively, as defined by our environment and the people around us.
So the message for leaders is to stop, step back, and think about what your leadership challenge really calls for. Do you need a new process?
So then why is it that when faced with leadership challenges, we often seek process oriented solutions first? “If I just had a list of steps to help me have this tough conversation, everything would be great.” Or, “We need a formal mentorship program to help us develop our people.” Or, “Just follow the 5 steps outlined in the article (magazine, blog, book…) – problem solved!”
Process solutions work in a vast variety of situations and they’re essential in helping to further a culture of leadership. As human beings, our brains try to simplify in order to understand, and creating processes help us do that. However, leadership challenges often involve complex human dynamics and simplification can cause us to leave out important, unquantifiable elements. How many times have you seen your organization build a process to solve a leadership problem, only to have the problem persist? And then you’re stuck with another process to follow.
In many instances, the best solution will feel uncomfortable, at least in the beginning. It may start with the small choice you make to contradict someone on a key point. It may be the generous decision to tell a peer about something you think may impact them, even if you’re not sure. Or it may be the decision you make to spend five minutes talking to someone about their latest project, because you’re investing in that relationship. Those are individually driven leadership behaviours that focus on people, and they require effort. They don’t just happen because a process told you to. They’re choices you make moment-to-moment about how you show up – to act, to behave – and they take guts and persistence to practice.
So the message for leaders is to stop, step back, and think about what your leadership challenge really calls for. Do you need a new process? Or… do you need to pause and make a conscious choice to show up in the best way you can in front of those you work with, in a manner that will ultimately drive the outcomes you want? The right solution will differ based on the needs of the situation. Our experience at The Refinery is that the most powerful leadership comes from getting the mix right by looking beyond process and leading with the behaviours that will have the greatest impact.
At a recent graduation workshop for one of our programs, a front-line supervisor who works in a technical lab setting shared the impact of a learning project he had undertaken. He was faced with leading a team of technical experts, each of whom were strong in different aspects of a lengthy analysis process. Yet even with that bench strength, he found that collectively, they performed to only a mediocre level. He thought it was because they couldn’t focus on the aspect of the analysis process they were strongest at.
His initial solution was to ask for a structure change. Rather than follow a sample through the process from start to finish, he would get each person to stay at the station they knew best. His manager said no – they determined it would make people less productive due to the repetitive nature of the work.
So instead, he tackled the problem differently: he started to find ways to learn about what mattered to each member of his team. Through informal conversations he got to know them better on a person-to-person basis. He even helped someone on his team build a shed in his backyard. In a very short amount of time, the leader began to get team members dropping by his office to suggest improvements in the analysis process and willingly step forward to take on extra responsibility. His productivity went up and the performance of the process was improved, all from making a few individual choices about how he was going to show up for his people.
As he shared the story with his learning cohort, the biggest takeaway for him was how easy it had been and how surprised he was that he didn’t need a large process change to achieve the outcome he was hoping for.