Peter F. Drucker, known as “the man who invented management,” once made a statement that should cause every manager, leader or business owner to stop and ponder: “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.” We spend a great deal of time and effort setting up operational processes and sometimes neglect the human side of the equation—the people processes.
There are many rules and procedures in the workplace that are unnecessary. They don’t help achieve corporate objectives, and instead, undermine and dispirit employees; they stress administrivia at the expense of value; and they get in the way of those trying to accomplish something.
It’s time to fix those broken people processes. Stop doing what doesn’t work, start new practices that drive results and watch what happens to the productivity in your shop. Here are some tips to get you started.
Eliminate the dumb things. ETDT, or Eliminate the Dumb Things, is a practice at Walmart described by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge. We could all benefit by reviewing all policies and procedures to eliminate useless, make-work processes. As the authors advise, ask yourself: “How useful is this in helping us become the best that we can be? How useful is this for stimulating creativity and innovation?” If the answer is “It’s not,” eliminate it or change it. Empower everyone in your company to wander around the office, the plant, the store, looking for all the unnecessary rules and regulations, and needless routines and processes. Make it safe for people at all levels to flag these and recommend changes.
Don’t issue a company-wide rule that only applies to a few. Some policies are instituted to deal with a situation that applies to only one or two individuals. Rather than face the employee head on, managers hide behind a new policy. For example, most team members are good at keeping you in the loop, except for one individual who doesn’t communicate. Even though you have spoken to him about this issue, he continues with his non-communicative pattern. He is a high performer and you are afraid to confront him, so you issue a policy that all team members must provide a written report every two weeks, causing unnecessary work and loss of productivity for the entire team. What’s worse, everyone knows why you issued the policy. Stop doing this and confront issues on a one-by-one basis.
Set up a closing ritual for team projects. It is widely known that teams go through four stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. The fifth stage, adjourning, or dissolution, is often neglected. At the end of a project, teams that disband generally experience a sense of loss, which can be stressful for team members. (Some have even called this stage the “mourning” stage.)
A leader who keeps his finger on the team’s pulse, is aware of his people’s emotions and addresses them. Simple strategies like recognizing team accomplishments and engaging the team in discussions of upcoming projects can help reassure people. Having a celebration can help the team feel a sense of proper closure.
Stop shifting priorities on people. Nothing is more frustrating for an employee than to continue to work on a project only to find out casually that what she is doing is no longer required. Yes, conditions change, which is why it’s imperative to let all team members know of all changes.
Use your common sense. Some managers let themselves be influenced by HR policies whose sole intention is uniformity of treatment of all employees. While this is a noble pursuit, it needs to be tempered with what makes sense. For example, do you hold back fast tracking a star employee who consistently delivers results because of salary benchmarking policies? If so, you are doing that employee a disservice, and in turn, hurting the business as you risk losing your best talent. Common sense over bureaucracy should be a prevailing policy especially when it comes to people issues.
Simplify the review process. Do everything you can to update the review process in your organization. Chances are it is cumbersome and time-consuming. As Robert I. Sutton, a Stanford University professor put it: “. . . if performance evaluations were a drug, it could not receive FDA approval.”
For inspiration, consider a process such as the one outlined in One Page Talent Management: Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value. The system, developed by Marc Effron and Miriam Ort, involves a one-page report, focusing managers on three key priorities and a simple “do more” or “do less” scale. Gone are goal labels, ratings and weightings!
Processes that involve people are often ignored because they are more difficult to handle. It is not uncommon for a business leader to feel that the technical problems are easy to fix; while the people problems, which involve emotions and are harder to predict and control, are bewildering. For example, challenging an administrative procedure might be perceived as a criticism of the originator of the procedure. We also become used to outdated rules and practices that we may have lost the urge to question them, if we even notice them; we are numbed by rote activities that continue unchallenged. What a waste of people’s intelligence and energy. As Peter Drucker has said, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
What people processes could use updating in your company?