Here’s the thing that gets lost in conversations about systems and structures: Process is about people.
It’s about making it easier for people to produce results. It’s about removing the guesswork and capturing what you do best so you keep doing it. Good systems and processes make things simpler and easier. They give you a way to produce better results with less effort.
Process, when you do it right, is really about people.
I work with a lot of companies run by entrepreneurs who would have been cowboys, pirates or rebels in a different century. They don’t love rules and they HATE the idea of “going corporate."
It’s not that they hate systems. “Going corporate” is the way they describe systems with no soul.
Rules for the sake of rules.
Procedure that gets in the way of progress.
The nightmare scenarios where a manual somewhere makes it impossible to just do the thing that makes sense, the thing that takes care of your people, the thing that gets the job done for your customers. It’s Dilbert cartoons and TPS reports and everything that is wrong with the world.
Process should have a soul. It should support people and solve problems.
When you don’t have the right processes in place, your people suffer. There are 5 specific "culture" problems that commonly show up when you're missing good systems and process. (These issues aren't exclusive to a lack of infrastructure--but they're often there when good infrastructure isn't.)
1. LACK OF FAIRNESS: Systems help create a baseline that everyone works from. Without them, leaders tend to respond to whoever is in front of them. They give permission to someone that everyone doesn’t get (like time off or different work hours.) They tolerate things they shouldn’t, “Oh that’s just the way Joe is.”
People don’t notice the way the system benefits them. They focus on what other people get and mostly see how they get screwed. That perception breeds resentment. A little wiggle room is a good thing for dealing with different human beings with different needs. Too much, with no clear guidelines for how those decisions are made invites conflict.
2. INCONSISTENT EFFORT & RESULTS: Good process lends itself to clarity, standards, measures, and accountability—all things that help people perform better. Without those structures, you end up relying on personal standards and personality. A handful of really great people will put in real effort and consistently produce good or even great results. But most will not.
Inconsistency is hard on everyone. If you’re a hard worker you end up relaxing some of your standards because that’s the soup you’re in. If you’re naturally a little lazier you get away with more because you can.
Nobody is really winning.
3. MANAGER EXHAUSTION/BABYSITTING: Most work cultures default to a Chase/Nag/Remind standard. It’s not one professional speaking to another. The dynamic feels more like a parent nagging a kid to clean their room. It’s awkward and boring and frustrating for everyone involved.
For managers it’s flat out exhausting. You end up relying too much on your reliable people and settle into low standards with the rest.
Good systems and process make it easier to see who is getting the job done and who is not. They set a different standard and while they don’t guarantee a more professional dynamic, they at least invite one.
4. RUT MENTALITY: When your culture is mostly informal it tends to be reactive. People do mostly what they’ve always done, mostly the way they’ve done it, whether it works or not. At some point the problems become so familiar they forget to consider how they could change things. They don’t grow or challenge themselves or create.
They’re not out to solve problems, they’re trying to survive them.
When you've got the right processes in place you create opportunities for assessment and growth. You build into your world chances for people to think about how they can grow and improve. And REALLY good infrastructure actually creates opportunities for teams to work on how they work together. People who are growing are more engaged and more effective.
People who aren't...aren't.
5. THEY DON'T GET TO WIN: Lack of clarity, accountability and the basic ineffectiveness of being informal and reactive mean it’s harder for people to win. They work very hard. But the odds are against them. The lack of good systems and process create problems that make it harder to get good work done. It’s harder to win, harder to know why you didn’t, and harder to figure out what to change to get better.
Protect your people. Protect your profit. BUILD YOUR PROCESSES. WIN.
Wondering how to build processes that make it easier for your people to win?
Check out Part II. It includes detailed instructions for how to think through the different parts of your organization, figure out what you need and where to start. Get the download HERE.
Bigger is different.
Growth is a fundamental state-change. Each new stage of growth makes it a little more complicated and a little tougher to stay on top of everything.
You can't win by just working harder. You have to build the right systems and processes to support the size you are now. Read more HERE.
About the Author: Alecia Huck is a hard person to find and a good person to know. She specializes in working with fast-growth companies who need to learn the block & tackle skills of leadership; how to hold people accountable, run great meetings, keep track of people and work--the kind of tactical support that it is really hard to win without. Find out more HERE.