Broken processes are like broken promises – they cause frustration and unnecessary anguish. What I mean by broken processes is organizational procedures that are specified one way yet occur another way in reality. Two of my most hated phrases are “should have” and “supposed to”. For example, “It should have happened like this (but that’s not how we really do it)” or “It is supposed to go through these steps (but we never do that)”. When we start injecting “should have” and “supposed to” into describing our procedures, it means we are ignoring the truth of what is actually going on.
When we view our procedures and practices through rose-colored glasses–laying out the perfect plan yet not adhering to it–we set ourselves and our teams up for failure. As a process is established, the expectation is those are the steps that should occur to reach the desired outcome. When we have broken processes, like broken promises, what we expect and what we experience do not match. Using a simple example: A door marked Exit should allow us to leave a location. If the door does not open and stops us from leaving, we have to find another way around, which is aggravating. We expected the door to open since the sign indicated it was an Exit. However, the door did not open, and upon further investigation, it is missing a handle and needs repair. This hypothetical situation gets even more frustrating if other people knew about the broken Exit door; yet the door remained out of order, and everyone else just found another Exit.
Broken procedures and broken promises lead to a lack of trust. By specifying procedures and policies, we are stating the methods that are expected to accomplish goals. When those procedures are ignored or altered by us as leaders or by our team members, the precedent is set that following procedures is optional or just a suggestion. While some organizational processes can be altered based on the situation or the person, many should be followed for safety, regulatory requirements, consistency, quality or other reasons. The importance of this is that broken processes can directly affect the productivity of the team either through inefficient work or through an undercurrent of mistrust in the team. So the question is, what do we do about it as leaders?
The first thing is to make sure we are leading by example. If there is a procedure, we need to follow it first. Second, if the process occurs in an alternate way other than stated for whatever reason, we need to investigate and not turn a blind eye to it. Potentially, it was a one-time occurrence due to extenuating circumstances, but if the process continues to flow in a manner that is not expected, it is our responsibility to figure out why. Maybe the new process flow is actually better! In that case, it is up to us to handle the change management so the entire team is aware and expectations are realigned.
However, many times processes are altered because the specified flow was not feasible in the first place, and people just did what they had to do to get the job done. With that type of situation, we need to be honest with ourselves and our teams. We need to figure out the true state of affairs and outline what needs to happen and then create the action plan to change over. The important thing is to communicate to the team, our superiors, and the organization so that broken processes, like broken promises, can be repaired.
CEO, The Professional Development Team