It’s one of the great injustices of Corporate America. Complex processes spring up around everything, and only some of them make sense. As someone with an eye toward improving productivity and adding to the bottom line at your organization, inefficient, overly complicated, unethical, or just downright silly processes may irritate you to no end.
Whether you’re a new employee who has seen things done better on the outside or a tenured one who knows change is essential, your first reaction might be to march into your manager’s office and let her know exactly what you think of this nonsense. This may include an emotional, frustration-fueled recommendation (read: rant) to do away with the process immediately. Or better yet, why not skip your boss and go straight to the source of the problem – the “keeper” of the process?
Well, hold your horses because this approach doesn’t usually work. The truth is, most processes were implemented for a reason, and most were sensible at one time. Managers, and especially the “keeper” of the process, are invested in it and presumably understand the big picture regarding how the process fits into the scheme of general operations. They will probably not appreciate being told how things should be by someone who doesn’t have the whole story. And by railing on said process, you may in fact be implying that they are not doing their jobs well, which will put them on the defensive right away.
The most effective way to address an inefficient process is to first fully understand it. Interview your colleagues to find out how the process started and the rationale behind it. Then, work with a few people you respect to devise some modest changes that would have a big impact. Test these out informally.
When you do meet with the “keeper,” be diplomatic. Remember this is his life’s work – or at least a key responsibility. Tell him that you feel the process is important and ask if he’s amenable to hearing some of your ideas for keeping it current and maximally productive. Show him what you’ve come up with, and solicit his feedback. Ideally, he’ll now be receptive to your overtures and he’ll become your partner rather than your adversary.
Let’s look at this approach in action. For instance, perhaps your company needs a better system for tracking freelancer assignments. Andy is in charge of his process, which currently involves 10 managers working independently with no concept of what the others are doing. Random e-mails are floating around all the time, projects are being held up, and freelancers are getting paid late.
You’ve researched a piece of process management software in the cloud that facilitates communication and ensures accuracy [such as QuickBase]. You might ask Andy if you could meet with him to discuss the freelancer tracking process. Launch with something like: “Andy, I think it’s great that you’re establishing a central repository for freelancer assignments. I know of some software that would make your job easier.” Proceed to show Andy the solution and explain any cost or productivity savings. Say you’re willing to assist with implementation if he’s interested.
As the “keeper,” Andy will be able to share why your idea is doable, or why it might not be (remember, he has the big picture). But regardless, appearing educated and demonstrating deference and respect will make it far more likely that Andy will listen to you, and far less likely that you will get shut down.