An over-reliance on process and procedures can lead to poor decision-making and a lack of agility.
I know that the topic of generational differences irritates some people. My personal experience, though, is that when it comes to certain things, baby boomer points of view do often differ from millennial points of view. One of these areas of debate is process.
Many boomers scaled their organizations successfully because they put the right processes in place to do so. For a long time, these processes worked, and so understandably they may be reluctant to let go of them. And when new business challenges present themselves, many leaders answer them with new processes, because after all processes are tried and true. These are the rules, and if we don’t stray from them, we’ll be okay.
When millennials came into the work world starting in the aughts, many weren’t as enamored by process. They wanted to use new technologies, in real time, to solve new kind of dilemmas popping up every day. They wanted to change business for the better by streamlining work and getting it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Tension started to build, particularly in this decade when the health and survival of a company depends upon its ability to be agile. Some leaders wanted to stick steadfastly by procedures that had served them well in the past, while others felt that existing processes and the bureaucracy often associated with them were impeding growth and true progress.
As a Gen X-er, my opinion typically falls somewhere between the boomer and millennial majorities, and my thoughts on this issue are no different. I grew up in the business world believing in policies and procedures. Without them, our organizations were disorganized, chaotic, and unfocused. A process-free company has trouble setting goals and driving incrementally better performance. Employees can easily lose motivation because they feel they have no control over their own success.
On the other hand, we have to be careful not to assume that an existing process can always tell us how to move forward, or will always lead us in the direction of the best decision. And very often, an existing process will need to be changed depending on new circumstances and developments. Or god forbid, we might actually have to throw it out and start over.
My millennial friends have taught me to be more tolerant of uncertainty. The business world is evolving more rapidly than it ever has before, and it’s impossible to predict with 100 percent accuracy what’s coming next. We have to realize that sometimes, there’s no time for a lengthy, detailed process to be developed (or consulted) and we must find a new solution on the fly. We have to be comfortable with the prospect of data delivering an unexpected result that could send any pre-planned strategies careening in the opposite direction. We have to be willing to listen to the ideas of those without traditional authority, because those might be exactly the perspectives we need.
Is process really the enemy of agility? Can we find a happy medium?