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Your Process Problems Are Mostly Employee Apathy

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Business owners and company leaders should be thinking about process all the time. But they aren’t, and worse, most process issues are caused by something even more troubling.

Every professional needs to keep this phrase at the top of their mind: It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow. This is easy to show through examples. There was a nationally known brand with 80,000 employees at its peak. But it was called Blockbuster, and it was defeated by a scrappy little Internet startup called Netflix. Or if you prefer history, consider the Battle of Cajamarca in 1532. In this massacre, a group of Spaniards were outnumbered 45 to 1—but won because of tremendous technological and tactical superiority.

And in your organization, process is a huge differentiator. If you can respond to customer needs more quickly, avoid entering data multiple times, and generally have good procedures, you will be more successful.

But it’s likely that’s not happening. Why?


© Flickr user RenaudPhoto

An article from HR Technologist on the topic of Business Process Management (BPM) software details the results of a recent study:

While only 6% revealed that they had an exceptional process post BPM, a whopping 73% were experiencing below average results from their BPM initiatives. The major challenge that organizations faced in their BPM initiatives was user adoption. Though the employees may not have been directly opposed to any kind of change, their actions and/or lack of acceptance was a clear indicator of their apathy towards automation. According to the study, organizations should take a more holistic approach to their process automation initiative, which includes addressing this apathy in employees, through training, education, and communication.

What may be most surprising is that the author of this piece seems surprised. Perhaps she is unfamiliar with the computerization campfire story. In any case, yes, organizational process improvements are often hard. And the reason is because almost everyone is not engaged in their work.

What else does this article have to say? More information that doesn’t address the real issue:

While 57% of the respondents said that they are focusing on imparting education and training to foster change, 54% were improving the communications sent to the employees that highlighted the reasons for change, and 50% were sharing details about their vision along with the expected benefits with their employees.

Let’s review the key issues:

  • Speed beats size – Companies that want to compete have to be more agile, not just bigger. They need to innovate more quickly, take bigger risks, and operate more efficiently.
  • Speed requires good process – You can’t get a pit stop done in under two seconds without a plan and tons of practice.
  • Good process arises when people care about work – While you might get some process from people who aren’t engaged, you usually won’t. That’s because quality is free. You can’t simply buy the passion to be better. You have to find it.

Certainly, your organization should be looking at business process improvement. Absolutely, BPM software suites are becoming more mature all the time. But if people don’t care about their work, you’re never going to get very far.

The secret to employee engagement isn’t a secret. It is trust, dignity, and respect. But too often, we try to control employees. We tell them when and where to do their jobs. We belittle their expertise and experience. We keep information from them and pit them against each other. We create tools for performance management that are adversarial and counterproductive.

We need process improvement. But first, we need to change our perspective from trying to force change to working to understand another first. Because once we have shared values and can communicate about our differences, only then we will have a foundation to build and transform process effectively.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


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