Can we talk about how people fit into business processes?  As knowledge workers, our jobs have a lot of processes.  And most of these processes require us to do something as part of a bigger system. Good people processes integrate with our tools and software. They have built-in validations within the workflows, making work a joy. But, unfortunately, we are more aware of the bad business processes. To fix these pain points, we need to change the way people do their work, and that, my friends, is the goal.

People Process Breakdown

Business processes atrophy. It just happens. We feel this when we feel the pain or irritation, or worse, we don't feel it.  When we feel the pain, we work to fix it. When processes deteriorate, work becomes less of a joy, and people waste a lot of time. So what do we do? Usually, someone is in charge of fixing the process, or we become increasingly inefficient without knowing it. Then someone with authority notices the problem, setting up a task force to fix the problem.  

What does this fix usually look like?  It usually looks like a beautiful wireframe diagram on a PowerPoint slide. But, of course, this has to be on the Corporate Powerpoint Template. The presentation is shiny, the logic is sound, and it is perfect, except no one will adopt it.

I hate to tell you this, but the nice diagram won't be enough to change what people do. Why do you ask? Well, people don't like to change, and they will poke holes in the shiny process. They will expose your unknown unknowns. These weren't seen by the people building the process, but they are known by those working within the process.  This is tricky because the people building the process see the big picture, and the end-users are so close to the problem and may not even see it as a problem. So we mustn't plow ahead and get our bosses to sign off on the new process before considering what adoption looks like and how it will be reported. If we plow ahead, we will fix a symptom, not a problem.  

Fixing the symptom and not solving the problem

Let's spend a little time looking at the perceived problems that the new PowerPoint Process solves. The first perceived problem it solves is that now the process is documented (even though it isn't adopted). Second, there is something magical about the shiny PowerPoint slide with the nice process flow on the company template.  That company template gives authority that the old process didn't have.  The next myth is that is the person responsible for rebuilding the process is now done with their task.  In other words, the PowerPoint and workflow are what the boss expected, so it is considered complete.

The biggest false belief is that the new process will be automatically followed because it is now documented.  We need to learn a little something from our sales departments when getting people to change. They know that it takes at least 5 times to get someone to buy. So don't think your new process will just magically be adopted after one email and one meeting. You will need a stakeholder with authority to understand that the end game is process adoption and not outlining what could be.

Reports and Authority

If the goal is to change your process, there must be a way to report or validate that the new process is working. To be successful, the change requires authority and measurement. The change also needs to be integrated into the existing tooling or software. Don't forget to check in and iterate. Remember to ask the humans if the process is working for them. Hopefully, as you implement the new process, you have end-user influence, and you have a stakeholder with authority.  It is possible to make People Process Change without authority, but it takes a lot more work.  

From Pushback to Trust

Note to self: People won't want to adopt the new process. They never do.  You will always get some pushback.  So how do you know if the pushback is healthy? First of all, some won't like it, and that is okay. So the key is to find your early adopters and leverage them to identify gaps in your adoption plans.  Listen to the early adopters because they will give you the best solutions that solve their real problems. If you do this, you will build trust, which is a critical piece in process adoption. Below is a list of ways to build trust.

Trust Builders

  • Listen to the end-users complaints and make sure they feel heard
  • Ask for input
  • Find your early adopters and leverage them
  • Do training and more training
  • Explain the why for the end-users, their managers, and higher-ups
  • Provide reports on progress

Ultimately trust leads to adoption, which is the goal, and your End-Users are the key to change.