It’s Always the Process that is Broken, not the People that are at Fault

I went through the 6 Sigma immersion process at GE in the 90s under the Jack Welch regime. We were taught,  ‘when you are looking at systems and analyzing for defects and inefficiencies; always look for the gaps in the processes. Do not seek ways to blame the people in the process. This thought struck me deeply. I find one of the reasons we have process gaps and systems breakdowns is we are too quick to blame people – people on every level. The people who do the work, the people who design the systems and infrastructure, the leaders in charge. We blame the users for being unable to use the system. When you blame the people they tend to be less than transparent, they tend to try to present the best information available and minimize any potential flaws. In short, people who feel it is not safe to expose potential challenges will not expose them.

I try to use the mantra of ‘it’s always the process, it’s never the people’ when engaging in a new project. This philosophy has gotten me invited in to tough projects that need a successful outcome. Ensuring people that I know they are very bright, work hard and do the best they can with the systems and processes they have creates a deeper dialogue. Because I am authentic, it creates trust.

Do I get frustrated with people? Sure. Who doesn’t?

Here’s a recent example. I hired a Virtual Assistant (VA) to help with several administrative tasks. Keeping track of my appointments and schedule changes can be daunting. To have someone help me stay on top of this is such a big relief. I have 2 to 3 appointments a week – but they are critically important. I’m meeting with executives and influencers. I’m  building relationships, I’m building trust.  I cannot drop the ball.

The process steps include:

  1. Alicia makes a connection and convinces someone to meet with her.
  2. ideally the meeting is face to face
  3. if the meeting is not face to face it is a virtual video meeting (Skype, GoTo Meeting) or a phone call
  4. There are time zones to be aware of
  5. People may have to change times which will create juggling. The most ideal situation is to keep the original time and venue
  6. Alicia sends an email containing suggested times and a suggested venue to initiate a meeting.
  7. The VA is cc’d in the email.
  8. The recipient is notified the VA is being cc’d and it is explained that the VA will help secure the meeting and send a meeting invite relieving us both of the responsibility to do so.
  9. The recipient replies to the email, selects a time and venue.
  10. The VA sends a meeting invite within 24 hours.

Those are the steps – but it wasn’t happening. The process breakdown happened at step 10. A couple of days had gone by. I was trying to secure a meeting with an important contact. Steps 1- 9 occurred but step 10 remained stagnant. I noticed it once.

I sent an email to the VA cc’ing her supervisor ‘hey was this meeting planner ever sent?’ The planner was sent immediately after prompting. The meeting was secured. I was frustrated but let it go. Things happen.

A week later, it happened again. Now I’m frustrated. What am I paying for? Why is this happening? If I have to follow up on the meeting this eliminates my need for assistance. I flourish under the infrastructure of sound processes. If I can count on my VA to execute, I am freed up to secure more meetings and work on many other things.

After the second occurrence I was prepared to have a harsh conversation with the VA. Then I remembered ‘it’s always the process, never the people.’ Where could the breakdown be in the process? The VA appears to want to do a good job, and appears eager to help. Most of the time, tasks are executed really well. What’s going on here?

Getting grounded, releasing my frustration, I explain the situation to the supervisor. The supervisor looks into the situation and uncovers the email is not being checked daily. With a frequency of 2 to 3 meetings a week, it is understandable that the email is not being checked daily. There is often no meeting activity. After understanding that it is critical to do so, a process of checking emails daily is implemented.

Remember: it’s always the process that is broken, never the people. Doing so will engage your employees and colleagues.  It will create a culture of looking for solutions vs. looking for ways to assign blame. It will create a culture of transparency, agility and trust.

Now I want to go fix that bridge . . .