July 29, 2007

Well-designed processes are an integral part of an efficient and effective organization. But just having processes is not enough. Many a time, the processes are there but are flawed thereby crippling the organization. The key lies in having well-designed processes that enhance the quality of output in the organization.

The problem arises when processes become the end rather than means to an end. For ensuring the smooth running of organization with absolute effectiveness, it is vital that processes play an enabling role and act like a catalyst. Simplicity is another key aspect of good processes. But more often than not, we encounter processes that are complex and disabling in nature. Instead of simplifying things and increasing efficiency and effectiveness, they complicate things to the extent of achieving the exact opposite of their objective.

One of the reasons that I have noticed for processes turning into disabling agents is the desire of managers to over-simplify things to control everything. But inadvertently, the over-simplification leads to over-complication. Breaking matter into atomic units is not simple yet it is a simplification procedure. Similarly, in an organization over simplification leads to complexity. In reality, it is foolhardy to try to simplify everything to its basic unit. Not only it is impractical, but it is a sure shot sign of disaster. Running an organization is not based on a mathematical formula where two plus two is always 4! And one should not try to develop a mathematical formula to run an organization because running an organization is a combination of reason, emotion, and judgment. Due to the inherent nature of organization, there will always be certain degree of uncertainty and complexity. Beyond a point, all efforts towards simplification will lead to more complexity. So, it is important to know when to stop.

I feel the key to designing enabling and simple processes is to understand that processes are not meant to control things; rather they are tools to help organizations achieve their objectives effectively. Once there is this understanding, the desire to over-simplify things would give way to designing processes to align them with business objectives and people element. And that would liberate organizations to spread their wings and fly!

July 17, 2007

Very simple!

Make a two-page long office circular glorifying the idea…

Then send it to everyone either through email or hard copy…

Sit back and relax expecting people to follow each and every word of the circular as heavenly wisdom.

Well, it may sound funny (or may be not) but I know this is one reason why many great organizational ideas fail as soon as they start their execution phase. The missing link is COMMUNICATION TO KEEP AN IDEA FRESH IN THE MIND OF PEOPLE so that they keep thinking about it.

A worthy example worth sharing. Once upon a time (not in ancient time but just a year back) CEO of a company had a brilliant flash of idea one day to bring in more energy into his people and increase the productivity of the organization. So he invented a grand concept based on the concept of hemoglobin, transporter of oxygen to our body cells. He called his concept "xyz-globin" where xyz were the initials of the company name. He even detailed what it signified and how to bring it into action. He urged everyone to increase their "xyz-globin" so that it reflects in the work. And he dashed the 2-page circular to only his top team asking them to follow it and spread it down the order. The Holy Grail coming from a CEO doesn't go unread. So it was read in all due respect. A few smiles also followed. And in a matter of few hours it got buried in the piles of paper. One year has passed and the concept, which I must admit was nothing less than brilliant, has long been buried far away from public psyche. As a memento it finds an honourable mention in some manuals that are seldom read or used. Peace!

Why this brilliant idea capable of challenging people to push their limits and deliver their best failed in its mission? Because it was not communicated effectively by the leader to the extent that it set the fire in his peoples' belly.

Had I been in this CEO's shoes, I would have used a completely different technique to drive home the point. Instead of sending them circular, I would have gathered them informally in some corner and explained the concept of "xyz-globin" through a story that was fun and engaging. And then I would have followed it up by everyday randomly asking various people about their "xyz-globin" level. I would have gone to the extent of looking into the eyes of an upbeat and cheerful looking manager and enthusiastically saying, "Man, seems like you are high on 'xyz-globin' today." Or, going to a manager who looked downcast or sleepy and tell him, "Buddy, guess your 'xyz-globin' level is drastically down today. Perk yourself up man." And if the CEO does all these, can his men be far behind. Within a few months this would have caught a wild fire where people would have been asking one another about level of "xyz-globin" resulting in fun-filled energized and engaged workplace that delivered best quality of work.

Well, that can wait till I become the CEO. Amen!

Now coming to the role of communication in execution of an idea or plan, there is only one rule I know that works. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IS THE BRIDGE THAT LINKS GREAT IDEAS TO GREAT EXECUTION. It is naïve to think that if you give a road map to people they will just follow it as it is. They will not unless you ensure that it climbs to the same level of priority as it is on your priority ranking. People have hundred things on their mind; the thing that attracts them the most will occupy their attention and energy. Here, communication plays the vital part in ensuring that people get attracted to what you expect them to do and they remain attracted to it till the job is done. A seasoned manager once summed it nicely, "Logon ko hilana dulana padta hai" (people need to be shaken and stirred to action)