As a business process re-engineering consultant, I often find that the very word “process” engenders negative attitudes from those who are supposed to benefit from it. Such resistance to the establishment of new processes comes from employees who have been forced to comply to procedures and protocols that rigidly define how they perform their work and often serve as hindrances to efficiency and effectiveness. In short, management has used processes to confine, limit, and otherwise stifle their employees who, naturally, resent that.
Processes guide work to enable and empower employees to perform their tasks with a measure autonomy and with greater efficiency. The correct process guides the work flow, it does not impose an inflexible set of hoops through which the employee must jump in order to do his job. Properly designed processes ease the workflow and allow for adjustments. Process creates the framework for collaborative decision-making in how to address issues with doing the work. Processes treat people like competent adults fully capable of doing their work without micromanagement. These employees rightfully resent poorly thought out and communicated process initiatives, because they have learned through bitter experience that those don’t help.
Effective change impacts both the technical and social aspects of the company. Therefore, when I arrive on the scene, I not only must analyze the situation and discern the facts that will drive the changes that will be recommended. To do that, I must also listen to and understand the concerns of staff who will be expected to implement the revised or new processes. Before we get to that point, the importance of getting buy-in from staff cannot be understated. Following are some techniques that will help employees support the business process re-engineering effort.
Turn staff participation into staff buy-in
In his article “Reducing Resistance to Improving Business Processes,” process consultant Ian James emphasizes that enabling the people who will be affected by the changes to have control over what happens is crucial to their support. Staff participation requires an honest explanation as to why changes will be made. When management imposes change without employee input or involvement, employees may very well interpret the change to mean management considers them lazy and incompetent, even if the actual motivation lies in legacy thinking and the evolving skills and requirements needed to adapt to ever-changing business requirements. If they weren’t lazy and incompetent, then the processes wouldn’t need to be changed, right? No one responds well to that sort of motivation. The consultant can reassure employees through listening to them, understanding their concerns, and clarifying what the process changes will really do. My experience, however, shows that many companies find it easier to focus on the process rather than deal with management or cultural issues.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review in his article “How to Deal with Resistance to Change,” Paul R. Lawrence concurs with the necessity of explaining the reasons for change and involving the participants in the discussion of how those changes might be best implemented. That, however, comes with a caveat:
Common sense would suggest that people are more likely to respond to the way they are customarily treated—say, as people whose opinions are respected because they themselves are respected for their own worth—rather than by the stratagem of being called to a meeting or being asked some carefully calculated questions. In fact, many supervisors and staff have had some unhappy experiences with executives who have read about participation and have picked it up as a new psychological gimmick for getting other people to think they “want” to do as they are told—as a sure way to put the sugar coating on a bitter pill.
Your client’s employees aren’t stupid and they know that the implementation of new processes will require time to work out kinks and glitches. This has long been an issue regarding value engineers: they analyze the situation, devise the new processes, and then leave before implementation. They never witness the confusion and frustration that comes with transferring something that works perfectly on paper to real life where nothing works as it does on paper. Thorough analysis may discover underlying motivations for existing processes to be valid, toxic, or merely longstanding holdovers from an executive who retired in the 1990s.
Discover the reasons behind the existing process and you can determine whether those reasons remain valid. Once impediments to improved performance, reduced cost, and enhanced employee engagement have been removed, the best way to ensure the success of the new process is to stick around and assist with the implementation until kinks have been worked out.