Many leaders feel that they have to take the personal attributes of employees out of the equation of the performance of the organisation. They believe that by documenting and educating their employees how they want processes completed they will reduce the impact of variability in personal intelligence and attitude.
Some leaders feel that to be “process driven” is anathema to creativity. They believe that putting boundaries around what people can do creates barriers to innovation.
The truth, as one might suspect, is somewhere in the middle.
Few organisations will grow and prosper where all creative notions not fitting “the process” are unaccepted. Three main issues impact organisations which rely almost exclusively on processes to manage their business:
Recruitment and retention
In an organisation dominated by process, the dominant thinking styles are left brained. People who have a dominant right brained thinking style either do not apply, or if they sign on, do not stay.
Generally, and I will discuss the exceptions later, organisations dominated by process innovate very slowly and usually in one direction without much in the way of break-out thinking.
Similarly, process dominated organisations are slower to react to a market opportunity. By the time the process for evaluating the opportunity are completed, the position of first mover has been taken by a competitor.
Conversely, those who spurn controls in favour of a free wheeling creative approach are also impacted by three issues.
Recruitment and retention
In an organisation dominated by creativity, the dominant thinking styles are right brained. People who have a dominant left brained thinking style either do not apply, or if they sign on, do not stay.
Lack of controls almost always leads to financial issues ranging from poor awareness of the situation to fraud.
Similarly, poor or non-existent controls lead to unsafe acts and unsafe conditions remaining unchecked and the potential for risk events with adverse consequences to go unmitigated. The usual result is someone getting hurt, even in “low risk” sectors.
The key to avoiding the extremes is to find a balance. The means to finding that balance is through risk (probability and consequence) identification and analysis.
By identifying the risks, both negative and positive (opportunities), one can determine what kind of process and process control one ought to apply.
Low Negative Risk – High Positive Risk
Creativity is required to make the most of the high positive risk. The processes in place should be about freeing up the creative resources to take the opportunity rapidly. Many organisations have rapid processes for:
- Opportunity confirmation.
- Solution analysis.
- Solution deployment.
Without processes, the creativity of the organisation is not harnessed and channelled. Innovation in a creative organisation without rapid processes is likely to be slower than it should be.
The controls tend to be about limits such as:
- Levels of expenditure without authorisation.
- Tasks which cannot be reassigned or postponed to allow key staff to be pulled into a project team.
- Short, but large tenders which we are capable of fulfilling.
- New market opportunities for existing products/services generated by rapidly adopted new technology.
High Negative Risk – High Positive Risk
Process control is required to reduce the probability and/or consequence of a negative risk event occurring. However, creativity is required to take the opportunity and to think of ways of mitigating either the probability of a negative risk event occurring or the consequence should it happen.
- High risk, life saving medical procedures.
- Launching new products to a new customer base.
High Negative Risk – Low Positive Risk
The only creativity required is in developing mitigating actions which may reduce the probability or consequence of a negative risk event occurring. Otherwise processes and controls are necessary to be sure we do the activities in a predictable and repeatable manner, reducing variations to a minimum. There may be more than one way to do each of the activities of this type, but we have to know that they are being executed the same way by everybody to control the probability of a risk event occurring.
- Filling flammable products into containers.
- Reconciling bank accounts.
- Man made and natural disasters.
Low Negative Risk – Low Positive Risk
Process control is required to measure the effectiveness with which we complete these routine tasks. Process controls are also required to alert us when these activities are moving to a higher risk category, either positive or negative.
- Accepting payment.
Process control and creativity should live side by side. They are not elements of exclusive sets. If your organisation leans too far one way or the other, it is probably missing opportunities or exposing itself to high levels of negative risk.