Procedures? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Procedures

Managers and leaders at all levels rely on process and procedure to execute scalable and sustainable delivery of the work they do. Yet from time to time, you will hear talk of being totally free-form in the operation of a business. Results speak for themselves. When you dive deep into the leadership success story of business, you will find a prescribed process that is reliant upon standard procedure to make it hum.

Once, as I was assuming responsibility for an operating unit at the bank where I worked, I was talking to one of the clerks. I asked her to describe the work she did on a daily basis. Her description was, “I take this form out of this drawer, make these entries in the computer, and place the form in the other drawer.” The drawers were right side/left side of her desk. I paused, thought, then asked “Well, who puts the form in the right side drawer and who takes the completed form out of the left side drawer?” She said she didn’t’ know because it happened on another shift. I asked how long she had been with the company. “Three years in this same job.” Wow, I was stunned.

I decided to research the rest of the story. I talked to the people on the other shift and got their version. I then went back to the first lady and explained the whole process. Turns out, her part was an important piece of the overall procedure that allowed my unit to operate at peak performance, yet she had no idea. When I shared with her the significance of what she did, she got very inspired. We arranged a meeting between personnel on both shifts to share their views of the work. The harmony this generated was appreciated by all.

While this seems like an overly simple experience, it happens thousands of times daily with hundreds of operations everywhere. Procedure is something that must be understood by all employees. As the leader of a unit, the responsibility for establishing this understanding is on you. Yes, you may delegate the training and monitoring of the work, but when the final tally is made, it will be on you to be sure the procedure has been followed.

Depending on the circumstance and the nature of your work, the procedure takes on significance ranging from the mundane to the life-saving. Go out on a military firing range and ask whether a procedure needs to be followed or not. “Keep your weapons pointed up and down range” is a procedural command that saves lives. With live rounds chambered in a weapon, the participants in target practice cannot be pointing the weapon at other people. Your job may not be as dramatic, but the importance of following a procedure is just as important.

At the Beginning

There was an interview where a company representative said “At my company, we see as many as 92% of our job applicants failing to follow the prescribed job posting procedures. We count that as immediate elimination.”

No kidding! Wow, 92% of the job seekers applying to this company’s posted jobs cannot follow enough instructions to pass through the grid and become potential interviewees. What are these people thinking? Ok, maybe the company has some special requirements they have laid out, but so what? I am sure the nature of their business has some unique requirements too (as do most companies). If someone cannot or will not follow the steps, then what kind of worker might they be?

Since the job search process is as much about elimination as it is selection. Candidates cannot give the employer a reason to eliminate them by failing to follow a step in the process. If your company has rigid procedures that must be followed, job candidates must follow procedures in order to be deemed a fit for that environment.

Leadership for the Procedures

Once a process has been defined, the procedure must follow. When Henry Ford decided how the assembly line would operate, procedures had to follow to let every worker know the steps they need to perform. Skip a step and a wheel might fall off.

Leaders must introduce, teach, train, monitor, and adjust procedures so that maximum execution can be achieved. Management can check the boxes toward completion and delivery, but leadership brings the people into the fold. With effective leadership, you can obtain total buy-in by the work team. Since process, driven by the procedure is unavoidable for best execution, the people cannot violate the procedure. Otherwise, chaos happens.

Leaders must be able to inspire the team to follow the procedures that have been written. If there is any confusion about the expectation it must be resolved. If there is any inconsistency in following procedures, it must be dealt with. Coaching by the leader to address individual exceptions to the rule is required.

When was the last time you had to enforce a procedure to make your team perform better?

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