Let’s face it. So many organizations are running on bare minimum numbers and everyone has a lot on their plate. To make sure this tenuously crafted strategy they’ve cobbled together doesn’t come crashing down, leadership has a tendency to assemble a mountainous collection of procedures and processes; usually under the accountability banner. While this conglomeration of compliance is crafted with the purest intent (usually), it ends up having a counter-intuitive effect on the organization as a whole, along with the individuals who make up the organization as well.

In the feverish pitch of making sure nothing slips through the cracks, we can easily replace innovation and creativity with processes and compliance. If that’s not bad enough, many times adhering to the procedures actually prevent people from meeting the performance goals placed on them by the same people who designed the processes and procedures. Can you imagine the culture this develops? How well engaged will these employees be? It’s like signing up to be a volunteer test subject for a firing squad.

It puts people in a place where they have to fudge some of the rules, or ignore them altogether in order to do the REAL right thing. Why on earth would we, as leaders, put them in such a compromising situation. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they follow the rules, they look incompetent because they can’t meet their performance goals. If they break the rules in order to meet their performance goals, they look rebellious and like the proverbial loose cannon…or better yet, “difficult to manage”.

I bet the majority of you reading this has been in this position at least once. You’re probably thinking of the person or scenario responsible for this debacle in your career right now. Makes you want to punch people, right? So why would we put our people in such a position?

I’m convinced that we leaders have a stupid gene that gets activated when we are faced with shortages, crises and the like. It’s like we assume that THIS is the time for us to take control because no one else fully understands what’s at stake. If we don’t lead in this situation, no one will know what to do. If your people are that clueless, you might want to rethink your recruiting strategy.

Some key points to consider when your stupid gene is in danger of being activated:

  • Involve your team in the solution – If you simply involve them, those you’re leading will most likely offer some of the best ideas to deal with challenges. Instead of thinking that you need to single-handedly steer the ship past the rocks, look to the suggestions of those who do specific tasks really well. Their insight is invaluable.
  • Stop writing processes – Commitment is infinitely more valuable than compliance. When people have procedures and processes, that becomes their ceiling. They will default to the limitations you have in your processes. If they understand the heart behind a would-be process, they will do it even better than you could hope. Trust your people!
  • Let people screw up – Unless they are betting the farm on a single stupid act, let them learn. It’s tough when you run tight margins, but find a way to let them explore and build their confidence. It could cost you a little short-term, but the medium to long term benefits are innovation, creativity and an amazing atmosphere in your organization.
  • Know their concerns – If you’re all worked up over some difficulties and challenges, chances are they are as well. You’re not the only one who has the luxury of being anxious. Let those anxieties be communicated publicly. Common challenges shared openly make for some amazing esprit de corps. This is one of the most under utilized team building strategies among most organizations. Vulnerability and showing your human is great leadership and creates a stellar culture, when done well.
What are your process-busting suggestions?