11 September 2009

Process Is Neither The Problem Nor The Solution

I've been thinking about this whole process-centric approach for a while now, and I think I figured out a way to state my position in words the Lean and Theory Of Constraints crowd can understand:

Process is not the bottleneck. Talent is.

This means process is neither the problem nor the solution. Talent drives action, talent dictates outcomes, and at the risk of sounding like Tom Peters, talent is, well, it's everything. [not that there's anything wrong with sounding like Tom Peters - the guy's amazing].

Process is a poor substitute for talent. You can't make up for a talent shortage by simply instituting more and more (and more and more) processes. If there is indeed a talent shortage, the way to deal with it is by... unleashing more talent! And a compliance-based, process-centric, dictatorial, command & control approach squelches and repels talent.

Now, there's nothing wrong with using and improving our processes. But when our approach to improving performance is process-centric instead of talent-centric, we end up discounting and preventing the very thing that matters most.


Mark said...

Hey Dan,

My only critique is that if there is a true shortage of something, then adding more of that thing is not really an option. In other words, if we had more to add in the first place, then we wouldn't be short!

Hiring new talent in an economy like we have today is really difficult to justify. This becomes a practical stumbling block for many organizations, so I think they turn to the second best option (a distant second, I agree): rely on Process to fill the gap left by less-than-stellar talent.

But then again, there are companies like Netflix (per your Re-Mark-able post a few days ago) that seem to truly value talent and actually hire/fire aggressively based on those beliefs.

The Dan Ward said...

Ah, funny thing about talent. Organizations generally have more of it than they actually use, despite the frequent perception that talent is absent. Thus, my suggestion that we unleash talent rather than just hire more of it.

Gordon MacKenzie's book Orbiting The Giant Hairball is full of great examples of unleashing resident talent.

And it seems to me that the process-centric approach, with its emphasis on conformity, compliance, repeatability, standardization, etc, tends to have a negative affect on expressions of creativity and talent. I'm not saying proces is bad - I'm saying the process-centric approach is bad. I'm saying it's bad to think we can substitute process for talent.

And, perhaps counterintuitively, one of the best ways to unleash talent is to not have too much of it. Too many cooks and all that...

Mark said...

Ok then - so it is not really a talent shortage but rather a suppression of latent talent. I'll buy that...