Organizational excellence – Importance of process alignment

February 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Organizational Excellence | Leave a comment

Policies processes and practices form the backbone of any organization. If they work well & smoothly as intended, it can lead to avoidance of bottlenecks confusion and result in speedy actions helping an organization achieve excellence. What is said below in terms of processes equally applies to policies and practices as well.

We normally talk of process compliance which is adherence to a documented and signed-off process. It is one-sided and may be necessary in some high risk cases. However, for the rest of the processes working towards process alignment may make more practical sense. In various references, “Process alignment” is used in variety of ways, but I am using the term here to mean alignment between what is documented and what is actually being practiced in ground reality. If there is divergence between these two views of the process, it calls for changes to one or other to bring them in line with each other.

Why is it important to keep the two views aligned?
The documented process reflects the intention and also acts as a reference in case of doubt or dispute. The implemented process may differ from the documented one because there were hurdles in implementation. If these hurdles are not identified and documented, they are likely to be missed and result in divergence. Actually, it may be a good idea to call the process as a “proposed” process till it has been implemented and verified. Method and outcome of such verification should also be documented.

Another cause of such a divergence is that it is not possible to document every exceptional condition and rules for handling the exception. In such cases, it is left to the discretion of individuals concerned. Definition & discretion go hand in hand and it is important to achieve & sustain a right balance. Quite often, the roles with their authority of discretion are not clearly spelt out, either during the original design or during the implementation. The individuals concerned need freedom to decide what is the best course of action in a given situation. But not specifying who has discretion and for what, can lead to chaos in the long run because then each individual starts interpreting his scope of discretion based on his assumptions beliefs & convenience. There can be many reasons for this like an inflated ego, fear to question even if one knows that something is not being done correctly because we tend to mix-up specialization with superiority. To avoid this pitfall, it is important that the organizations expect / demand respect for the processes from its members, while at the same time encouraging & welcoming questions & objections whenever any member finds a divergence. If there is no respect combined with an opportunity to question, it surely leads to sabotage.

Over a period of time, the process starts getting diluted or compromised during its use unless there is a check on it. The level and frequency of checking can vary from organization to organization depending on its culture. Some are quite rigorous and are prepared to spend extra resources on the overhead of checks and audits. Some trust their members and may put in minimum or no checks. Another aspect is the severity and visibility of reprimand / punishment in case of intentional violation. In case an organization has minimum or no checks because of the culture of trust and is also quite permissive of violations, it is opening itself to the risk of process breakdowns and resultant harmful effects on the functioning of the organization.

A couple of other aspects are also important. If stakeholder delight is kept as a prime objective while designing and reviewing the processes, it helps to keep them lean & clean by ensuring that whatever is not leading to stakeholder delight is mercilessly kept out. Another aspect is that if normal human nature is considered and kept in mind and the process design leverages it, there will be far less chances of sabotage.

To summarize, it helps to design the processes keeping stakeholder delight as prime objective and by leveraging normal human nature. It helps to keep the process tentative till it has been successfully implemented and verified. It helps to define the boundaries of discretion and have periodic checks to ensure that the individuals concerned understand it and live within their scope. It helps to check divergence between the intention and reality and take corrective actions from time to time. Such actions may involve correcting the processes and / or correcting the individuals. If these few things are taken care, the policies processes and practices become alive & vibrant providing a strong backbone for the organization to move towards excellence.

I would really appreciate any thoughts / experiences from you that either support or challenge what is said above.

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