This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on Mar 30, 2017
Processes are an integral part of all enterprises. And as I mentioned in one of my earlier pieces, if processes are not instituted, modelled or followed properly then the results may just take the form of a fried lizard on a customer’s plate.
With an objective to ensure consistent product or service quality, organizations spend a lot of time and resources to embed processes in their functions. To demonstrate their commitment they get certifications such as ISO 9000, ISO 22000 etc. However, despite all these efforts, there are still countless incidents of employees going rogue and not following them. Sometimes these non-adherences have a detrimental impact on customers, cause regulatory violations and even sully the company’s reputation. We’ve all heard of product recalls, rodents in foods, quality issues in pharma products and what not. One major reason for such failures is employees’ non-compliance to processes.
Humans like to take the path of least resistance, and this may mean violating processes that are too complicated.
This non-compliance manifests in various ways: not following stipulated steps, skipping steps, accidental omissions, performing activities without authorisation, doing additional activities etc.
Whenever such incidents erupt, the typical reactions of business leaders are to put together a task-force, coming up with technical-reasons (that don’t look at human psychology), fire those associated with the process or sending employees for training. However, I believe they could take far more constructive steps if instead of jumping to action they try to understand why employees did not follow the laid down processes. This will not only give clarity on the right action to take, but will also ensure that similar cases do not occur in the future. As someone who has been involved with process over the last 25 years, I can tell you with confidence that addressing the following issues will reduce the incidence of non-compliance.
So, here are 10 reasons why employees default in following processes.
Not believing in process
When there is a mismatch between what one believes versus what one is told, it causes an inner conflict or cognitive dissonance. This is clearly a reason for employees not following processes. This is where communication plays a role to convince people why they need to do what they need to do.
Not seeing the impact of their work on customers
This is especially true about employees who work behind the scenes in production factories, back-offices, warehouses etc… far away from the sight of customer. These employees go to work, just do the piece of work entrusted to them and after that they have no connection with the customer’s experience. Hence he/she could be oblivious of customer needs, pains and concerns. Sometimes employees are a bit lax about process adherence because they think or don’t realise their work’s impact on customers.
Not having a sense of ownership
When those running the process are involved in its design, they have a sense of ownership. They know their inputs and concerns have been addressed, and they take extra care and are more disciplined. This reduces the chances of non-adherence. So next time you dump a process onto an employee and tell him to follow it, remember his ownership will be minimal and there could be chances of his not following it. Try to make processes in collaboration with employees instead.
Thinking they can get away with laxity
If there’s a lack of punitive action against employees who have been careless or violated processes wilfully, it will embolden other workers to be non-compliant. They will feel as if they can get away with it. Try to institute a culture wherein they know that consequences can be serious.
They want to innovate
Sometimes process non-compliance happens when employees want to innovate the existing way of doing work—their behaviour has a positive motive. Nonetheless, while an entrepreneurial mindset is to be encouraged, employees need to be told what is allowed and what is not. If they want to change or better the existing process it should go through a formal authorisation process.
They are not trained
When employees are not trained in a process, there can be mistakes. Training people on the process is a critical element for process compliance. Of course, when there are process violations, you will often hear of executives sending their employees for more training as if “lack of training” is the only cause for process non-compliance. But yes, it is one cause out of many.
Not seeing the impact on the big picture
All employees want to do something meaningful and see their work having a positive impact in the company. As we have learnt from Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Emil Frankl, if people find meaning in their work they will go above and beyond to accomplish it.
The worst thing that can happen to an employee is to feel that his work is not meaningful for the company. This can lead to their being disinterested in work and being frivolous with process compliance.
Employees are disengaged
A Dale Carnegie study found that engaged employees feel enthusiastic, inspired, empowered and confident. It further found the drivers of engagement to be their relationship with the boss, belief in senior leadership and pride in working for the company. When employees are disengaged it can lead to process non-adherence.
It’s human nature to take short-cuts. So if an operator sees that a process is too complicated he may try to take short-cuts and do what does not require effort. Humans like to take the path of least resistance, and this may mean violating processes that are too complicated.
Managing deviations demanded by customers
With a positive intention to help an external or internal customer, employees may end up deviating from the process. Hence, organisations should also have processes for work-arounds or deviations from the normally followed steps. Often these are overlooked as the deviations are far and few.