My first thought when looking at a new business is, we should not point out what is wrong; we should focus on what works and suggest improvements based on experience. There will be some rough spots along the way, but no significant breakdowns. We may have to enforce the use of some tools, policies, or processes along the way. Many years ago, one of my mentors told me that it is seldom the person and almost always the process that caused the problems. He had a three-fail theory, which is the only time I ever heard him use a negative term. Anyway, the approach was, document the process, execute the process, correct the process, and then enforce the process. His enforcement idea was if you fail, the process is examined, and if that is OK, you go back into training. He would do that step twice. If you fail the third time and the process is still sound, then you may not be suited for the job.
He had another interesting theory – if you receive the same complaint more than twice and have never changed the process, look again because you probably missed something. There is a common element that jumps out at me when I think about this; it is the process.
So, you have documented your process; you have done training, now you are executing the process. If there is a failure, look at the process and perhaps send people back to training. You don’t scrap the process, quit, or have meltdowns.
What I often see is a clash between business systems. Most business management systems expect a systematic and somewhat rigid business process. The business owner usually expects an interrupt-driven business system with a high-level forgiving process. If we want to provide a solution in this real-world environment, we must figure out how these systems work together.
If I track the process for a short time, I usually discover two areas of concern: the process is not well documented, and the expectations are mixed. It is expectations that are causing frustration. I’m not saying that you can’t have expectations, just that they have to be realistic. I’m not even saying that you have to lower your expectations, only be aware of how they can affect your day. Every time that an expectation bumps into reality, we have an event. If you remember your self-mastery exercise, you should know what an event kicks off. I believe expectations are subjective, biased, and can differ from person to person. Another note I found in my file was this; don’t put expectations on people, events, and outcomes unless you’re prepared to live with them. Some may expect people to follow the process, and the people, in turn, may expect you to leave them alone. But in both cases, people assume the other person knows this automatically, without ever having a conversation about it. This can only lead to tension. The best approach would be to base expectations on reality and, second, communicate expectations to anyone that needs to be involved in making it happen. My best guess is that lack of communication is the source of the problem.
The concerns with expectations are enhanced if the process is not understood. That can be because the process is not documented, it is not enforced, or the process does not match reality. The level of detail in a process, or the need for procedures, is based on the skill level of the user. In a law firm you usually have a mixture of skill levels from attorneys to process workers. Make sure that the output of the process represents what you need. With that verified, document the process so that multiple skill levels can use and understand it. Now communicate the process to everyone that will use it and include your expectations on the degree it is followed and the output.
Have you ever heard what gets measured gets done? The same is true for expectations. That which is expected is what usually happens. The frustration starts when we realize that there are competing expectations. If you expect that people will not follow the process, you will find evidence of that. If you expect that they will follow the process and you have communicated that expectation, you will find evidence that the process is being followed. Now we have to get into management and leadership. That is a topic for another day.
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