Process vs. Thinking; Process and Thinking

by Alex Lekas

A former colleague of mine used to punctuate every meeting by reminding people to “do the routine things routinely.” That is, pay attention to the little things that, if unattended, have a way of becoming big things. If a customer has a support question, answer it promptly and courteously; if there is a billing issue, resolve it quickly and professionally; and, if someone wants to place an order, get the right stuff to the right address right away.
Routine and process are often treated as the hobgoblins of a dying enterprise, but change for its own sake can be every bit as destructive as the organizational paralysis of “This is how we have always done it.” Routines can be detrimental if people are blinded by them or if management believes people are not smart enough or creative enough to find more efficient ways of doing necessary things. But, routines are also predictable and, when executed properly, they are reliable.
This is not a “change/question everything” screed; if something is not broken, there is no sense in trying to fix it. However, any dynamic organization requires the creative tension of periodically questioning if the current ways are the best ways, even if all this does is reinforce the validity of how things are done. Successful people and companies question their own dogma regularly; it keeps them nimble and aware of changes in the landscape. It allows them to take the macro view and get ahead of shifts in the marketplace. It is how they stay relevant.
Process and routine are not sexy; they are the Melba toast of the workplace. But nothing changes (read: improves) if the organization is fixated on the goal. Sure, more sales, more wins, more market share are well and good, but putting those marks on the wall does nothing toward achieving them. Every NFL team began the year with winning the Super Bowl as its stated goal, even the ones who would be eliminated by the first Sunday in October. But that doesn’t mean the season was lost before it started. Change is a process, too, and improvement requires the recognition of weaknesses followed by steps that address them.
Most of what we do seems defined by goals; far less time is spent on figuring out how to reach them. You want to raise revenue by 14%, you want to cut a few seconds off your time in the mile, or you want to lose 20 pounds. What are you going to do to get there? That’s process. That’s where the work lies. The goal gets you up in the morning and it motivates you to make some sacrifices. But the process is how you achieve it.

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