Process is not a dirty word

By Rebecca Del Giudice

Several years ago, I was doing contract editing work for a client and we were talking about an overhaul for his content-heavy website.

“Is your content calendar up-to-date?” I asked. I remember the look on my client’s face: suddenly he was like a child who did not want to eat the spinach on his plate.

“I don’t like to waste the team’s time with a lot of process,” he said.

Ever since that exchange, I’ve taken note of the tendency of some teams — across industries — to have a negative view of, and therefore a strong aversion to, any kind of process. Many people have had negative experiences with consultants coming into their companies and imposing bureaucratic, unrealistic processes on their work. Or they’ve worked with archaic project management or software development teams that seem to use processes as roadblocks.

But as most editors would attest that process — whether they’re talking about editorial, QA, or development — can provide a framework that tends to reduce firedrills and make a team more efficient.

But how do you convince a team of that?

Here are five ways to approach process creation with your team:

1. Meet the team where it is.
If your team has utilized process successfully in other places, e.g., they are deploying scrum methodology with great results, or their sales team is a well-oiled machine, use these as models. Find out from people in those departments what has worked and what hasn’t, and how they got to where they are now.

If your team, on the other hand, doesn’t even like to answer emails or document anything, understand that you need to start slow. Don’t overwhelm them with an outline of a lengthy, complicated start-to-end process. Start with one step — e.g., having a brainstorming meeting to lay out some ideas that could form an editorial calendar, or institute the practice of having someone own the final proofreading of every marketing piece that goes out the door.

2. Don’t use the word ‘process.’
Nobody wants a bureaucracy — including you. Don’t get hung up on terms and technicalities. Instead of focusing on the how, emphasize the why — the ways in which this new method of executing work will benefit everyone. For example, say you are establishing a faster, clearer process regarding the ownership of and response to feedback forms on your website. Emphasize how your customers will benefit, and by extension your company. Or if you plan on doing an annual content review of your web properties, don’t dwell too much on the effort involved; emphasize the fact that updating and correcting old posts will help improve search results and how your brand is perceived.

3. Make it a team effort.
Make it clear not only that you are willing to shoulder your fair share of the work, but that your suggestions are not perfect. Even if you are in a position to call the shots on every strategy, engage the team and encourage everyone to share their ideas. Give people ownership, and they will often exceed your expectations.

4. Look for tiny improvements.
So your coworkers just spent one week brainstorming and building a social media calendar. Don’t wait until the end of the year to see if the calendar helped the group’s bottom line and output. When the first article is posted, talk about how well it was received. Noticing small steps along the way helps reinforce the value of the process you’ve put in place.

5. Be humble, and admit when things aren’t working.
When I was working in a large corporation, I often saw executives who would swoop in, change everything that the person before them had worked to put in place, and then look away when the changes wiped out processes that were working. Leave your ego out of it. If a new process isn’t effective, regroup with the team and talk about how you’re going to address it. Maybe your new system just needs a few tweaks, or maybe people need more training. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right idea for your organization.

Be open to change — you, your colleagues, your customers, and your company will all benefit.

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2 thoughts on “Process is not a dirty word

  1. Hi Rebecca, good points all. In a past life I was involved with “process re-engineering” consulting assignments, and over time those got a bad rap as being a cover for mass layoffs. “Process” became a bad word. But process in the best sense is about simplification, avoiding errors and re-work, and thus saving time and producing a better result for the client. It can also reduce “busy work” and give employees more time to focus on the more interesting parts of their work. Without process of some kind, you have chaos – and that is neither fun nor productive!

  2. Hi Alison, Thanks for your comment! I couldn’t agree more that, as you say, good process actually simplifies things, making both a better product and a better experience for the team creating that product. And it is a bulwark against chaos!

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