Previously, I looked at some of the common mistakes we make when implementing processes in organisations, such as using them to substitute integrity and judgement or failing to understand the purpose of the process, and the role it should play, in order to be truly effective. Mistakes aside, there are certain considerations we should always make when implementing processes, to get as much measurable value from them as possible, which is where we need to start thinking about clarity of purpose.
I’ve sat in a number of meetings where, at some point, someone has said something like ‘We need a better process for this’. While this is often true, I also believe that an essential step has often been overlooked by the time we reach this juncture. Before you can get stuck into drafting flowcharts and process diagrams, it’s crucial to define and communicate the purpose of the process, as well as the purpose of those who will be following it.
Defining the purpose is worth the effort.
We’re quick to draw up detailed job descriptions and lists of roles and responsibilities, but while these are necessary and help provide clarity for everyone involved, they can also fall flat when it comes to adequately defining and communicating purpose. This is understandable, given the analytical nature of the problem, however it’s still vitally important and worth the effort.
Defining purpose, communicating it, and garnering buy-in goes a long way towards enabling the implementation of good processes. Specifically, obtaining clarity of purpose enables us to:
Maintain the engagement of individuals and teams
A team or individual that clearly understands the purpose they serve within an organisation, and how their day- to-day activities ‘move the needle’, is crucial to maintaining engagement. When I have a clear purpose and I can see the process(es) I’m engaging with are helping me achieve this, I’m naturally more interested, and motivated to perform. Conversely, when the link is weak or non-existent, contributing becomes less fulfilling and I’m less likely to maintain that engagement.
Pick the right tools for the job
Processes and controls are just tools we use to achieve a desired outcome. If we’re unclear on what that is, it becomes very difficult to pick the right tools for the job, and to prioritise them accordingly. As a result, there needs to be a crystal clear and causal link between any processes and the purpose that they serve. This enables us to improve how we prioritise, in terms of how we order them, the degree to which we rely on and monitor them, and the resources we allocate towards supporting them.
Processes and controls are just tools we use to achieve a desired outcome.
Set better performance measures
Having clarity of purpose allows us to set performance measures that aren’t just there because they’re easy to measure, but rather because they reflect progress towards achieving our purpose or goals. Without clarity of purpose, this becomes very difficult.
View processes and controls as tools instead of laws
Similar to picking the right tools for the job, when we view processes as tools designed to help us achieve our purpose, and not laws to abide by, we’re better positioned and more likely to interrogate, question, and improve our processes at all levels within an organisation. This is hard to do without adequate understanding and alignment of purpose.
This might all seem quite vague but it really does apply to every process, from sales meetings to monthly financial reporting. Being clear on the purpose from the outset always results in a better process.
Personally, reflecting on the purpose of my actions and the processes I engage with in the workplace at a granular level, has greatly improved the way I operate.
I used to be of the opinion that things like purpose and drive are great to have — but without a solid process they can only get you so far. While I still believe this is true, I’ve realised that the opposite is also true, process without sufficient clarity of purpose can be equally limiting.
If you’d like to further explore this idea, I highly recommend reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (specifically, Chapter 10).