Why would a monkey not go after a bunch of bananas placed within his reach?
An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a cage. High up at the top of the cage is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.
The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.
The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a while on the floor – wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.
Now the experimenter removes one monkey and introduces a new one to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.
Very soon all monkeys have been replaced, and none of them go after the bananas. The researchers hypothesize that, if they were to ask the monkeys why they don’t go for the bananas, they’d answer “because that’s the way it’s always been done”.
Do you recall any processes in your organization that have always been there? Are there specific ways to do things that everyone follows without knowing the real reason? If you question them, do you get the same answer “because that’s the way it’s always been done”? If the answer is yes, it brings us to the topic of this article – processes.
Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. – Confucius
In this article we will look at three key aspects of processes:-
- Why are processes introduced in companies? What purpose do they serve?
- How processes become outdated? What are the disadvantages of outdated processes?
- What can you do if you find yourself in such a situation?
Let’s start with Part 1 – the need for processes.
As organizations get bigger, processes are introduced overtime for reasons like controlling tasks and expenditures, showing and measuring progress on important tasks, ensuring adherence to standards, maintaining levels of quality, and so on.
When organizations are small, communication is easy as everyone knows everyone and there are only a few levels of hierarchy. If you have a question or want clarity on something, you can just walk up to the concerned person and ask them. However, communication and management become difficult and the possibility of confusion increases as companies get bigger. When people are spread over different buildings, cities, countries, and time zones, effective communication and coordination become a task in itself.
When that happens, processes are introduced to solve this problem and to help people do their jobs better. They are required to ensure the smooth functioning of large organizations. Processes standardize how work is done. They are well documented so that everyone knows how to perform their work. Processes reduce the time required to train new people. They make problems easy to identify and diagnose. Everyone knows what to expect from others – irrespective of personal styles or cultural differences.
Behind every process in your organization is a well-intentioned reason. Simply put, if you have a process, someone put it there for a specific reason, even though it might seem useless to you. Which brings us to the second part of the article.
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.” – Harold Wilson
Part 2 – What causes processes to become useless and outdated? What are the disadvantages of an outdated process?
Have you ever felt that people in your organization are following processes for the sake of doing so? Have you ever felt that people are following procedures at the expense of the organization’s objectives? Do you think that the process has become the master and not the servant to the organization, as it should be?
If your answer to any of the above questions is YES, you are dealing with outdated processes that have outlived their existence. When that happens, you can see people do things for the same reason the monkeys did – “because that’s the way it has always been done“.
Examples of outdated processes are using obsolete technological solutions or products or using time-consuming manual processes when a simple technological intervention can save both time and resources.
Processes become outdated because technology or business practices evolve in your industry and you have been busy doing other things. Needless to say, there are many disadvantages to following processes for the sake of following them. The 5 main disadvantages of having outdated processes are –
- People lose motivation as old processes cause disappointment and stop people from doing their best work.
- Your best people leave because of frustration. You have trouble attracting the best talent.
- Politics and red-tape increases as more people are required to do tasks which can be solved by efficient and new processes and tools.
- Lack of efficiency in what you do harms your productivity and increases waste
- The disconnect between customer expectations and your levels of service. For example – a customer expects you to have a chatbot, or answer questions over social media; while you still want them to mail or call you.
If by now you are feeling defeated, sad, and demotivated, don’t. Because now is the time to move to Part 3 – how to deal with outdated processes?
Part 3 – What can you do if you are dealing with outdated processes?
If you are feeling helpless in the face of outdated processes, you can ask yourself a few questions to get a better grip on the situation. These questions will empower you to deal with the situation powerfully.
- What processes can be removed, or no longer serve their purpose?
- Are people rewarded or punished for following the processes blindly?
- Do people have the discretion to question the existence of a process and use their judgement?
- Are you, and your organization focused on achieving excellence rather than avoiding errors?
Answering the above questions will help you understand how easy or difficult change might be in your organization. It will also make it clear the kind of challenges you might expect to face if you were to move further. And many times, these questions will help you figure out if getting a process changed or removed is a battle you want to fight or not? (and believe me, in big organizations it can be a battle).
Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong. – N.R. Narayana Murthy
If you decide to get a process removed which is not serving its purpose, you can take the below steps:-
- Investigate the reason behind the existence of the process? When was it introduced, by whom, and what was it supposed to achieve?
- Make a case for why that process is not needed now or should be altered or removed. Gather data and make an argument.
- Share your findings with people close to you (peers, your manager) and get their feedback. If you need to, adapt your findings.
- If you still want to move ahead, make a list of people who you might want on your side to get the process removed.
- Share your findings with them, and the proposal to get the process removed or changed. Ask them if they support your proposal or not.
- Listen to their concerns and get them on board with the idea of removing/changing the process.
- Share the proposal with the people who have the authority to change the process and approve any budget. If there is a need to purchase a new tool or software or organize training, there might be significant costs associated with the change in the process.
- Be open to feedback, and answer any questions people might have.
- Be patient. The bigger and more political the organization, the longer it can take to change or remove a process.
If the above process goes well, you can take the below steps to make sure the process change goes smoothly without causing a lot of disruption for the people impacted by the decision.
- Be transparent and communicate the reason behind the process change with everyone impacted by the process, and why it needs to be removed/changed? Show people why this change will help them do their jobs faster and better.
- Train / educate people to fill in knowledge and skill gaps wherever required. Make sure they are equipped to do what you are asking from them.
- Empower people to report any missed opportunities or any other feedback about the process change. Reward instead of punishing people when that happens. Take action to ensure concerns are addressed fast. A new process might need some minor adjustments before everyone feels comfortable using it.
By following the above 3 steps, you can ensure the processes in your organization make sense. Regularly updating processes also make sure everyone is focused on the real objective (of the organization) rather than focusing on what the processes say. If the time has come for a process to go, then it must be retired or adapted to the current situation. Rather than making you feel resigned or defeated in the situation, this article will allow you to deal with the situation powerfully.
This article brought all the frustrations to mind which I had to face when dealing with stupid processes. This is such a common problem that it has become a common water cooler topic, irrespective of which company or country you are in.