Are processes stifling creativity?

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Now this is really an interesting topic and I want to thank Lisa Bodell for bringing it up on the fast company website. How can you make sure that your business is not stifled or paralized by burying it under too many and too detailed processes? For me this is a no-brainer. Processes are intended to make necessary and recurring tasks easier to manage in order to give people more time to focus on creative and productive work!

 

Good processes
When I work with clients I try not to impose a layer of unnecessary processes that take up a lot of time and resources. In my opinion, the job of any business process manager should be to identify the processes that are already in place. And every business has processes. If you want to break it down into the most basic structure there is at least the need to find clients or customers, to deliver a product or service and to receive some kind of payment (even if it is in-kind).

 And I have never worked in or with a business where this is done only once. So there are tasks and jobs in every company or other organization that are done on a recurring basis. It is essential to identify these tasks, document them and transform them into processes exactly because there is internal knowledge available and because these tasks need to be documented in order to scale up. I cannot see any reason why this procedure of identifying and documenting processes should be detrimental to creativity. Instead it is a way of removing the need to think about how to complete these chores and thus empower people to focus on the creative side of work.In the same way, the next steps in a typical business process project do not cause any severe burden on a business because they focus on making the processes safer and easier to manage. The mapping of the process in a flowchart or swimlane diagramm and subsequent streamlining of all steps and tasks involved enables the process owners to reduce work load and unnecessary aprovals or other points that might impede creativity.

And bad processes
I know only two situations where processes have the potential to become a burden:
One are processes imposed on a company or organizations by government authorities which have to be followed for compliance reasons. And there is not much that can be done about it.
Another situation occurs when processes are introduced in order to enhance accountability and the ability to measure performance. Usually, this includes submitting scorecards and reports, most of the time with detailed but often ill-monitored aditional data points. To measure employee and overall company performance is perfectly reasonable. But the benefits of these insights have to be weighted against the financial and operational costs and – to stay on topic – against how they affect the creativity of the employees. The problem here is that it is difficult to decide what actually helps and what impedes the creativity of your employees. Stay true to the principle that less is more and to keep it simple and you should be able to strike the right balance.In my experience even for highly creative people like designers, musicians etc. processes are perfect guidelines to navigate parts of the workflow that are not at the center of their interest. To use the wording of the E-Myth, these technicians need the help of processes to handle the mangerial parts of business.

 

So if you feel your company is loaded with bad processes, let’s talk about how they might be improved.

 

Thomas

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