Which is more important to your organisation: people or process?
This reminds me of that unanswerable question (usually reserved for comical uncles, as I recall): which came first, the chicken or the egg?
As perplexed as I was by this as a youngster, I’ve come to conclude that the egg came first.
At some point a non-chicken (for want of a better term) laid an egg which went on to become a chicken. It’s the egg that becomes the first chicken.
The critical point is that the question becomes answerable when you apply some logic to the problem. If you allow yourself to run between the extremes then you get nowhere.
I also think this other seemingly unanswerable question about people and process can also be resolved using a bit of logic.
So, which is more important: people or process?
The answer often depends on how the question is phrased
Not surprisingly, most would answer that it’s always people (rather than process) which are more important to an organisation.
But, significantly, this answer usually comes because the question is phrased using comparisons which are at opposite ends of the scale. Which is more important to an organisation? Good people with an inadequate process, or inadequate people with a good process?
Inevitably, the conclusion is that the good person is able to work more effectively with an inadequate process.
I think that this sort of analysis really fails to address the question properly — in fact it almost makes it rhetorical.
Of course excellent people will always perform an inadequate process better than good people, and good people will always perform an inadequate process better than poor people.
I believe it’s better to remove some of the extremes from the discussion and contrast the excellent and good people in relation to an adequate process. I define an ‘adequate process’ as one which fully addresses the requirements of the organisation.
If the process is adequate then it becomes clear that there can be no difference in the performance of the excellent people and the good people. Both skill levels can accomplish the tasks in the process to deliver the required outcome.
In this way, an organisation can circumvent the disparity in the skill sets of its employees to continue to deliver its product to the standard required by the process.
Don’t be fooled by the illusion of progress
Implementing an adequate process has largely taken the skill of the employees out of play.
Unfortunately, it’s rare that organisations take the time to develop adequate processes. They prefer to pursue transfers of time debt and implement very fragmented processes which have many exceptions.
So most processes, and for that matter process improvements, are rolled out to organisations as inadequate processes.
And mostly because of what I call the ‘illusion of progress’: the process is implemented but it fails to fully address the requirements of the organisation.
Most of us looking at these processes see the excellent people outperforming the good, and presume that it’s the skill of the person when in fact it’s really a shortcoming of the process.
What does this mean for our organisations?
Put more effort into developing adequate processes, wherever possible. This investment maximises the return from your good employees.
Don’t have your excellent people performing adequate processes. Save your excellent people for complex tasks that are beyond the skill or experience of the good people.
If you can’t develop adequate processes, or don’t want to, then you’ll always need excellent people.
In isolation, this is admirable, but it does put you at a disadvantage in relation to your competitors.
Don’t leave it to chance. Take control of your organisation’s destiny.
Focus on process and reap the real benefits of your business’s capability.