Define Success Before People and Processes

People + Processes = Success.

You’ve probably heard that, or some version thereof, before. This equation is nice, neat, and serves as a deceptively simple method to describe how we should manage our work. Put the right people in place, help them with solid processes, and POOF! Success! But, and I’m sure you know where this is going. It just isn’t that easy.

More often, putting people in the right spot is an incredibly complex task, and even when we get THAT right, processes leave much to be desired.

The Work Gets Done but at a Price 

The result? It’s still success! Yes, even when we don’t get the equation perfectly right, the organization still succeeds. But what tends to get overlooked, is the hard work that must be undertaken to overcome the challenges faced on the road to success.

We almost always overcome a lack of an effective process or a lack of skill (right people in the right place) with incredibly hard work. We make up for a slow system by working late, or deploying more and more resources to address it. We push past teammates who aren’t pulling their weight so that our work stays on track, but in doing so we end up taking on their work. As deadlines loom and pressure mounts, the margin of error gets even thinner, and we continue the cycle until the job gets done.

In an organization that is not attuned to nature of this challenge, it’s easy to move forward without considering the expense of objectives met at all costs.

Organizations that are focused only on a binary definition of success overlook the opportunity cost of operating this way. They may not take the time to see the effect this has on morale, or on other initiatives, but they do suffer from it. They may “not have time for that right now,” but they will be forced to MAKE time when other related issues arise.

How Can we Help Our Organizations Get Better?

Focus on the “success” portion of the equation. First, find out what worked and what didn’t. Organizations have a tendency to leave people out of the “lessons learned” process, focusing mostly on key players and strategies. They are missing the opportunity to learn from the people they should be listening to most.

Ensure that everyone involved in an initiative or project has the opportunity to contribute making things better the next time around.

This will reveal organizational “blind spots”, and make it easier to avoid efforts that accept “success at any cost.” Alternatively, it gives people the opportunity to define success in a way that meets objectives AND meets your people’s needs.

Success then might mean that objectives are met AND…

 – No one is forced to work long hours and weekends

 – No one is left alone to finish the job

 – Everyone is supported, and everyone is accountable

 – Everyone works hard but smart

 – The organization doesn’t sacrifice other initiatives in the process

 – The organization learns from its efforts, getting better and better

You get the idea.

People will always be imperfect; that’s what makes us perfectly human, and processes will always be at odds with the incredibly complex people forced to operate them. Success, however, can be well defined to suit you and your organization.

What do you think? How would YOU define success?

The Work Gets Done but at a Price.

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Carlos Escobar

Carlos Escobar is a Human Resources (HR) and organizational development leader, change manager, project manager, analyst, writer, and entrepreneur. He works with people and organizations that want to improve productivity and outcomes by focusing on service, innovation, and execution.


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