Follow Your Process

One of the techniques I often use when helping a group make a big decision together is to identify how to make the decision before actually making it. Identifying decision-making criteria and processes slows the pace (in a good way!), lowers the temperature, and helps people make their thinking explicit to one another.

But then they need to follow the process they’ve set.

I’ve witnessed several examples over the last few weeks, at provincial, team and individual levels, where time was spent mapping out a rigorous, defensible process, then that process wasn’t followed. Not only does this make the previous conversations largely a waste of time, but it seriously undermines trust.

It’s not clear to me specifically why this happened in each case, but the possibilities tend to fall into two categories:

    1. The process they outlined didn’t match what was actually important to them
    2. The process they designed required more time and discipline than they were prepared to invest

If you discover that your process doesn’t match how you want to make the decision in real life, you can address that issue both in advance and afterwards. Ahead of time, you can leave space explicitly in your rubric for the unexpected. Call it “responsive capacity” or “fudge factor” or whatever you want, but acknowledging that there will be things you can’t predict allows you to follow the process not in spite of but in the midst of the unexpected. (As I write about in Nimble, things going off script is the norm, not the exception). Afterwards, if you were not able to follow the process you laid out in advance, be transparent and explicit about the actual process you followed and why. Doing so will be helpful not only to your stakeholders, but likely to your learning as well.

If the problem is more about time and discipline, the antidote is a combination of simplification and facilitation. Perhaps the process you mapped out initially is too complicated and needs to be pared down. It could also be that you need someone to walk you through it step by step and to guard time on your calendar for doing so.

As a facilitator, I often ask groups to “trust the process.” People can’t do that if the process isn’t followed. And when it’s not, they lose trust in people, not processes.

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