Leaders Understand Processes

When was the last time you tried something new, something you’ve never done before? Has it been a while? Or was it recently? And one more question. How did it turn out? Were you pleased with the outcome or disappointed? Regardless of the outcome, if you’ve recently tried something new, good for you! Many people won’t try new things because they’re afraid. Afraid they’ll fail. Afraid they’ll look silly. Afraid others will laugh at their efforts.

Over the years, I’ve tried many new things from scuba diving to grilling to taking on new jobs at work to cutting hair to painting to writing weekly leadership articles for this blog. In some instances, the outcome was positive. In other instances, the outcome was not. I “failed.” But I didn’t let it stop me. I kept on trying. When I first started fly-fishing, it took me several outings over the course of a couple months to catch my first trout. And it was tiny, probably 4-5 inches. Burnt cookies. Skinned knees. Bruised ego. Stitches. Wasted hours. Ridicule. I’ve experienced all of these, and more, during “first attempts.”

For many years after I graduated from college and started working in industry, I was a process improvement engineer of sorts. I was six sigma trained and certified through the American Society for Quality (ASQ) as a Certified Quality Engineer (CQE). I attended a seminar by Dr. Deming (where he autographed my book) and spent many hours each day discussing, applying, and learning about statistical processes control (SPC), design of experiments (DOE), and other advanced statistical tools. I was a process “geek” of sorts. My job enabled me to travel the world and I worked on hundreds of improvement projects in Asia, North America, Europe, Africa, and Latin America focused on improving manufacturing, sales, R&D, marketing, finance, human resources, supply chain, and engineering. It was a great time of learning, self-discovery, and hard work. I learned a lot, made many friends, and positively impacted the bottom-line of some great organizations.

And somewhere along the line I began to understand that I didn’t have to burn cookies or throw away poorly-tied trout flies. I began to understand that learning something new doesn’t have to be so difficult. Yes, there would still be the occasional failure, but I could certainly increase my odds of success. How? By understanding processes. Great leaders understand processes. They understand that actions should follow a process if the desired outcome is excellence. Want to minimize variation? Follow a process. Want to minimize failures? Follow a process.

For example, I’ve never baked bread before in my life. Ever. And I’ve only recently started grilling and doing a few things in the kitchen (like the stuffed peppers I highlighted in a LeadStrategic article last week). But I was craving homemade bread (with gluten of course!). So I mentally outlined a process in my head. It was simple. Find a good, reliable, and easy bread recipe. And then follow it. It’s that straightforward.

The picture above shows the outcome, my product. It turned out great. Crust was nice. Taste was delicious. And it was simple because I followed a process. I measured out the salt and yeast. I used the right type of flour. I turned on the oven to the recommended temperature. And so on. Baking bread for the first time or the 100th time is a process. You can deviate from the processes, but do so at your own risk.

Now once you’ve mastered the process, you can, perhaps, “wing it” a bit. Adlib. Be creative and all that. But initially, follow the process exactly. If you want to adjust the amount of salt, do so. But note how much you added and the outcome. Feel you need to adjust your oven temperature up or down a bit? Do so. But note the adjustment and the outcome. You get the idea. Don’t make each loaf a new experience. Build on your experience with each loaf.

Great leaders understand processes. Want to develop people? Follow a process. Want to successfully close your books at the end of the fiscal year? Follow a process. Want to bake a great loaf of bread? Follow a process. Want to develop a great course? Or a great product? Or a great app? Follow a process.

Are you a process “geek?” Do you follow processes? Are you a great leader who follows processes? What has been your experience when you’ve followed a process versus making it up as you go along?

Have a great week and remember to build on your success and learn from your mistakes.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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