How Much Workplace Process Is Too Much?

A certain amount of process is a good thing. Everyone in a work group should know where to find shared resources, how each of those resources should be used, exactly when each project should be completed, and the condition those projects should be in at completion. 

But what about tracking each minute step prior to completion? How much information about the steps prior to completion is necessary? As I’ve written in the past, the desire of some to show the intricacies of their preliminary work reminds me of the child who gets the wrong answer on a math test, but wants to at least get partial credit because he showed his work in getting to his faulty calculation. If most of that work is correct—except for just one or two numbers—should he still get some credit, even if the final answer is wrong? It’s easy to sympathize with the child who understands how to solve the math problem, and just happened to get a couple small calculations wrong. It’s harder to sympathize with the employee who understood how to get the project done well and on time, but was disorganized or lazy about doing the necessary work. 

Sometimes that disorganization and laziness is couched in elaborate process. I work with a manager who likes to present charts of work he never finishes, or finishes months late, in which he carefully tracks each tiny step in his process, including when he first makes contact with a company he is working with and each time he sends a draft of work for that company’s approval. When I see a chart like this for a project he is woefully behind on, I keep thinking to myself, “Who cares what you did? What does it matter if you never finish the project, or you finish it so late you make all of us look bad?”

A new book by Gallup, “It’s the Manager,” notes the key behavioral styles of great managers. Shannon Mullen O’Keefe and Adam Hickman, Ph.D., on the Gallup Website, note the behaviors, which the book advises looking at, to determine manager potential: motivation, workstyle, initiation, collaboration, and thought process. “Motivation” and “Initiation” focus on how the manager inspires others to action, while “Workstyle,” “Collaboration,” and “Thought Process” reveal how the manager (hopefully) gets projects done.

When determining which employees to move into leadership development programs, it would be helpful for companies to use these behavioral tendencies as deciding points. The danger is ending up with the all-too-common manager personality type: a person who is a good, confident public speaker and cocktail party navigator, but who lacks the ability to deliver completed projects. Staffs are generally much smaller than they used to be. Most companies don’t have the luxury of an amiable department or work group head who is charming and good at making a case of why others should do work, but is not able to complete work himself. 

Establishing a complex process, and savoring that process with charts and graphs to document minutia, can be a sign of overcompensation. Do you have employees and managers at your company whose results are lackluster, though they never fail to show decision-makers evidence of a conscientious process for every incomplete project? If the managers or employees are charming and well-liked, it’s hard to let them go, or move them into a lesser position—especially if they show you what appears to be evidence of hard work. 

Yet, isn’t it imperative that they be moved out of a manager role, and into a role that better suits their immense charm—and lack of productivity? 

How do you encourage enough process for work groups to stay organized and unified, but not so much that the process becomes the preoccupation rather than the ultimate goal of completing the project?

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