Processes Are People, Too

Michelle Cowan's picture

Processes are more than activities, tasks, steps, and procedures. They involve people. Sure, we've mechanized large portions of many processes, but people are never far from the activities. People drive processes, and yet, so many organizations ignore the human element within processes, trying to change the way work is accomplished on a purely mechanical level. Organizations eventually learn that change will never happen without the involvement of people.

When processes change, people have to change. This is challenging for even the most engaged and motivated employee. To an organization, process improvement means just that: improvement. To employees, process improvement means change. Greater efficiency may mean downsizing. People may not know how to interpret the organization's changes and how they will affect individual workers. If executives or management fail to appreciate the concerns and doubts of employees, the organization will never get the work force on its side. Employee engagement numbers go down.

Lost engagement leads to lost productivity. If employees never have the change to give their opinion, and if their feedback is not taken into consideration, improvement projects will not have all the information leaders need to prioritize and make decisions. Improvement team members might miss simple ways of solving problems or not recognize potential obstacles to the proposed changes.

Talking with employees and getting their feedback is absolutely key. Employees will resent changes they had no hand in shaping. Not every employee will want to be involved, but most will at least want to be asked for their input. Leaders need to make an effort to include employees in improvement plans.

How does this manifest in reality? In the U.S., everyone is concerned about improving healthcare, no one as much as those actually practicing in the healthcare industry. Healthcare administrators and practitioners want to provide the best services possible. They know change is necessary, but that doesn't make change easy. Many organizations in the healthcare industry are implementing improvement tools and process changes in an effort to comply with ever-changing regulations and customer demand. Unfortunately, too many organizations have not consciously rolled out change management efforts alongside these changes, resulting in a cadre of frustrated and stressed employees.

For instance, when Wisconsin-based healthcare system ThedaCare decided to apply lean principles throughout its organization—which consists of five hospitals, 22 physician locations, and 6,100 employees—the work force rejected the changes. Leaders had to re-approach the issue and step up communication and training efforts to succeed.

This APQC article tells the story in more detail, but suffice it to say that leaders quickly realized that improvement plans, no matter how well thought out, are nothing without employee support. The organization implemented new strategies that require employee engagement activities before beginning any improvement project. Its engagement numbers are up, and efficiency is increasing as employees buy in to the new plans, which include their feedback and insights.

Organizations can learn from ThedaCare. Be bold. Be willing to embark on new and difficult improvements. But involve employees from the beginning. Only then will you have the support and firsthand insight you need to design the right improvements.

1 Comment

Anonymous's picture
Interesting title to this post! It caught my eye because I wrote a whole chapter in my book 'The Power of Process' in which a process, personified as 'Mr. Audit,' seeks 'psychiatric' help from a BPM guru. Your slant is a bit different, of course. But your point about the importance of change management is spot on. 'Change' has become almost synonymous with reductions in force. For example, when a company says that everyone must attend the next townhall meeting because major changes will be announced, it strikes fear into most employees. Change implies loss of control when the person affected isn't making the change. A good change management strategy within the context of process improvement would roll out a continual series of improvements while helping move people into more intellectually demanding roles (i.e., away from administrivia which ideally should be automated away). The real criterion of success is that in such a culture change is viewed positively.