People trump processes

They say culture trumps strategy every time. I believe it. Recent events have made me think there’s a twist on this concept based on the idea that when we put people first and not processes we get a much more productive workforce. If so, do people trump processes?

For decades, companies have improved the productivity of their workforce by automating processes and driving standardisation through the use of IT. The result tends to be a standard set of metrics, a single way of doing things and a uniform outcome. At lots of levels we all like the sort of results we get when this is done well. After all, process is important. We can also accept that if we standardise and automate, our costs should fall. So what’s the issue here? The fact is though, that most people (at least the ones I know!) tend to find a way to make something theirs and in doing so work around the system and defined process. When you do this it feels better.

The average organisation’s response to this is to introduce policy, more change management and additional controls. The spiral continues.

So what about a ‘people first’ approach instead rather than a ‘process first’ approach to system design? (And I mean system as a verb not a noun here!) We should accept and embrace the idea that people want choice, people want things they can talk about as theirs and they want to feel like they’ve had some influence on decisions no matter how small. I’ve never seen someone punching the air with excitement because they’ve followed a process; it’s just not the way we are wired. The issue we have though is that for a long time we’ve introduced IT (a historically structured and binary domain) to make us more productive and there’s no question that this has yielded results. I’d argue though to be competitive this is no longer enough. Computers are getting much better at understanding us now as they are more powerful and can learn and adapt. Perhaps then we need to consider putting more emphasis on how IT can help us liberate and personalise our experience rather than just standardise and automate.

People first, not processes.

Over the next few years there will be an exponential emphasis on the individual, on choice, on personalisation and engaging with our sense of what’s important and unique to each of us. Advances in IT are making this a reality. eCommerce platforms for years have been chipping away at this concept with success. This is just the beginning though. If we can extend this concept far and wide across the enterprise the prize will be a more connected workforce and with levels of productivity we haven’t yet seen. The other benefit will be an individual’s confidence to be more creative and innovative which, in turn, helps develop new markets and greater returns. Like most things in life the challenge will be to get the balance right between controls, process and a people-centric way of operating. It’s time to swing the pendulum.

There you have it then, people trump processes.

Anthony Stevens is the CIO of KPMG. He has just been named, by Computer World Magazine, as one of the top 100 CIOs in the world.

Image: © endomedion / 123RF Stock Photo
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