Near the end of the courses we teach in organizations we encourage the attendees to find and complete a small performance improvement project. Generally, people are pretty happy to have an opportunity to improve some aspect of their work environment and take this assignment on with enthusiasm. We have seen some absolutely wonderful, high impact projects come from this. The course attendees feel reinforced by their success as well as the encouragement they receive from their peers and bosses. In other words, we have at least temporarily created a work environment where people want to do projects that add value to the workplace.
Yet, it never fails that senior leaders, hoping to maintain this momentum, decide that the best course of action is to create a standard procedure for doing projects. Because nothing says, “let’s give this all we can!” like an 8-page procedure.
To illustrate why this won’t work, let me provide an example from one of our client sites. A woman who recently took my course decided her project would be reducing unnecessary and redundant paperwork and was going through each set of paperwork on the site and creating a leaner, and more useful solution. She had eliminated a lot of stuff already, saving them time and money, and she was everyone’s hero for doing so. After all, no one wants to enter in the same expense three times. One of the site leaders said that they had never seen her so motivated. I would hate to see that spark of enthusiasm squashed by trying to make her fit what she was doing to step-by-step a procedure.
Procedures don’t motivate people, consequences do.
They didn’t need a procedure, they needed champions who would continue to encourage and support their efforts. They needed a little time each week to work on making improvements. They needed to create a community of people at their workplace who were highly committed to behavioral science and continued to talk and learn about it after I left.
A lot of times, people say, “that sounds too hard, wouldn’t a procedure be easier”. It is hard to sustain BMT or any large-scale initiative, but it’s the only way to create a lasting shift in the culture of your organization. Writing a procedure is easier, and it is also easy to file it away and never look at it again.
It’s what your people do and say everyday that matters, no matter what is written in your procedures.