Tuesday, April 1, 2008

People or process? Where's the joy?

I've been confronted these past few days with an interesting dilemma: which is more important, process or people?

I admit, we need process to ensure that people are treated fairly and equitably. Yes--those two words have very different meanings. Yet, sometimes it is relationships outside the process and the established organizational bounds which are essential to success--both in business and in our lives. There are formal relationships and informal relationships. Read another way--business partners and friends. Sometimes it gets really sticky when the same person is in both roles. And when one role changes it can get very complex, if you let it.

So where does that leave us as we consider the question of people or process? I believe good managers and leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of the people around them and from whom they seek assistance and advice. For the good of the organization, it is critical to continue to get good advice regardless of the process. Often, we seek advice form the sounding board person who is not so ingrained in the process that they provide, free of organizational fluff, unvarnished assessments of what's what.

There, ideally, is a congruence of process with people. But sometimes because of organizational limitations this does not happen. In this case, we surround ourselves with the best advisers we can and work through the process to move the organization forward--sometimes despite its own inertia.

I think of it as circles of influence and I'm sure I picked it up in a management class sometime in my past. I am part of many circles--social, organizational, familial. Some of the circles are formal, some informal. Sometimes these circles of influence intersect. At the point of intersection I am free to draw across the boundaries (color outside the box?) to use everything I touch or that touches me to make decisions and provide background. To do less than this is not to use everything available to face a problem or to celebrate a success. I consider it a critical part of the process.

So of course, to answer my own question. People not process. Relationships are most important because process can destroy relationships and render enthusiasm and joy meaningless. Why is joy important? Because I believe where we are experiencing joy we are moving forward. That's how you can tell if it's all working. If the people are motivated and full of joy for what they are doing, then we are successful as leaders. We have created the right environment which is open and safe. We probably recognize the circles of influence and are effectively using them to ensure no one feels disconnected. And it is the process which is helping to support the people and not the people which have become pawns of the process.

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