Breaking Bad Processes

By Emily Shea, VP/Partner & Executive Creative Director

April 15, 2014

At Stephan & Brady, everyone is required to participate in one of our internal committees. We have committees dedicated to external communications, internal processes, internal standards, and our work environment, just to name a few.

The primary goal of these committees, and the required membership, is to empower employees to engage in the bigger picture. We aren’t just here to punch time cards and get paychecks (ok, we don’t have time cards). Each of us is personally responsible for making this agency run smoothly and efficiently, and for making it a great place to work.

To accomplish that, we work in constant pursuit of improvement. We don’t expect things to be awesome forever just because they’re awesome now. We know that success is a moving target, and we need to be moving right along with it. We don’t ever want to be caught trying to explain why we do something, only to be unable to come up with an explanation other than, “because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Today, we’re going to discuss six ways you can keep your processes running optimally around the office. These tips are designed to help you recognize old processes that are starting to sour, identify new ideas and prevent bad habits from creeping back in after you’ve implemented a process improvement.


Identify the true roadblocks

What’s really preventing you from pursuing the process change you know your business needs?

–Are you lacking buy-in from someone who might come on board if she understood your vision better?

–Are you afraid to ask for the money, even though you’re confident in your idea’s ROI?

–Are you too busy to push the change yourself and too protective of your idea to allow an employee with a lighter load to take over?

–Are you harboring a big idea but lacking the motivation to hammer out the logistical details?

Identifying the specific factors that are keeping you from moving forward can help put the situation in perspective, and it might be just the boost you need.


Lean on new employees

When you’ve been at a company for a long time, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to suboptimal processes, or to forget that there are even other ways to do things. Sometimes, with routine comes indifference.

Take advantage of newer employees’ fresh take on your company by seeking their opinions on how things are running.


Do some spring process cleaning

If you don’t have ongoing committees with designated business improvement goals, try setting aside one month of the year to reevaluate how your business is running.

One way you might tackle this evaluation is with one or more group brainstorming sessions (maybe one per department). As a group, jot down a list of all of the processes employees follow on a regular basis. These can be high-level processes or more menial tasks, as long as they’re done regularly and in somewhat predictable ways. Examples might include RFP responses, deliveries to clients, issue triaging, time logging, internal communication methods and meetings.

Once you have your list of processes, work with the team to place them into one of four categories:

  1. Working well
  2. Not terrible, but not great
  3. Clunky or inefficient
  4. Feels outdated

It’s important to include a few different flavors of “not working” so the meeting doesn’t stall out on black and white decision-making. (Be prepared for employees to want more specific guidelines about how you’d like them to determine what goes where.)

Alternatively, after listing out the processes, you can have the group rate how well they’re working on a scale of 1-10.

When you have your categories or rankings, you can divide up the group to start delving into what aspects of the “not working” processes need attention.

Of course, this is just one example of how you might evaluate your processes. The most important point is to remember that nothing is off the table—even the most fundamental process could have room for improvement. Also keep in mind that a process that’s working perfectly for one employee might be seen as a huge, unnecessary time suck by another.


Ask dumb questions

Why are we doing this again? Have we ever considered that? Is there a reason we’re using this tool instead of another one?

You might feel silly asking these questions, but if you can’t answer them yourself, chances are others can’t either.

Remember that something that was critical for bolstering your company 20 years ago could just be holding you back now. Alternatively, something that was a poor fit once upon a time might be just what you need today.


Appoint a devil’s advocate

It can be difficult or unrewarding for employees to speak out against bad processes, but you can encourage some healthy pushback by designating devil’s advocates in certain meetings. Ask one or two people to push for change or defend the underdog viewpoint at every turn.

Of course, you have to remember to keep an open mind and to actually consider the advocate’s perspective, rather than thinking of him as playing a part. Can you respond to all of his concerns?


Remotivate and publicize

Maybe you have good processes, in theory, but people don’t know about them or aren’t following them. New employees are not being taught them and seasoned employees are still resisting them.

Find a way to bring process reviews into the conversation on a regular basis. When you do:

Outline the specific reasons you’re using those processes. Explain the other options you’ve considered and why you chose not to pursue them.

Find benefits for using the processes that connect with individuals. How will learning how to do things “right” pay off in the end, given each person’s unique job role?

Highlight that this process has been identified as the best for the team. There might be quirks that impact some individuals more than others, but keep the attention focused on the net result.

Encourage feedback. Make it clear that you’re always open to new ideas, and that the current processes are only the best ones you’ve found for the moment.

Just like anything in business, good processes need care and feeding to stay effective. Anyone can be the pioneer of change—why not you?


What do you do to keep business processes running optimally?


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