We’ve spoken in several places already (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) about the importance of being process oriented vs. outcome focused. We’ve seen why this is a good practice. Today, we’re going to take it one step further and argue that process orientation is not just a behavior, but a value for sustainable companies.
Behaviors and habits are not enough
Sustainable companies understand that most habits and behaviors change over time, and the ones that do not often have roots that go deeper than the present moment. Behaviors reflect the things we do; habits reflect the behaviors we do day-in, day-out.
Both habits and behaviors, though, tend to change when people experience stress.
Treating process orientation as a behavior, and the behaviors around process orientation as habits, will sustain most companies for a while. This is especially true about procedural matters and items that have significant risk compliance documentation.
But derailment of process orientation occurs outside these day-to-day work due to five challenges.
The Five Challenges
When something happens that generates fear – especially a visceral or existential fear – our brains short-circuit our executive functioning to make things safe again. This built-in, evolution-optimized reaction prevents us from stepping out in traffic or jumping out of aircraft without a parachute; it also causes us to put our hands up when something comes flying at our faces. They give us the quick results we need without thinking to get us back to safety or prevent harm.
The problem is that most business problems that create anxiety also cause us to be reactive and rush to find our previous equilibrium. If our habits get disrupted here, we can often make poor decisions.
When something is complex, it is extremely rare that a quick solution will resolve what is really at stake. In fact, quick answers often intentionally sidestep the real complexity at play. When complexity baffles us, our reactive minds prefer to freeze, act, or flee.
The problem here is that jumping to a quick solution to a complex situation will often cause significant damage to an enterprise.
Difficulty (the Trough).
There are plenty of times in leadership when you experience the Trough. You know, the time between when you have the energy from getting started and before you start to experience the real results you want. That space of time where you ask yourself whether you are doing it right. Those days when your team follows not because they see results but because they trust you, and you feel the weight of that. Those days when you are training up to your next skill or experience, but you aren’t there yet, and you know just enough to know you don’t know much.
In the Trough, it’s easy to look for quick exits. Throw the metrics out, this hurts, we say. We just want out to something that feels better. The quick-results-oriented person bails out; the process-oriented person checks their map.
Trust lubricates relationships and relationships get business done. Quick results often bypass the structures of trust – the actions, behaviors, and relationships that actually get the work done day-in, day-out. We want to get something done fast, so we just announce it, rather than communicate it. We surprise our bosses and our direct reports with a change of direction, and their heads are spinning. We reduce our trustworthiness by our surprising behavior.
If we have hard decisions to make, having good process that allows us to make them quickly while maintaining trust is essential. If we make hard decisions without following the process we all have agreed to, we reduce trust, could sabotage our own decision-making, and run the risk of losing key players along the way.
People want things to be fair – but it is even more important to us that things are just. A process orientation gives space for voices that may have been minimized, marginalized, or even oppressed to speak – if we have the kinds of process that support justice. Results orientation can often cause injustice – living in a world where the ends justify the means. Process orientation can support and reinforce unjust systems, too, though, whether intentionally or through blind spots. But injustice is relational work, and it is not fixed with a new policy, per se. Injustice is atoned for, and set right, through changes in culture and in restoring that which is lost. And those are not resolved overnight. In fact, the first attempts at justice may serve to uncover more injustice before the whole situation can be resolved.
Nevertheless, a process orientation, coupled with other values, will typically lead us to a greater sense of justice.
Conclusion: The Importance of Values over Habits and Behaviors
While behaviors and habits might find these cases very challenging, values hold those challenges for us and allow us to bear them intentionally. In this case process orientation deals with the challenges and provides for a better outcome.
In this case, then, a value is something that orients us in disorientation. It becomes the point from which other things are measured. And a value is something that is always operating in a space where it is tempting to do something else. Values say, when challenged, we will be this kind of people together.
Are you process-oriented? Is it an orienting value or a behavior?