On a recent flight, I had the opportunity to sit next to someone who does very similar work to myself, only within a different sector. It’s almost natural that when two software conversion/implementation specialists get together, we begin talking shop. Though our industries are totally different, we were naturally able to find a lot of common ground and common experiences.
One common experience we discovered was that we had both been through times where our efforts towards process improvements were met with hostility. Both of us had observed issues with an existing process within our companies, and both of us had tried to fill the gap between the ideal and the reality of the situation. And unfortunately, both of us had also experienced blow back as a reward for our efforts, despite similar protestations that the gap between the ideal and reality within the processes we were working with were a danger to the reputation of our respective companies.
Process improvement is a very common professed goal within all companies. Larger and or more progressive companies have entire departments dedicated to process improvement, staffed with experts whose only goal is to to make the company and its operations more efficient and better. In smaller companies, process improvement is generally either implicitly or explicitly within the purview of all staff members, who are expected to make suggestions that can help the company streamline operations and make their jobs easier.
And yet, process improvement is often greeted with hostility, particularly by the staff working within the process you are attempting to improve. Identifying issues with those processes can often be taken as criticism by those who may not have recognized those issues. It presents a minefield of issues, for the people who are identifying the needed change and for those who are the recipients of that information. Those broaching the issue need to be careful that they are communicating the issues in a positive light, not in a way that casts blame or would otherwise raise unnecessary hostility. Those on the receiving end of the information need to remember not to take the observed flaws as a personal or professional attack against themselves or their departments. Both of these sides need to work together to ensure that progress is made.
As frustrating and disheartening as it can be for those of us who observe the need for process improvement, we both came to the conclusion that those of us in this role need to continue to play it. Often it means playing the long game, and not seeing the results for months or maybe even years depending on how intricate the process is and how it is greeted. This is when you need to unleash your inner Tyrion Lannister, combining patience with skill to see progress made in the medium or long term if it cannot be made in the short term.
And as Tyrion will tell you, on the days when frustration boils over…wine helps.