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In an effective environment where good systems and processes are the foundation for the operational infrastructure of the organization, there should be the freedom for individuality to thrive.  It is a known fact that establishing discipline and setting boundaries improves our ability to perform, so why wouldn’t that be the case in the workplace.  

We fail our employees as leaders when we don’t provide the proper guidance and insight on the importance of consistent systems and processes.  We also fail the organization as the leader when we believe that we need to not follow the systems or the processes in place to be unique in our leadership role.  But through those consistent systems and processes, we don’t want to stifle the employee’s ability to be an individual where they are unable to have a sense of freedom to be themselves.  

Many people get concerned if they are required to follow the systems and the processes without putting their mark on them that they will be restricted from being the individual that they believe that makes them thrive and excel in their role.  What they fail to realize is that if the organization has good systems and processes the likelihood for sustainability and consistent performance outcomes are higher and therefore provide a better platform for their individuality to be successful.  

Even if the systems and the processes are not the best, you need to first understand the current ones in place before you are positioned to make recommendations to improve them.  Following the current systems and processes in place apply to not only the employee but also to the leader.  It is very important to note here, that some system and process is better than no type of system and process and it is an absolute “NO” to believe that you as the leader should just go off and do your own thing if you are not in agreement with the systems and processes currently in place.  

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make and recommend changes, but that there is a protocol that needs to happen before you take that action.  There is a great quote that I came across years ago “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”  You can not expect anyone to see your perspective on changes to systems and processes unless you first have a strong understanding of the current ones to present your case as to the changes that you feel would improve the process.  A good rule is to never recommend a change unless you bring a solution to the table for the change at the same time.  This is a great process to pass on to your employees too.    

People make the big mistake of bucking the system to put their mark on things thinking that they are creating a sense of uniqueness and job security when in fact they are creating a setting where leadership and management struggle to maintain the continued growth because people are creating their silos of systems and processes prohibiting individuality, growth, and collaboration.  

So, why is it so important to manage the silos?  

This is not uncommon in many situations, and it is primarily due to a lack of understanding of the leadership role to manage this mindset.  It is the responsibility of the leader to promote and educate their employees whereby they encourage them to be individuals and show up each day.  The leader needs to create an environment where the employee has a unique ability to contribute while staying within the systems and processes establishing a healthy accountable means for exceptional operational outcomes.   

So how does a leader establish a style in their leadership approach where the employees see that they are given the freedom to be unique and different while respecting and following the systems and processes that are proven platforms for the organization?  

The first thing for the leader to do is first to show the employee’s that they currently buy into the current systems and processes, but that with a collaborative effort that there is still the opportunity to improve them in time once everyone has established a consistent implementation of the systems and processes at hand.  

Here are some tips that will help you communicate and implement this concept where you instill a culture of employees desiring to follow the systems and processes while being the individual that they desire to be:

Tip #1 – Don’t just say to your employees – “These are the systems and the processes that we use so you will need to ensure that you use them and make sure that you follow the specific directions that we have outlined for you to carry out the process.”  

WHY?   If there is no explanation and understanding of the why’s behind the systems and the processes they won’t have a reason to buy into them.  Employees need a reason to embrace and engage.  When employees feel that their thoughts and opinions don’t matter in important areas like systems and processes they will not engage and cooperate on the other things either.    

WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY? – The best approach for buy-in by employees on systems and processes is to take the time to share with them why you are currently using the systems and the processes with a summary explanation of how you got to where you are with those systems and processes.  You see “Knowledge is Power,” and when people are informed about the “Why’s” of things they are more likely to be less critical and more understanding as to why they need to follow a certain system or process.  

On far too many occasions, employees are just directed to follow systems and processes without any idea as to why and more frequently than not, employees appreciate the understanding of the whys.  Even when they are not in full agreement with the reasoning behind the systems or the processes they at least have been given the opportunity to understand the whys behind them; so, therefore, they are more likely to engage in a collaborative approach to contributing in the future when ideas are welcomed, etc.  This begins the process of having them feel like an individual in the midst of pre-defined systems and processes.  

Tip #2 – Let the employee know that you would appreciate that they follow the systems and the processes that are currently in place (once you follow Tip #1)  and then as a group we will get together at the staff meeting on (name the meeting date) and discuss any constructive feedback on the systems and how effectively they are working for everyone.  This gives the employee a sense that their input and thoughts are appreciated and that they will matter, but respectfully realizing that they are expected to use the current systems and processes while they determine if they are effective or not.  They also gain the respect for the leader that they are looking for feedback from them and that there is a specific time shortly for the expression of their thoughts.

This all ties into my article on Effective Feedback that position the leader to give and receive effective feedback from their employees.  If you have not had the opportunity to read my other articles, I recommend checking them out here.  

Where does individuality fit in the systems and the processes?  

Once an employee understands the systems and the processes as outlined above in Tip #1 and Tip #2, the employee will feel that they are not ordered to follow a specific system or process but invited to do so, and they will be more open-minded about their contribution to them.   

This is how this works – Freedom to be who we are comes from the comfort level knowing that what we have to contribute is important and matters.  Once there is clarity on the systems and the processes that you expect your employees to follow, you provide the freedom for them to go about performing within the boundaries of those systems and processes.  This gives the employee the ability to perform with creativity while delivering on efficiency and effectiveness in their performance because they have clarity on the resources they are to use to deliver their performance.  Most of us are held hostage to the ability to perform because we don’t have a clear understanding of what the systems and the processes are within our organization and in particular, we were never told why they are using them.  

You see the “Why” really matters to us.  If you happen to have children, we all remember the “Why” stage that comes around the age of 3 where every other question that came out of our kids mouths was “Why does it happen that way, why do I have to do that, etc.  this is not a new concept, we just don’t  seem to think that people deserve to know why, and that they should just do it, but in reality if we take the time to explain the “Why” we help them learn the reasoning behind the importance of the systems and the processes.  This is not different than a 3-year-old child gaining knowledge through the “Why” stage because that is exactly what happens to them if we as the parent take the time to explain and teach them the whys of life.    

Systems and processes are just the vehicles to deliver the performance, not the behavior that goes on behind the scene which is where the real sense of individuality is carried out and where real performance excels.  It is critical that an organization have everyone following the systems and the processes if they want to grow and maintain standardization within the organization.  Unless you take the time to explain the systems and the processes to your employees you will not get them to use the systems and the processes consistently, which will ultimately impact performance and the ability to deliver sustainable outcomes.  

In our next article, we will talk about why it is important to establish consistent systems and processes when it is time to troubleshoot issues from when your outcomes are underperforming, not if!.  To resolve this underperformance, you will reduce your problems solving time frame by at least fifty percent if you ensure that you have a team of employees respecting and following the current systems and processes even if they need to be improved.