How much is too much process?

Processes are designed to help companies grow, develop best practices, and improve efficiency. If they’re not regularly evaluated, however, they can quickly get out of control.  Too much emphasis on process can stifle innovation and creativity.

In a study of U.S. and European companies, the Boston Consulting Group found that “over the past fifteen years, the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed…has increased by anywhere from 50 percent to 350 percent.” In addition, “managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings.”*

Businesses use processes because it allows them to measure productivity and progress, which, in turn, makes people feel more accountable and efficient. When processes are used correctly, they should simplify and standardize necessary works tasks that allow a business to operate smoothly. They are meant to enable companies to undertake complex work.

The situation becomes unhealthy and dysfunctional when there are so many processes in place that they restrain the people they’re supposed to help.  Processes should empower people, not make their lives more difficult.   If your employees spend considerable time asking for – or seeking – permission before executing a task, if they’re attending unnecessary or redundant meetings, or if their days are filled with answering irrelevant or unimportant emails, you’ve got a problem.   When this happens, the processes have become a bureaucracy – one that is stifling effectiveness and flexibility, as well as sacrificing creativity and innovation.

Here are five indications that processes has become a problem in your workplace:


  1. Lack of clear vision: Great companies crave a big-picture vision and important goals to strive for. Unfortunately, many companies have vision statements that are filled with jargon and buzz words, but devoid of any actual meaning. This creates a lack of real purpose within the organization.


  1. Empowering with permission—but without action: Often we give our employees more responsibility, but our processes insist they obtain an unreasonable number of approvals (or sign-offs) before they can actually get the work done. This is not empowering, but rather, it signals a lack of trust.


  1. Too much dependence on meetings: Productive and collaborative teamwork does not require meetings for every single decision, task, or action. Employees can become ineffective or overwhelmed when they find themselves constantly stuck in meetings. This dependence on meeting indicates that politics have taken precedence over productivity.


  1. Leaders who focus on process instead of people: Too often managers, supervisors, and other leaders look to processes, and not people, when they want to try to solve problems. This approach doesn’t work! Instead of recognizing that a person needs more training to do a certain task, for example, a new software is purchased to try and do the task for them – or make it easier. This signals a lack of humanity.


  1. Management acts as judge: The purpose of at least some meetings should be to encourage creating, thinking, or building. If managers consistently oppose all new ideas from employees – or balk if/when they question the status quo, then this signals a lack of openness or perspective.


Don’t let process become your company’s culture.  Yes, you want to efficiently – and consistently – produce outstanding results, however if your employees have jobs that depend on meeting metrics and maintaining the status quo, they’ll be reluctant to spend their energy towards invention, innovation, and creating something new.