Processes are supposed to help companies standardize tasks, work efficiently and become more productive - but for most organizations, they are simply not working.

A recent study by The Boston Consulting Group found that "for the last 10 to 15 years, organizational complicatedness has risen by anywhere from 50 percent to 350 percent." What's more, in the 20% of organizations that have the most complicated processes, managers spend 40% of their time writing reports and up to 60% of it in coordination meetings. No wonder employees in these groups are three times more likely to feel rudderless, disenfranchised and disengaged.

Processes are problematic for two reasons. When there are so many processes in place that they end up hampering the efforts of staff, you've got a problem. If your employees spend most of their day filling in reports and attending unnecessary meetings, when will they find the time to innovate?

Aside from volume, there's the problem of anatomy. In her book "Work Simply," Carson Tate argues that we each fit into one of four productivity styles. Yet conservative processes and quality management systems adhere strictly to one organizational plan. Put simply, they are out of sync with 75% of the workforce and don't allow workers to work the way that serves them best.

Let's take a closer look.

How Business Processes are Killing Production

Time is a finite resource to be valued and spent wisely. But rather than optimizing an employee's use of time, processes can kill production by:

  • Putting up roadblocks - it is not empowering if an employee is given more responsibility, yet must jump through an unreasonable number of hoops, red tape and sign-offs to get anything done. This indicates a lack of trust and is demotivating.
  • Emphasizing policy over people - standardized processes take away the personal relationship an employee has with their work. How can workers flex their creative muscle when they are being choked by the system?
  • Endless meetings - pointless meetings lead to overload and don't respect the productivity styles of people who work better on their own.
  • Lack of perspective - processes are particularly poor when they creep from one division in an organization into another. For example, a heavily data-driven cost-slashing KPI program such as Six Sigma works well in the manufacturing industry for which it was created. But transpose the same program to creative marketing departments or brainstorming teams and the process gets in the way of invention.
  • Lack of flexibility - rigid processes put people in a box. The most conventional processes and performance indicators favor sequential thinkers; people who have a knack for orderliness, routine and keeping their email under control. Unfortunately, those people make up only 25-50% of the workforce. Everyone else is a square peg in a round hole.

Discovering Your Employees' Personal Productivity Style

Carson Tate identifies four unique productivity styles, which explains why there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to productivity:

  • Prioritizer, a linear and analytical fact-based thinker. Prioritizers value goals, decisiveness and achievement. The voice of corporate America, they work well within most conventional business processes
  • Planner, a sequential and detail-oriented thinker for whom most business processes were designed. Planners are the employees most likely to use schedules, organizers and to do lists in their quest for productivity
  • Arranger, an intuitive, collaborative and people-oriented worker. The ultimate team player, an Arranger's thought processes rarely align with data-driven processes
  • Visualizer, a disruptive risk-taker, a brainstormer. Variety is key for Visualizers as they can't do the same task for long. This thinking style is not supported by conventional KPIs and processes.

Managers can usually identify their employees' style by looking at the way they work and communicate. For example, an Arranger will discuss a problem by gathering background information from a variety of people, whereas a Prioritizer just wants the facts.

The next step is to offer the tools and processes that align with the way each worker thinks.

Get Out of your Own Way!

While it may not be possible to adapt company-wide processes so they are relevant to each individual user, it is possible to customize your business tools in a way that feels right to the people that use them. For example, a highly visual person such as a Visualizer or an Arranger could receive an array of color-coded messages to draw their attention to tasks they need to complete. A Prioritizer would receive the same information in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.

Communication, whether face-to-face or through technology, can also be customized. If you are communicating with a Prioritizer, your message will be clearer if you focus on the "what." What's the objective, what's the goal, what's the data?

If you're communicating with a Planner, the message becomes "How?" How has this been done in the past? How are we going to get from point A to point B?

For an Arranger, "Who?" matters the most. Who is impacted by this project? Who needs to be involved? For the Visualizer, the crucial question is "Why?" Why are we pursuing this project? Why are we doing this X way instead of Y or Z way?

Phrasing your communication in a style that does not come naturally to you may feel abrupt, woolly, or limiting. But it's the best way to stop wasting time, connect with your co-workers and actually get stuff done.

More Work, Less Stress

As employees gain more clarity around their own and others' productivity styles, they will learn to mould business processes in a way that really embraces their strengths. Whether that is adapting the user interface of a technology platform, redesigning the way that email is sent or reducing the team's reliance on meetings, employees are able to move away from ill-suited processes and channel all their energy into making a real impact at work.

Molly Owens
Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly. Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.