What comes first, the procedure or the behavior?

It’s the chicken-and-egg syndrome of the business world.  Does procedure drive behavior or does behavior drive procedure?

Procedures are good for documenting a repetitive activity:

  1. Pick up that part.
  2. Grab that wrench.
  3. Tighten that nut.
  4. Repeat, as required.

This type of procedure has value – do the activity in the prescribed way and the outcome is a high quality product.  But what if the activity is new? What if judgment and thinking govern the major steps?  What if you don’t know the steps?  What if there is no right answer? What does that procedure look like?

Try to modify an existing procedure to fit an activity your company has not yet done.  Better yet, try to write a new one.  It’s easy to write a procedure after-the-fact.  Just look back at what you did and make a flow chart.  But what about a procedure for an activity that does not exist? For an old activity done in a future new way?  Does the old procedure tell you the new way? Just the opposite. The old procedure tells you cannot do anything differently. (That’s why it’s called a procedure). Do what you did last time, or fail the audit.  Be compliant.  Standardize on the old way, but expect new and better results.

Here is a draft of a procedure for new activities:

  1. Call a meeting with your best people.
  2. Ask them to figure out a new way.
  3. Give them what they ask for.
  4. Get out of the way, as required.

When they succeed, lather on the praise and positivity. It will feel good to everyone. Create a procedure after-the-fact if you wish.  But, no worries, your best people won’t limit themselves by the procedure.  In fact, the best ones won’t even read it.

One Response to “What comes first, the procedure or the behavior?”

  • May I humbly suggest

    5. Encourage and support them to refine and continually develop (inspect & adapt)
    6. Make (non catastrophic) failure a requirement – as only through failure do we truly learn.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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