This weekend my good friend David Whitney, who is the Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Florida’s College of Engineering, sent me the following question about a company that he and I serve on the advisory board for:
“How do we create an organizational culture that accommodates work systems/processes, yet reinforces (and advances) a highly innovative spirit?”
Here is how I answered him:
It seems as though a company that embraces process and systems would have a hard time being innovative – on the surface it appears to be a dichotomy. However, the two can and MUST coexist… elegantly.
To me, the key is understanding that there is no “repeatable” success – no ability to consistently deliver superior quality products and services – without processes, procedures and systems. However, the goal must be to ONLY put processes and systems in place where they add real value – and ONLY in areas that are truly critical to the success of the business and leverage the power of a process. The precarious balance then comes in being able to create and basically demand that people follow those processes – while also demanding they be innovative and creative in constantly improving the process and bringing their own personality the process.
Perhaps the best example of this is Starbucks – they have very clear, specific, detailed processes for making and serving their coffee at every single location worldwide (which is now roughly 3.4 zillion) – with a highly regarded procedures handbook that all of the baristas know by heart and understand is essential for achieving consistent quality. Yet, the Starbucks management team also strongly encourages employees to inject the process with their individual personality, great ideas, energy, and innovation.
Another added element to this is that when there is a specific process or procedure… innovations and changes must be carefully vetted before they are implemented. So it isn’t a willy-nilly, any time I have a good idea I just go in and change the process – it is – I follow the process to the letter… until I feel like I have a truly valuable innovation… then I bring that innovation to my management team and we beta-test it – if it works – the process is changed for everyone. So this is where you see the rigorous (but not ruthless) adherence to process – while eagerly embracing continuous ideation, creation and innovation around the processes – testing out of these new innovations in safe places – and then changing processes when it actually adds real value to the delivery of the products and/or services and makes them superb – as defined by the customer.
Let me know if this makes sense David — or if you have any other questions. I admit that it is absolutely a tightrope walk, no question about it, but it is a tightrope walk that must be taken every day. My big takeaways from this idea are:
- Process is essential in the ability to deliver consistently superior quality and customer service – as defined by the customer.
- Innovation is essential to growing and improving every business and every part of a business.
- Rigorous process + continuous innovation are not a dichotomy – they are a synergy!
Oh crap, I have to finish the memo now — I just used that horrible consulting type word… synergy… this is terrible, I’m going to have to go directly to the bar and start drinking!
*** By the way, I should point out that I answered David’s question from my hotel room – my wife and I went to the beach for the weekend to get some sun and so that I could attend a “Beach Beer Festival” that was raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association – so I did go immediately downstairs and grab a beer!