Why so many cultures mistrust “process”

Austin-based Alvin has had a bad start to his new role as senior VP of Process Release Control at the software company that he  joined recently. Until recently, Alvin’s career has been with companies based in the US and Canada; now Alvin is working with a US based multinational with branches in the UK,  India, China, Russia  and Israel. So it is fair to say that Alvin has some learning to do. 

Alvin thought that challenge he would be facing was to upgrade the level of process compliance by introducing friendlier systems; instead “I am facing an insurrection as well as a silent rebellion against all process; this place is a fuc-ing madhouse.”Oh yes, Alvin put his CV out on the market in a clandestine manner after two months on the job.

With travel budget limited, Alvin cannot get any face to face time; all his interactions take place via Zoom, which he finds exhausting and not much more than perfunctory communication. So Alvin commissioned a white paper (Alvin is not all that aware of diversity-compliance) to give him an idea how to approach the challenges he faces. 

Alvin was expecting that the white paper would provide him with a process to close the gap between current behaviour and the process; instead Alvin was actually confronted with a rude reality-he needed to adapt himself! Alvin turned whiter than the white paper; he was livid with anger as he read the white paper.

The paper suggested that some of the people in his company believe that process is a “trap” that management sets up to ensnare people into unrealistic commitments. Others in the company are convinced that only by working around process and bypassing it can things get done, because the process serves the bureaucracy and not the task. Others believe that a firm relationship between the developers and the client is the only way to deliver on time, because the process is so detached from the ever-changing needs of the client. And worst of all, some of his staff actually believe that one needs to bow down to process and feign compliance, while carrying out the task in sly and evasive manner.

In a recent call with 15 participants , one of the engineering leads said, “Fuck process, Alvin, we need to deliver-the client is a moving target; the clients’ marketing and operations don’t agree about what they have ordered from us. We cannot work from the formal specs”.

After 17 months on the job, Alvin left the company after he found a job in the HQ of a state owned utility in North Dakota.

And the moral of the story? Process can help to get things done in some cultures, not many. Other cultures get things done by beating the system, close relationships and even cheating the system via anti-process client centric entrepreneurship.







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7 thoughts on “Why so many cultures mistrust “process”

  1. It is the word than what activities process constitute. Ask a psychologist who is at an assessment center to decipher what the e-commerce agent on the phone calls process. Culture is a sledgehammer for the meme, connotation or denotation the word implies. Brings us to a culture term though – context. Managers will say ‘it depends’.

  2. And some companies enshrine process like a religion. In such places, any deviation from or around process is seen as an aberration.

    What do organizations need? I suppose the best answer is “It depends” since every situation is different.

    From an OD perspective, however, we need to look at how the people are getting things done. Some places get things done in an orderly, predictable, and repeatable way. Some get things done in a disorderly, haphazard, and indescribable way.

  3. Process is no more the answer than structure is. Process improvement and re-engineering became smoke screens for “efficiency experts” terrorizing and cutting people. On the other hand, while this post is a nice wake up call to those that are naïve to such issues (a vast horde no doubt) demonizing process, structure, hierarchy, or any other organizational phenomenon is an over-simplification imho.

  4. There’s always process, be it formal, informal, or even “finding ways around the process”. I’d say that in this case, the problem is less process than it is rigidity. Mostly on Alvin’s part.

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