Process, schmocess

May I share an abiding frustration of mine with you? Thank you so much.

The question “What is your process?” is becoming the bane of my life. Yet the received wisdom is that all consultants must have one or perhaps five, processes preferably ones that are unique. It is said that clients don’t feel safe without a process, and consultants believe without a process they have nothing to sell.

Of course it’s useful to work out with a client what it is you’re going to do for them and what the benefits might be. But I’m really weary of what I think is a fixation with technique.

When I did my psychotherapy training, time and again the excellent trainers would refuse, in their phrase, to give out recipe cards – to try to suggest that a human relationship can be operated like a machine, according to some simple (or worse, complicated, formula). What they emphasised was the value of being present to the relationship, paying attention to the client and to one’s own feelings and responses. Often the most powerful intervention would be simply to acknowledge what was there… The simple statement, “I see your eyes are tearful”, might unleash a tide of feeling and information that the clumsy implementation of a process would have missed. As I’m fond of pointing out, that comment might sometimes be “I notice that my attention is wandering and I’m feeling distracted.” Which also might generate a powerful exchange.

As I’ve said on my facilitation page, John Grinder (ironically, a co-founder of NLP which has more than its fair share of technique junkies) said that three things are needed for one person to help another to change: a relationship, a ritual and an intention. To quote myself:

There seems to be a bias in business towards focussing on the ritual. People ask, what’s your technique? For every successful business, there are hundreds of books claiming to explain how it was done.

Grinder’s insight was to put the ritual part in its place, and give weight to the relationship and the intention. Business is not short of techniques, but it is lacking in trusting relationships where there is goodwill and positive intent.

I notice one or two blogs where the entries seem, almost daily, to consist of lists.. the seven key things to get right in CSR/CRM/etc; the eight fatal mistakes of branding blah blah blah. I’ve knocked out a few lists of my own but I’m getting really tired of them. I notice that my heart sinks at these leaden efforts to categorise and I think they’re often part of a mindset that is fearful of change and gets a fleeting sense of control by putting human processes into boxes.

I recently got someone to tell me what “heuristics” are. They are, as I undersand it, rules of thumb. Don’t know why we can’t just call them rules of thumb, but that seems like a better way to go. Improv works brilliantly on a few simple principles – and a willingness to break even those when the spirit arises. To the extent I follow Dave Snowden – and let’s face it, not many of us are that confident – what I like about his approach is that it involves paying attention to what is there, and cautions against the pitfalls of categorisation. Rules of thumb allow for fuzziness which is where the learning usually lies.

The second thing I dislike about consultants’ processes is the way they trademark them and mutter about their “intellectual property”. Nearly always, I find that what has been trademarked is a fairly dull and not very insightful process in the first place – or a good one lifted from somwhere else. And as soon as you get into trademarking processes – at least those for dealing with human beings – you get into a mindset of protection and control – the antithesis of what’s needed for a learning organisation.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope, but I’d like clients to hire me not for the clever things I might know but for my personality, enthusiasm and presence.

5 thoughts on “Process, schmocess

  1. Olaf Brugman

    Well said, John! Trademarking, hedging, protecting knowledge, intellectual properties. It seems we are mirroring some patterns we see in some religions or in some political systems, where the right is denied to have your own genuine, free thoughts (sometimes backed by penal law, even). The trademarking, hedging etc is similar, with at least one difference: they are practices to prevent people from thinking or expressing what other free minds are thinking. I prefer knowledge flows, thoughts, and the flow of thoughts to be free. And the domain of an individual that should be approached with utmost integrity.

  2. olaf

    Ow, I forgot to add: banking is a highly processified environment. And I’m a process consultant too..:))…

    But I agree with many of your views on the process fixation 🙂

  3. Headshift

    Why produce status reports when you can use internal weblogs?

    Can social software provide an alternative to boring status reports?


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