Steven's Blog

More Thinking Driven Processes, Less Process-Driven Thinking

Too many companies in Japan are dominated by processes-driven thinking when what is really needed is thinking-driven processes. Process-driven thinking is all about adherence—following a process meticulously and consistently—something that the Japanese are particularly good at. Thinking-driven processes, on the other hand, are all about contingence—what you do is contingent upon the situation, and will naturally vary.

Companies have myriad managers obsessed with doing things right, while CEOs wish that far more of them would be more concerned with doing the right things. The latter is harder as there is no work more physically demanding than thinking. And there is risk. In process-driven thinking individual success or failure is based on adherence to form regardless of the outcome. In a thinking-driven process, success or failure is based on outcome—form is flexible.

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No matter the extent or degree, I have never encountered company whose leader didn’t want or expect more thinking-driven process in his or her business.

When I want to understand and define the culture of a company, I identify behaviors that are rewarded, those that are punished, and those that are met with indifference. Sometimes these are explicit and formalized, other times they are implicit and simply understood, and yet other times they are learned from personal experience or witnessing the experience of others.

What promotes thinking-driven process in your business? What discourages it? When is it dealt with indifference? Change these, and you can change the way people think and work.

2 thoughts on “More Thinking Driven Processes, Less Process-Driven Thinking

    • Great question, Shaz! Thanks for asking.

      The first thing I advise CEOs is to look for as many ways possible to allow workers to directly impact business outcomes. For example, Ritz-Carlton Hotels famously gives all staff a budget for resolving any customer complaint independently on the spot. The outcome is in the hands of the individual, who decides actions contingent upon the situation—a thinking-driven process. Then reward people for acting.

      I don’t necessarily advise punishing process-driven thinking, as it also has its place—for example in a legally mandated safety inspection protocol. Yet you can can introduce thinking-driven process even to these. For example, the last item on a safety inspection checklist might be, “Is this good enough for your family if they had to use it every day?” That question requires real thought.

      Thinking-driven processes tend to be the purview of managers as opposed to line staff. However, the further down in an organization you can push thinking-driven processes, the more dynamic, market responsive and capable of change an organization becomes.

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