One surprising thing about management is that it is possible to execute well, achieve good results, yet still have a dissatisfied team. In 2012 the ads team at Facebook began a major shift to focus on mobile. A year later we had made amazing progress on almost every metric. But you wouldn’t know it by asking the team. They reported feeling confused about their work and disconnected from leadership. We spent a lot of time that year talking through the mechanisms by which we were making progress and the morale of the team skyrocketed. It isn’t enough to do everything right. Confidence stems more from trusting the process than from getting good results.
Process is sometimes treated as just a four-letter word. It conjures up images of bureaucracy and inefficiency. But even in the very earliest days of Facebook, Mark could be heard defending clear processes: “everything has a process, whether you write it down or not.” As it turns out, he was understating his case.
Too little process is as inefficient as too much. This is the Paradox of Structure. Done well, processes are a form of infrastructure to help us create healthier patterns.
Decisions should be made at the level closest to where the work overlaps with sufficient strategic context. Everyone benefits when decisions are durable and consistent. Process is what can help ensure context is widespread. Process can help us escalate issues. And process will help us manage change when it inevitably comes.
The success or failure of all processes hinges on communication which is where the majority of my attention is always focused. If someone learns something but doesn’t share it, then it can’t be factored into our strategy and we all suffer. Everyone should treat communication as their highest priority. This involves investing in stable and well maintained communication channels. Everyone should feel they have the information required to do their job effectively. They should know where to go to post new information. They should trust that if the context of their work has changed they will learn about it in near real time. It should be clear to each person why their work matters.
But all writing isn’t communication. I’ve seen teams significantly increase their communication without witnessing any change in how informed the average team member is. Sometimes in an effort to be transparent we write a lot of words and ask the audience to sort through it to find signal. While I do put responsibility on each person to ensure they are getting the information they need, it is equally the job of the communicator to make that easy. We must communicate with intent and with our audience in mind.
All communication is meant to equip each member of the team with the information they need to make decisions. But sometimes the decisions still aren’t clear. Or sometimes the facts on the ground aren’t aligned with the strategy. People in an organization should feel empowered to raise concerns and have those concerns heard and addressed promptly. Decriminalizing escalation avoids learned helplessness. Once something has been escalated and resolved it can be communicated outward again. That doesn’t make it easy, and sometimes people still need to disagree and commit when a decision is made that they don’t agree with. Everyone must have the courage to be proven right by running the alternative experiment – but at least they aren’t blocked anymore.
Perhaps the most critical part of all of this is that having a widely understood process can take the emotion out of these issues. When there isn’t shared context on strategy that is grounds for conflict in misunderstanding. If there isn’t a clear path for escalation then politics emerge, which prevent conflicts from being resolved in a timely manner. And without change management those conflicts can devolve into feelings of favoritism and resentment.