For the last several years now, I have been intrigued by what Alabama football coach Nick Saban as referred to as “the process”. When asked the key to their success over the last 11 years at Alabama, Saban routinely touts the commitment to “the process”. “The process” is their way of evaluating talent, developing talent, preparing for games, and executing during games, with the continual relentless focus on perfect execution in everything they do. They ignore results, scores, etc. to focus on being outstanding in every facet of what they do in order to have sustained success over time. Whether you are an Alabama fan or not, it’s hard to argue with their sustained success.
I have also heard where the Philadelphia 76ers had adopted the theme of “Trust the Process” to keep their fans engaged during losing seasons while they stockpiled high draft picks to turn things around. While I am not a proponent of losing on purpose, this management team had a plan to accumulate talent through the draft that would eventually lead to more success on the court. In essence, get worse to get better. It does appear that they are turning the corner after some long, dismal seasons.
The one area to me that it is even more process focused is the military and even more so the “process” for becoming and functioning as a Navy SEAL. There is obviously a very detail method to both create and sustain one of the world’s most effective combat teams. I recently read one SEAL commanders review of their process for training, evaluating, and the keys to becoming a SEAL. They definitely have a very organized, demanding approach to sustain excellence at all levels of their organization.
When I think of this concept in light of what we do in our business, we have many processes as well. We have processes for safety, quality, reliability, and most everything we do to some degree. The real question is whether we can rely on these processes to be the foundation for success in our business as opposed to just a bunch of activities we are expected to do every day. Here are some key thoughts for every leader to ask themselves in light of this topic:
1. Will the processes that we follow today, if executed at a high level, lead to sustained success? In other words, are they comprehensive in focus and effective in practice? If we do what we say we are going to do, will we get the results we are looking for? If not, the plan/process needs to change. Think about safety. If we train effectively, do effective safe work observations in high risk areas, act on results of these observations, do pre-task work assessments, maintain compliance with company guidelines, and provide active safety leadership throughout the day, will we have a safe work environment? If that’s our process for safety, is that enough or do we need to adjust/add something to the process? Whatever the area of focus, just evaluate the process as a leader to ensure it takes you where you want to go.
2. Are we truly executing the key steps of the process at a high level, making a difference in our actions, and not just checking boxes to get something done? Execution is not just getting things done. Execution goes beyond just doing the right thing. It is also making the right decision in light of what we see, making the right adjustments in light of what we find, making the right communication in what we learn, and making a difference in what we do. When Alabama executed that final pass play in overtime to win the national championship last year, they didn’t simply run a vertical route and throw the ball up hoping the receive would catch it. They had 11 guys on the field all doing their respective “jobs” at a high level to get the receiver open and to give the quarterback time to make the throw. They also had noticed on a previous play that the safety was not providing deep help to the corner but was rather staying with the inside receiver. Thus, they had a plan that should work if everyone did their job effectively; which obviously worked out ok for them. Execution is much more than just checking a box to get something done. One of the key observations of the Navy SEAL commander was that those sailors that went to training with the mindset of winning the events in the training program were much more likely to finish the program than those that just went hoping to survive the training. They weren’t looking to just get by and check the box, they were looking to make the most of the activity.
3. Do we trust the process as it evolves if we don’t get the immediate results we want? This issue is where a leader has to be very discerning. When the results aren’t what we want, do we need to change the plan (strategy), do we need to execute better (manufacturing excellence type stuff), or do we just need more time for the key aspects of the process to take hold? Being able to work through those questions effectively is a key attribute of an effective leader. It takes a willingness to humble yourself, ask hard questions of yourself and to your team, and be willing to make the hard decision to either adjust or stay the course. Getting outside counsel, benchmarking to others in similar situations, and getting into the details of the shortcomings (why) are also good tools to aid in making these key leadership decisions. Sometimes it takes time, but can you trust it? Continually changing strategy is hard on a team of people. Sometimes we need to adjust, but let’s be sure when those time are appropriate.
I would rank dealing with this issue in the top three for any leader, at any level of the organization (along with building credibility and communicating). Establishing effective processes, executing at a high level, and knowing when to trust versus adjust are key for any effective leader.
So whether you are getting the results you want or not, set aside a few minutes this month and take a hard, honest look at what you are leading. Can you trust the processes you have in place? Do you need to hold tight and just press on? Do you need to make some adjustments? Do we just need to execute better with a different mindset on what we are doing?
The answers to the above questions will go a long way in defining you as a leader.