Prioritizing People Over Process

The journey through the R-Leader superpowers will resume soon, but it’s time to park at one of the main focus points of this work. It is the bedrock on which all other elements of Reconnoiter Leadership rests:

Prioritizing people.

Notice the home page and the ‘motto’: prioritizing people over process to make progress.

You might be asking, ‘How does that work? Sure, people are important, but our company has processes. When we follow the processes, we make progress!’

But do you?

The short answer is of course, ‘yes’. Processes are vital to a well-functioning organization.

However, an organization that doesn’t put people first ultimately disappears. It dies a painful death of leakage and atrophy.

Leakage and atrophy may take various forms but typically have the same outcome. People feel slighted, unimportant, like what they do and how they do it really don’t matter. There are several writers, philosophers, and coaches who make reference to this concept: people who feel like they don’t matter recognize that they might be seen only as a ‘human doing’ and not a ‘human being’.

People who get tired of not being seen for their human-ness will take one of several paths:

  • Grudgingly remain: they continue to work, but what they do is … lackluster. They stop contributing in meetings. They spend more time surfing social media than finishing the spreadsheets. They collect their check at the end of the pay period, skip out the door and into their weekend, and shuffle back in at the start of the next (think: Pink Floyd … ‘another brick in the wall’).
  • Zealously engaged: opposite the grudging colleague is the one who believes in the organization and what it does. Maybe they have a real heart for the constituent. Whatever the situation, they want to change the environment, so they immerse and invest in their job duties. They come in early or stay late, volunteer for projects, offer ideas at every meeting.

The end result though is leakage and atrophy. People who don’t feel seen within an institution are usually easy to spot: they are the ones who slip supplies or other company property out the door in their briefcases at the end of the day. That is an extreme and tangible form of leakage, but it shows up in other ways. The grudging colleague spends their time on social media, sending text messages, or playing WoW at every opportunity; they are late to work often, with or without reason; they are the first to take time off for vacation; they don’t volunteer to cover another colleague who is out; they don’t contribute during meetings.

In some situations, the grudging colleague shares that they are using their talents elsewhere. When asked what they did over the weekend, their face lights up as they describe an event they held for their (fill in the blank: faith community, social club, fraternity or sorority) and everyone listening can hear the joy as the person describes their leadership role, which never evidences during the workday — skills gained inside are only used outside.

Inside … outside … sounds like descriptions of prison in a way, doesn’t it? For some team members who don’t feel like they are being treated as people, work is like their open-door prison.

The zealous colleague’s leakage might be similar or it might not be so obvious. They might just come in on time instead of being the first one in every day. They might stop volunteering ideas as often. They end the fiscal year with less and less vacation time to carry over because they are taking it more and more through the year.

Use of skills and energy in this way is a form of intangible leakage.

Atrophy is the next step and can be summed up in three words: the resignation letter.

Both types of colleagues described here point to a possible atrophy situation. The grudging colleague might be recruited during one of their weekend events, where someone sees them as a person with value and acknowledges it, thus drawing them away from their current role.

The zealous colleague will give until it hurts. Sometimes literally: they use themselves up, only to fall into painful emotional or physical states (depression, anxiety, to name two) because their efforts are not recognized. They aren’t offered an opportunity to present a new idea. They don’t get the promotion. They grow weary and leave, sometimes for a new position and sometimes not — they take a pause, just to catch a breath and hopefully find their joy again.

By prioritizing people over process, Recon Leaders put their energy into recognizing human value. They understand that by giving respect and attention to the team, they open the door to increased member engagement and buy-in.

An R-Leader who takes time to know their colleagues as people first is able to take a pause, hear them, and identifies ways to support their ideas. The R-Leader is able to see the big picture because they are focused on the process — on the organizational plan — and recognizes when a team member’s idea fits somewhere in it.

Recognizing the people means seeing the people: asking about their family, the pets, how they are and how they’re feeling. It’s remembering that one person has a child in their life who is a soccer phenom while another one raises exotic parakeets. And asking about them from time to time.

Prioritizing people over process leads to progress. While the progress may not seem to happen as quickly as when process is prioritized, the R-Leader recognizes the illusion.

Think of it in terms of finances.

A new product hits the market at a high price point. People line up for it, can’t wait to get their hands on it. The product is a success, flies off the shelves, and the company makes money. The success of the product and the organization is all over the news. Champagne and caviar all round.

But then the next quarter hits and sales are down, so the scramble begins for the next big thing. And on and on and on.

However, there are oodles of products that don’t make the headlines but bring steady progress to the organizations that make them. I think of companies that make … I don’t know … spoon molds. You know, the thing that the metal or whatever is poured into to make the spoon. While the shape or design might change every few decades (invention of the spork, anyone?), the general mold is what it was a zillion years ago probably. The price point to buy a spoon mold likely hasn’t changed, generally speaking.

There’s no research behind that last paragraph, but follow the logic: think of something more intangible, like the services provided by organizations like the ones who bring hot food to seniors in their homes. As far as I know, they continue to make progress. But they don’t focus on the newest and shiniest containers with logos and bells and whistles to make their product work. They grow through a focus on people. The individuals who drive and give the meals out feel good about what they do. They are often featured on the company website and in newsletters. The people they serve say nice things. The leaders encourage the teams, even then things look bleak like they did during the heaviest times of the recent (current) pandemic.

A Recon Leader recognizes that sometime growth is holding steady rather than increase. Why do you think there is a car company out there with a ‘motto’ of ‘like a rock’? Sure, the image is of something tough and long-lasting. Catch that last bit: long-lasting.

A long-lasting team is one that holds steady and ultimately their work results in progress.

Prioritizing people over process takes time. It is a genuine act of caring. It is where the tortoise excels and the hare is left in the mental and emotional dust. It is something the R-Leader does from the heart because they have reconnoitered the landscape and can envision the future, recognizing that success doesn’t typically happen overnight. And the success that does is often fleeting because the horse it rode in on was as fast as a super-car with one tank of gas.

R-Leaders realize that prioritizing people can’t be faked but it can be learned.

If you’d like to learn more about how to prioritize the people in your organization over (or more accurately, alongside) the processes so you can make better progress, reach out. Let’s connect.

Published by AR Neal

Dr. Andree Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug in the 1970s and despite a career in education has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. You can sometimes find her at https://agnubloom.com, where she writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully be discovered and have a bunch of her work republished in multiple languages and turned into stage and screenplays. She is a practitioner and the developer of Reconnoiter Leadership. Learn more at https://r-leadership.com.

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