Broken Processes and Workplace Morale

By Teri Morse, vice president of Recruiting for Xerox

A business is essentially the sum of its processes. So when any of those processes are broken – or plagued by the Flow Killers we described in a recent eBook – the business suffers.

But while everyone looks at the tangible business penalties of bad processes very few organizations consider the less measurable but equally important effects: The way bad processes sap the morale of your people.

Morale might seem like a ‘soft’ metric. But it just might be the single biggest contributor (or destroyer) of success in every enterprise.

Think of it this way: if your employees are really engaged, there’s nothing they can’t do. And if they’re disengaged, everything will be a struggle.

Companies with engaged employees have 5x higher shareholder returns. — Kotter International

Bad Processes Mean Low Morale

For most people, broken processes are one of the most powerful – and most prevalent – workplace morale-killers.

If your customer care agents have to go through six different systems and nineteen steps to resolve an issue, they start hating their jobs.

If a doctor has to wrestle with poorly-implemented electronic health records, she sees fewer patients and her job satisfaction plummets.

If an employee has to wait nine weeks every time they need to get their expenses reimbursed, they get disheartened.

Clunky, inefficient processes frustrate your people and undermine the idea that you care about them.

“If people who come to work ready to rock it are prevented from doing their work because some fear-based process is gumming up the works, I guarantee you’re losing talent. People might be sitting at their desks when you walk by, but their hearts and brains are elsewhere.” — Liz Ryan, Forbes, 2014

This is the unspoken cost of broken processes and it goes far beyond the lost productivity that’s obvious in the short term.

In fact, low morale is a long-term, chronic impact that’s easy to overlook. And it costs every organization a lot.

There are 22 million actively disengaged employees, costing the American economy as much as $350 billion per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness, and other problems. — The Gallup Organization

What You Can Do About It

Ask your people to rate the processes they use every day.
Watch them go about their work – be a process ethnographer.
Identify the low-hanging fruit: the processes you can fix now.
Enlist the help of the people who do the work.
Measure the outcomes that matter most for every process.
Benchmark your key processes against your industry peers.
Outsource the processes that aren’t core to your business.
Read the Three Flow Killers ebook.

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  1. Craig Willis September 7, 2015 - Reply

    So true! I would ask people not just to rate process but to DESCRIBE it. I once worked on a project not dissimilar to one of your examples. Everyone apparently knew what the problem was (the fact that customer care agents had to log into 18 different systems!) and yet no one did anything about it.

    Being a process person I had asked everyone I spoke to to describe the process to me and had extensive notes. Then in one meeting, frustrated with the lack of progress I jumped up and drew the flow they took with every customer. There were literally gasps in the room, key decision makers just didn’t know what was happening. This was the first time that many were seeing the flow in all its painful glory. (I admit that I took the worst cases from my notes!)

    Talking about process problems is useful but we all interpret the word differently. Drawing a picture makes it much clearer for everyone and gives them a point of reference for improvement discussions.

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