Process this….

It won’t come as a surprise to people who know me that I’m not keen on unnecessary process. I understand that there is a minimal need for it, but I can’t accept the need for process to drive practice. That for me is alien and wrong.

I had a particularly problematic conversation with Tesco Bank this weekend (Yeah…..I know….) when I was subject to two immortal lines,

“The problem is that you’ve been a customer with us for a long time”

“We can’t override the system”

I do have much left to die inside, but that is pretty much going to clean it up.

But it also really resonates in a “shoot me now” kind of a way.

How many times in the last month have you or your teams uttered:

“It would set a precedent”

“It isn’t as simple as that”

“I can’t do that”

“The system doesn’t work like that”

“The policy is….”

“You need to complete this form”

“Have a look at the process/policy”

“We can’t make an exception”

And how would it feel if you’d said:

“We completely see the need to make an exception here”

“Let us work out how to make this possible”

“Of course”

“We can work around this”

“I understand your specific needs”

“Let me sort out the paperwork for you”

“What is it you’d like to achieve and how can I help you?”

“You’re the most important person to us”

Then ask yourself two questions:

Which feels better to the person asking the question?

Which feels better to the person answering the question?

And as a supplementary:

Why do we make this so hard?


  1. Doug Shaw · April 29, 2013

    Hi Neil

    Sorry to hear about your Tesco Bank experience. Sorry and not surprised. Did you write this post for me? You’ve struck at the essence of why I get out of bed in the morning – to enable people to fix dumb problems like this.

    I think improvements to a lot of these problems are simple. People in work need to be encouraged to have more frequent, better conversations with other people they work with. In particular – people in other departments/functions/silos on whom they depend and do not work with directly. This will help people to foster a greater understanding, not of what they do as individuals, but as a wider group.

    They will begin to see, shock horror, how their work impacts the customer.

    They will see that often crazy reward mechanisms pit them against each other.

    They will see the impact of their work on others and a few will begin to collaborate better and cocreate better.

    At this point – so long as management creates space and time for people to continue on this journey, things will begin to accelerate.

    Companies like this should hire people like me. Shameless plug over.

    • Following a conversation with Doug just over a year ago we asked our teams what were some of the dumb things that our processes require them to do. People were very honest and the insight we gained was invaluable. This is now part of regular conversations throughout our network and it has improved things for our employees and our customers.

      Most processes are written in isolation from those who are required to make it happen. How dumb is that?

      Great post Neil.

  2. siliconbullet · April 29, 2013

    You missed out the old favourite ‘computer says no’.

  3. The Clear Thinking Partnership · April 29, 2013

    Is ‘process’ a place where people hide when they’re scared to stand out and be different? When they’re scared to do what’s right because they’re rewarded for conforming to a one-size-should-fit-all modus operandi?

    I’m a fan of Doug’s thinking, about getting some good conversations going and about seeing things through the eyes of the customer….it happens too infrequently. Then let people do the right thing, not the thing it says is in the manual…that’s just lazy thinking.

    Makes me think about that story about the monkeys being conditioned not to get the bananas!

  4. Simon Jones (@ariadneassoc) · April 29, 2013

    I completely agree with the sentiment – in fact my approach to HR in the organisations I work with is “what do you want to achieve for your business? Let’s see how we can get there”

    However, we also have to accept that employers and businesses have the right to say “no”. So when we are asked “can I have a 5% pay rise” it’s perfectly ok to say “no” – but rather than hiding behind excuses like “it would set a precedent” or “it’s against the process” we should be upfront and say “the business can’t afford it” “your contribution isn’t good enough” or “although you’ve done well, it’s not sufficiently better than colleagues for me to make an exception for you”.

    As an aside, I can’t fathom out how “you’ve been a customer for a long time” is even an excuse for not doing something

  5. broc.edwards · April 29, 2013

    Love this post. It’s utterly baffling how often we forget that businesses and employees get compensated for ONLY ONE thing: solving problems. That’s it. The better I can solve problems and the bigger the problems I can solve, the more valuable I am to the customer (and my employer). The people, departments, companies, and industries who don’t understand this are the first to go when things get tough or technology changes the game. The companies and people known for their “innovation” are almost always just ones who figured out a better way to solve customer problems.

    “What is it you’d like to achieve and how can I help you?” is by far the best question in terms of recognizing that the customer has a problem (perhaps a non-standard problem) needing solving and that it’s my intention to solve it.

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