As I’ve said many times, the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful organisation is efficiency and the purpose of processes is to maintain consistency and therefore efficiency across a business. Along the way processes will overcome shortcomings in skill-levels (It doesn’t fix them, just wallpapers over them), experience or even basic intelligence of customer-facing staff. They are essential to the survival of large organisations, but we are also now discovering that they are the reason for the failure of many of these large companies to innovate and, as we now know, a business that isn’t innovating right now isn’t likely to be around for long.

You could, I suppose, liken processes to powerful drugs. On one hand they are what keep you going, but on the other hand, if you get to rely on them too much they can destroy your life. If processes have become the focus of your organisation, you are in trouble.  Smart companies have realised that processes don’t have to be so rigid, but in order to liberate yourself from their constraints you have to give employees something else to work with. You do this through culture development and training within your brand development programme (Initiatives such as I create with my Brand Discovery programme). However, that takes a little effort and in the past lazy organisations have tended to lean too heavily on the short-term, process-driven fix.

Yesterday I witnessed the best example that I have seen in a long time of what happens when process takes over the running of a business. It concerned two watches – a Tissot sports watch that required a new battery and a Luminox diver’s watch with a broken strap – and visits to the two respective stores in Dubai.

Visit one – Tissot (single brand store)

  • Me: (to shop assistant): Can you please replace the battery in this watch?
  • Assistant: Yes. I will send it to our service centre. If you would please fill out this A4 (small print) form (requiring loads of largely irrelevant information).
  • Me: How long will this take?
  • Assistant. It usually takes between two to four weeks sir.
  • Me: How can that be? The service centre is just a few city blocks from here and all you are doing is changing the battery.
  • Assistant: Yes sir, but we have to check the watch and report to you.
  • Me: I don’t want you to check or report, just change the battery for me.
  • Assistant: Yes that’s no problem sir. Our service centre will call you in around seven days.
  • Me: I thought you said that it would take two-to-four weeks?
  • Assistant: That’s to fix it sir. They will call you to tell you what the cost will be.
  • Me: Don’t you know what the cost of a battery will be?
  • Assistant: Yes sir, its 120 Dirhams.
  • Me: OK, so I know the cost, so just go ahead and change the battery and we will at least save a week.
  • Assistant: But Sir the service centre has to call you to tell you the price.
  • Me: I don’t want the service centre to call me until they have changed the battery. Then they can call me to say its ready.
  • Assistant: But they have to call to get your approval, otherwise they can’t do the work.
  • Me: I have given my approval, I’ve even signed this form here, so the deal is agreed. Please just go ahead and change the battery.
  • Assistant: Sir the service centre will call to tell you what needs to be done and what he cost will be and then they will start work
  • Me: But we all know that you are changing the battery and it costs 120 Dirhams already. Anyway, what is the service centre going to be doing for the remainder of the month?
  • Assistant: Changing your battery sir.
  • Me: What is to stop me taking this watch right now to Mister Minute down the road who will change the battery in a minute for twenty Dirhams?
  • Assistant: Nothing sir, but the warranty will be invalidated if someone other than our service centre works on the watch.

Etc…

Visit two – Luminox (multi-brand store)

  • Me: Is it possible for you to change the (highly technical) strap on this (specialist) watch?
  • Assistant: Of course sir.
  • Me: How long will it take?
  • Assistant: About three minutes sir
  • Me: (Incredulous): You can do it here?
  • Assistant: (surprised I would ask): Yes of course sir, we are a Luminox shop.
  • Me: And how much will this cost?
  • Assistant: two-hundred Dirhams sir.
  • Me: Done!

Now I know that in future I won’t buy Tissot watches, but I will buy Luminox (should I ever need a new watch because at these prices these things should last for ever) and the moral for organisations is “Don’t allow process to take over your business”.

Phil Darby
September 1, 2014

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