Procedural Adherence: Your Problem is Bigger than Technology

The following is an excerpt from Kaufman Global’s white paper, On Procedural Adherence. In this paper we discuss how complexity thrives in the middle of the organization where change is often most difficult, and what you must to do address it.

Note: If your leadership team is not committed to the idea that following procedures is important, don’t bother trying.

One sure way to optimize performance is to identify and standardize best known practices and have all adhere to that new standard. This is a primary objective for organizations that strive to win in competitive markets. Despite their best intent, it’s an elusive achievement for many. It needn’t be.

Procedural adherence means executing against a defined set of standards in a particular way, even when it’s possible that alternative approaches could achieve the same result. When standards are arbitrary, we get chaos ― an environment where infinite possibilities exist and individual preferences prevail. This way of doing things leads to outcomes that are anything but certain and, more importantly…  provides no baseline upon which to build systematic improvements.

For decades, the target audience for process standardization and procedural adherence has been the front line of the organization. Within that population, efforts are often focused on repetitive processes like those found in manufacturing. Some enlightened enterprises may extend these efforts to administration, service delivery, field operations, and so on. On the whole however, most attention to-date has been narrowly focused. This needs to change. While there continues to be plenty of opportunity on the front line, even greater opportunities exist in the middle of the organization. It’s here that procedural adherence can deliver major benefits and value.

procedural adherence and resultsIn the middle of the organization, individual contributors and teams work on and within complex systems such as designing the Hubble Telescope (a classic and depressing story of procedural non-adherence), administering care and services to hospital patients, or drilling an oil well. Complexity and clarity don’t always go hand-in-hand. Comparing what should be done versus what is being done can be difficult. Only those closest to the action know for sure what is actually occurring. Even one level up, managers and bosses may be too far removed from the process to know or ask the right questions. This leaves a gap where a lot can, and often does, go wrong.

The middle of the organization is the place where people are most vested in the current way of doing things ― no matter how bad they may be. This is where resistance to change is best informed and most capable. Any successful attempt to change processes or even develop consensus on a standard here must include some well-planned change management.

Traditional Approaches ― Why They Don’t Work

  • Audits: Sometimes organizations conclude (or hope) that compliance audits will deliver procedural adherence. Audits usually have some immediate impact, but the effects don’t last ― similar to when headquarters comes to visit. Things improve for a short time before or after the episode, but then revert back when the dust settles. Audits are valuable for identifying shortcomings but they do little to compel compliance over time…

Ready to dig deeper? This article is continued in our White Paper: On Procedural Adherence. Click here to download the full text.

See also our White Paper: Procedural Adherence and Risk


Kaufman Global will be presenting at the IADC Human Factors Conference in Galveston Texas Oct. 17-18, 2017

On Procedural Adherence: Jerold Timpson, President, Kaufman Global
Procedural Adherence is about behaviors. Many organizations focus on the technical side of procedural adherence (documentation and training), but don’t do so well with the behavioral aspect. Often the first indicator of a procedural or process problem is when a major malfunction occurs, a catastrophic event. Smaller, less obvious issues result in major loss, but are often not addressed at all. To improve outcomes, we must shift values, engage the organization in different ways and establish new behaviors that are leading indicators of procedural and process adherence.