When I started my professional career, I had a lack of affection for procedures. The firm that I worked for out of college was over 100 employees, and they had numerous procedures. It was actually a good balance of flexibility and structure, and I later emulated much of what I observed. However, as a junior level employee, the procedures seemed annoying, time consuming, and overly restrictive.
I was excellent at meeting the letter of the law, so to speak, even if sometimes it seemed like a game to me. However, as I will discuss, this did not detract from the effectiveness of the procedures.
When I started my own company it was intentionally unstructured. I encouraged a very dynamic environment, where priorities were changing fluidly and the best way of approaching a problem was defined on the go. And at this small level, we were successful with this strategy. We attracted compatible clients and did great work together.
The problems with this approach became evident as we began to grow. First of all, I began to realize that not all employees could embrace this approach. The uncertainty of the constant reprioritization created a lot of stress in certain employees who highly valued stability. We lost some of these excellent employees because of this.
Also of significant importance is that a highly dynamic approach is very dependent on the leader for consistency. The lack of a guidebook means that either 1) every product will be different in quality and approach or 2) the same leader has to champion each one. If the firm wishes to grow, #2 is not possible. If the firm wishes to retain clients, #1 is not desirable. Of course, many design firms face this challenge and choose to remain small.
This leads me full circle, to the point where I realize the value of procedures. If a firm can identify and codify best practices, it allows more individuals to participate in the process with consistent results. You can also refine these best practices over time, so the firm improves. The burden on the founder, owner, or leadership is reduced.
And what about the gamesmanship? Well, it happens. And that’s OK. Because by creating a procedure, you force someone to focus on that element of the business. And that in itself changes behavior. And if the procedure is not effective, it can (and should) be changed.
More to come soon. If you want to get in touch please let me know! Thanks for reading!