Along with communication, training and auditing, there is the concept of buy-in. What are reasons procedures aren’t getting used and how do you gain buy-in for procedures?
What do we mean by buy-in? Basically, buy-in is getting people to believe. In the context of procedures, buy-in is getting people to believe that having, following, and maintaining procedures is good and important for the organization as well as for their department and them individually. If they believe the procedure is necessary and helpful, as opposed to just another pointless and burdensome exercise in bureaucratic futility, then the odds of them accepting the procedure as part of their work life will be exponentially enhanced.
Clear communication and training are part of gaining acceptance. Too often documents like procedures fall from the sky with little explanation, and then organizational leaders wonder about the lack of awareness or commitment to following procedures. We know that explaining why the procedure is necessary is one part of gaining acceptance. Getting buy-in is a key facet of communication about the procedure.
As mentioned above, buy-in is about getting people to believe. Another way to think of buy-in, however, is gaining their understanding, commitment, and action in support of a goal. Dictating actions may work in the short term, but it will rarely result in long term change. As soon as the attention or spotlight is elsewhere, they will return to their old ways of doing things. Long term change happens when people believe in it.
There is a basic formula that can at least be a starting point for gaining buy-in:
Dissatisfaction + Vision + First Steps > Resistance to Change
When you overcome resistance to change, then you have conquered a very big obstacle – they are willing to embrace something different, and that goes against the nature of most us.
One element of why procedures are needed should be how the procedure is going to help solve some of their problems. For example, with a documented process there should be less doubt and confusion. A clear, defined path is written down for them. Finding and using dissatisfaction, however, is very situational. You have to put in the effort of talking, and especially listening, to people in order to understand what they are dissatisfied about. Then you have figure out the role of a procedure in resolving it.
One reason we fear change is that it means the future is less certain. Uncertainty leads to stress and confusion. What we are currently doing is familiar and comfortable. Changes take these comforting elements away. Expressing a clear vision of a positive future is an important element of buy-in.
A vision of a positive future must include a positive future for everyone. For example, streamlining a process in a way that leads to cuts in staff is not expressing a positive future for those potentially facing pink slips. Express a positive vision for only a select few and your effort to gain buy-in will certainly fail. A vision, however, of a growing, successful organization that is inclusive and provides opportunities for advancement is another story.
A vision without first steps usually leads to frustration. Talking about a glorious future without any concrete details of what you want them to do can leave people bewildered and anxious. On the other hand, laying out lengthy, detailed plans for the long term can be overwhelming, so they end up doing nothing. The idea is to tell them what they need to do today, tomorrow, and next week without confusing them with too many details about next year or five years from now. They need to know some concrete first steps they should take.
Conversely, first steps without a clear vision usually leads to false starts and flavor of the months programs that end up leaving the staff discouraged and wary of change.
Explaining why is important, but just as important is getting them to believe your explanation. That is why buy-in is so important.
After you’ve achieved buy-in, the next step is follow-up with auditing. Here auditing refers to observing compliance to the process documentation (the procedure). How is the process conducted? Does it match the procedure? Are people aware of the procedure and whether or not it is followed? Hopefully, the audit will find that the procedure is being followed, but if it does not then an analysis should follow to determine why. As always, the focus should be on determining where corrections need to be made in the system, and not on blaming individuals.
In any case, if issues are found with the procedure (with awareness, correctness, etc.) during the audit, corrective action is taken and a follow up audit scheduled for the not too distant future. Ignoring the problem will not likely lead to a solution.
These are the keys to having procedures used and followed. Start with training to ensure the proper awareness and buy-in, and then follow-up with auditing to reinforce the importance of using the procedure.
One way to find reasons procedures are not used is to think about how procedures are released. Does the release process include communication to all the affected departments and processes? Communication doesn’t mean the procedure falls from the sky and arrives at the department along with a stack of other interdepartmental memos, documents and correspondence.
The release of newly developed or revised procedures should be accompanied by training that clearly explains why procedures are needed, why they were written, and why they should be used and followed. Having all the affected staff attend training directed at achieving those goals obviously creates an awareness of it. Attendees now know what it is called, its nomenclature (document number), what it looks like, what’s in it, and how to find it.
But let’s not gloss over all these “whys” too quickly. Answering these questions in a clear and straightforward way is the key to getting buy-in. And buy-in is what is really needed to make the idea of using the procedures stick. If you, however, as the compliance manager, department head, or process owner, do not have all the answers to these “why” questions, then the real question is – why was the procedure written in first place?
Another one of the reasons procedures are not used is that there are just too many of them. An organization’s world of procedures may be a confusing maze some are unable to navigate and make sense of. Figuring out what procedures are truly needed (and why) and eliminating the rest can reduce confusion and complexity, and lead to procedures being better used and followed. Taking a lean approach to procedures in conjunction with other methods of communicating organizational knowledge (like training) can make a big difference not only in how people use procedures, but also their attitude toward them.