I recently spoke with my friend Randall Becker, who is the founder and managing director of Nexbridge, as well as a writer and self-proclaimed process guru, thought leader, and cat herder coach. If you’ve met Randall, you know that he is a quirky guy, but a man of many talents. Over the sound of his cat howling in the background, he told me about how he has been writing policy for the Government Affairs Committee for his local Chamber of Commerce. He also revealed that when he isn’t managing Nexbridge and writing policy, lately he has been writing a book about “process drift” and explained how his theories relate to the HP NonStop world.
The premise of the book is that when companies are given the choice between great people and great process, they tend to choose the risky path of focusing solely on hiring great people, while the work of improving processes falls to the wayside. He poses a fundamental question to managers across all industries: given the choice between great people and great process, which would you choose?
Randall explained that many companies take a shortcut by hiring great talent and then just hoping that it all works out. This is called “emergence”, a philosophy that deals with systems and organizational properties emerging from a simple state, just as life emerges from a simple state. Unfortunately, systems are greater than the sum of their parts: when you hire great people, the assumption is that great people will figure it out, but at every company there needs to be a focus on building great processes and figuring out how you will allow your great people to make a meaningful contribution.
So just telling your employees to “go figure it out” doesn’t work, which makes sense, but there are models available that show what does work. If you look at Google, for example, 50% of their products come out of the 20% of free time that they give their employees to innovate on their own. Randall believes that when you have great people, it benefits the organization to have clear, supporting, and empowering processes so that new ideas can flourish, while also having strong structure for production targets.
Unfortunately, most large companies have policies that require their management teams to manage in a specific way, and to micro-manage employees. In addition, Randall feels that separation of responsibilities and SEC regulations are also pushing managers to put heavy controls in place. However, if there is too much rigidity in a corporation, this prevents people from making a meaningful contribution that would earn recognition. Some jobs, like quality control, for example, have a definite need for people who execute process consistently without trying to circumvent the process. If you take creative people and put them in an assembly line, they’re going to try to change the assembly line, so how do you cope with that as a manager?
Randall has observed that times are changing: older generations were more motivated by posterity, pensions, and loyalty to their companies, whereas younger generations feel a need to make a difference. In his work, he talks about how large companies have trouble retaining staff because these organizations are not designed to cope with their employees’ needs. They hire visionaries who want to look at problems in diverse ways, and then give these new hires a strong separation of duties, requiring them to do one thing repeatedly. Since their processes are not up to the task of handling great people, they actually turn employees into disgruntled people. Randall claims that one reason why the NonStop community is so productive is because the management discipline that the NonStop community has is really unique and avoids these pitfalls by concentrating on production control.
Although this book does not focus on the HP NonStop space and was mainly written for small businesses, it can certainly be applied to any company in any industry. Part of Randall’s inspiration came from his sons, who are members of Gen Y—the generation that will probably best relate to this book. Members of this generation want a career that will allow them to make a difference—Randall’s sons have worked in a number of jobs where they only do one thing, and while they can enjoy the job, they know they could easily be replaced by people who get paid less, or by automation. They also want to be in a position to achieve their potential in their careers. There are a lot of people out there who have a desire to make a difference, so companies need to learn to accommodate this. Fortunately for us, the NonStop space is better about allowing people to achieve greatness.
On the production side, NonStop is the best; however, in development there is still a long way to go. This isn’t just in the software industry, but also in manufacturing and other sectors. Banks and financial companies have IT staff retention issues because they drop in a new, motivated, energized developer and this person gets hit with processes that are so rigid that they leave because they do not see the point of doing the same thing over and over. In the NonStop world, a Linux developer could get a job working on NonStop and then realize that they aren’t making a difference and go back to Linux.
The call for change: NonStop divisions across all industries need to make changes to allow their great NonStop resources to be great by actually encouraging developers to be creative and to engage with more than just documented requirements.
If you haven’t heard of Nexbridge, their product set helps people to do development in a modern environment (without green screens), so people that are new to the NonStop space can get up and running as quickly as possible. As you know, development in green screens is slow, and it prevents people from being as productive as they could be.