Jul 15, 2023 | Articles

Too Much Process Management, Not Enough Leadership

Understanding the Difference Between Process Management and Process Leadership

Are your business processes taking you where you want to go? If not, the last thing your processes need is business process management. Instead consider business process leadership. Efficiency guru Steven Covey once said, “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” Are your processes taking you up the right wall?

The Process Management Trap

Bureaucracy—like many other process pandemics—is the triumph of means over ends. When you and your team focus more on the steps of a process than the actual objectives of the process, you fall into, what I call, the process management trap. To avoid this, everyone involved in the process must clearly know what the process’ objectives are, not just the steps. Unlike process management which focuses on getting the steps right, process leadership focuses on getting the objectives right. And, just like your organization, too much management and not enough leadership will get you nowhere fast.

Quite counter-intuitively, the company with no process management is often better off than the company with too much process management and not enough leadership. I’m not advocating this approach, but a mid-sized company with no process management doesn’t have any investment or overhead in their processes, and there’s no documented process that can interfere with their intended goals. Of course, the chaos will eventually catch up with them, but understand that process management comes with a cost. It takes time, money, and resources to develop, maintain, and control processes. If your processes aren’t effective, all this cost is a sink—no value whatsoever. But there’s a bigger problem. All the work that you’ve put into developing and following your process will hypnotize your organization into thinking it is doing something effective. So, you continue to follow your process, even if it’s antithetical to your originally intended goal. Sounds ridiculous, right? I see it all the time.

Use Clear Objectives to Combat Process Management Problems

Clearly define what the objectives should be for every critical process that you have. This is the essence of process leadership. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are you expecting this process to do?
  • What transformation will happen with this process?
  • What constraints exist around the outcome (i.e. quality standards)?
  • What will the end state if this process completes successfully?
  • Who benefits from this process, and are their needs met?
  • Who has an alternate interest in this process (e.g. regulatory), and are their needs met?

Once these are clearly defined, they must be communicated to all involved in the process, especially the people executing the process. In your process documentation (you have process documentation, right?), clearly state these objectives, and most importantly make it blindingly clear that getting to the objective is the primary function of the process, not necessarily following the right steps. To take it a step further, explore and document alternate process steps that will bring you to the same objective. This will again emphasize the idea of ends over means.

Business process management without business process leadership is a high-speed train to nowhere. The best thing you can do for your process is make sure it’s accomplishing what it needs to accomplish, and that means clearly documenting and communicating objectives. As a leader, this exercise starts with you. Survey the landscape of your current processes, and make sure you have your ladders leaning against the right walls.



John Weathington is a veteran management consultant who helps leaders manage difficult organizational change. In a recent effort he helped the Chief Digital Officer of a large, multi-national oil & gas company operationalize a radical digital transformation


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About XMS

Since 1994, Excellent Management Systems, Inc. has helped leaders navigate difficult organizational changes and achieve strategic results. In a recent effort, we helped a precocious High-Tech firm develop and launch a hyper-growth strategy to accelerate revenue from $1B to $5B in four years. Contact us today if you are facing a difficult organizational challenge or desire next-level performance.