Walk the Process

When an organization recognizes that it is time to change, it is critically important to get the current world and future world right. If you do not have a clear (and accurate) portrayal of how the process actually works today, it is unlikely that any changes you make will truly reap all of the benefits you are trying to achieve. There are often many documented process flows and procedures, but when you take the time to walk the process, you will find all of the undocumented steps people take (or documented steps skipped), or uncover if anyone actually ever even looked at the process flow showing how their work is supposedly “done.”

I thought a recent Planet Money episode “A Failing City Calls In The Finance Doctor” did a fantastic job of illustrating why change agents must be adept at walking the process:

The city of Reading, Pennsylvania, was so financially distressed that the mayor asked that his city be declared a financial disaster. The state sent in a specialized financial team to talk to everyone in Reading about what was going on, and determine what course of action needed to be taken.

In Reading, there was even a box of checks sitting uncashed in somebody’s office. It was discovered by David Kersley, another expert called in from outside to help Reading.

Kersley found the checks through one technique he uses to understand how a city functions: Sometimes he’ll imagine himself as a piece of paperwork, and walk himself through the system.

So one day in Reading, he pretends he’s a zoning permit. And he goes from office to office — the way a zoning permit would — and in one office, he sees a lady flipping through a box of checks written to the city.

She tells him all the checks have come in with zoning permits. When they come in, they go in this box.

“Hundreds and hundreds of checks in a shoebox,” Kersley says. “Here we are, a financially distressed city. And you walk into an office and you find a shoebox full of checks.”

Hopefully walking your current world process won’t uncover a box of uncashed checks! But you may be surprised at what you assumed was the way things operate that is dramatically different from how things actually get done… and these may be potential quick opportunities to start making some incremental changes that demonstrate the business value of why you are changing now!

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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