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Learning how to play the “gray” scales


9 Value Scale

I was watching my husband create a “simple” 9 value scale the other day. He started with a pile of black paint (1) on the left and a pile of white paint on the right (9). He then mixed a middle tone gray (5) which was half way between the two. He then mixed a 7, half way between 5 and 9, eventually completing his chart. He had to keep a healthy balance between being too dark or light in order to keep a gentle graduation of gray (his words, not mine.)

In a similar fashion, strong organizations have a healthy balance between “strict processes” and “flexible solutions”. Leaning too far in either direction can cause an organization to become unhealthy (Defined as not being able to meet their goals).

If an organization has “strict processes”, it leaves no room for dealing with surprises, or disruptions. If something does not fit neatly into a box, a “strict process” organization will either ignore the issue or use an ill-fitting process to address it. Thus, over time these issues will add up to stagnation and un-health.

If an organization has no processes and uses only flexible solutions (one offs / different every time), it will soon overtax its resources. Over time the organization will drown in the urgent with no time for the important.

Processes allow organizations to quickly deal with things that are repetitive, things that have best practice solutions, and things that can be improved over time from repetitiveness. They allow the organization to clearly communicate based on a foundation of understanding. However, if there is not space for a “middle gray” (meaning the organization recognizes that some things don’t fit the norm and need special solutions), the organization will find itself too rigid to meet changing needs of the market place.

Finding the right balance of “gray” is a must for a strong healthy organization.

Be intentional,

Everything was going so well, right up until it wasn’t…

Processes and procedures are foundational for a manufacturing company to run efficiently. They make sure everything happens that is necessary to make a product safely with the desired quality level at the price point required for financial health. Processes and procedures ensure repeatability – and without repeatability, any effort at “continuous improvement” falters.

So when would processes and procedures cause a potential “hiccup” in your flow?

  • Those times when you have to move at the speed of light, thus needing to by-pass the normal flow. Sometimes a project “falls out of the sky” and onto your desk and is so “hot” that if you followed the normal flow, by the time you filled out your paperwork, you would have missed the deadline. Now what?
  • When you are working outside the normal workday time slot only to uncover a procedural step you didn’t even know to plan for… and everyone’s gone home for the day. (Or worse, at 3pm on Friday before a long holiday weekend and not only are they gone for the day, they are out of town.)
  • When those embedded deep in the process flow (the folks who really know the details) leave the company – and the organization has forgotten to fill the “process hole” left behind. When least expected and when you least can afford it, you’ll find that hole. Trust me.

As leaders, we need to drive our teams to use tried and true processes and procedures. We must recognize they give us speed and consistency day in and day out. However, we must ensure that our teams are trained to think, to be flexible, and to have strong communication and understanding of the business. Otherwise, processes and procedures become handcuffs just when you feel “the need for speed” to reach your goal.

Be intentional