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This is why your employees cut corners (and what to do about it)

It’s not necessarily laziness. Employees may have other reasons for ditching processes.

This is why your employees cut corners (and what to do about it)
[Animation: Ganna Galata/iStock]

As your company has grown, chances are that processes have been put in place to manage everything from workflows to production to scheduling. Processes help ensure quality, safety, customer satisfaction, and other outcomes.

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But even when such processes are finalized and made part of the company’s operations, sometimes employees still cut corners or ignore the process. Depending on the purpose or the industry, doing so can lead to all manner of issues ranging from waste and lost productivity to safety issues and compliance violations.

“Good quality and good safety is good business,” says Pape Fall, director of quality assurance for Birmingham, Alabama-based residential and commercial builder Hoar Construction, which grossed roughly $860 million in 2017 revenue. “Whether it’s construction or anything else, there are some time-tested procedures in place, and they’re not there to just keep people busy or have them do something. It affects the bottom line when those things are not followed.”

And if employees are ignoring processes, there are some common reasons. Here are four of them, as well as remedies for each.

They don’t understand the process—or the point

Just as customer experience is important to a company’s overall success, employee experience is also becoming a critical factor in navigating a tight labor market. Employees want to understand the purpose of their role and why they’re spending their time in certain ways. A 2006 study from Washington University in St. Louis found that employees were most likely to cut corners when they lacked clear goals.

How to solve it. Leaders need to make sure their teams understand the “what” and “why” of their work, says Dana Deibel, owner and principal consultant of management consulting firm EverRamp, LLC. That starts with leadership being clear about the importance of adhering to established processes. Explain how the process contributes to the company—perhaps by increasing safety or product quality, for example—and ensure employees have proper training to adhere to processes, she says.

At Hoar, employees and subcontractors have checklists and check-ins by supervisors to help them ensure that they don’t miss or avoid a step that could affect the overall project. Employees go through rigorous training to ensure they understand expectations about process adherence, and subcontractors must provide a quality assurance plan, Fall says.

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The company also rewards the behavior it wants to see—including adherence to processes. The company rewards employees who do good work—including adherence to processes—with opportunities for public recognition and bonuses, he says.

They think they know better

When employees are on the front lines, they usually develop a good understanding of how to do their jobs. And when processes are redundant or inefficient, they may skip or change steps because they think they know how to do the job better. And it’s very possible they’re right, says business process consultant Susan Page, author of The Power of Business Process Improvement. Over time, processes may overlap, require duplicate effort, or may grow overly complex. Bureaucracy can creep into virtually any organization, she says.

How to solve it. This is where employees can become valuable advisers, Page says. Leaders should map processes regularly, challenge steps and inefficiencies, and test new ways of doing things, Page outlines in her book and on her website. Gather input from employees who are expected to follow various processes as well as others who are affected by them, Page says. Having a say in how to get things done can lead to better adherence to decisions and processes, she says.

They want to do it faster

Processes can also slow down how things get done. For employees focused on fast growth—or who are simply overwhelmed with their workloads—saving time might be enough incentive to skip steps or ignore processes. The Washington University study also found that employees tend to cut corners when they’re overworked, so in cases of chronic process noncompliance, ensure that the employee has the time and resources necessary to complete the process effectively.

How to solve it. Despite being an early-stage startup with 12 employees, photo-sharing app Brizi, which has a U.S. office in Boston, has implemented processes typically found in much larger firms. They’ve committed to meetings, commitments, and accountability up front to have them firmly in place as the company scales, says Alex Nossovskoi, who heads marketing. Using quarterly planning through Asana as well as Agile methodology, the company and its employees set short- and long-term goals and establish methods of how they will get things done. This formality may seem out of place at a startup, but it’s essential for the firm to realize its vision, says Nossovskoi, who has a background in venture capital.

“People don’t adopt processes because you tell them to,” he says. But when the process is a part of the culture and various methods of accountability are part of the process, there are multiple reasons to do things the right way, or suggest better ideas or methodologies, he says.

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Deibel says that reinforcement is critical for process adoption. “They don’t follow it or they disregard it because perhaps management drove the change, or added the process, implemented the process, whatever it happens to be,” she says. Ensuring that employees are encouraged to share their concerns about the process or ideas and are also held accountable helps create an environment where they feel they can share their thoughts, but also know that the process has value, and they’re responsible for following it.

They think they can get away with it

In some cases, cutting corners without regard for the outcome is a sign of more serious issues. A 2017 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that those who cut corners were “morally compromised, selfish, impulsive, and not forward-thinking,” according to the journal findings.

How to solve it. Fall says accountability is essential for repeat offenders. At Hoar, performance reviews include how well employees adhere to established processes, as well as an evaluation of their work quality. “Budget, schedule, safety—all those things are the metrics that are used to evaluate our people,” he says. If employees ignore processes, it’s going to be reflected in their job performance evaluations.

Ultimately, adherence to processes starts with leadership, Page says. If chronic abuse of processes is causing quality or other issues, they must step in. “Make sure your consequences are correct, and make sure there are no obstacles [or reasons] why employees aren’t following the process,” she says. And then hold employees accountable for following the processes you have in place.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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