Book review: The Process Matters by Joel Brockner
In 2009, Jay Leno was replaced by Conan O’Brien as host of The Tonight Show. Leno didn’t take it well. After ratings failed to improve, though, Leno was reinstated; but in 2014 he was replaced once again, this time by Jimmy Fallon. The second transition went far more smoothly than the first.
Reflecting on this Leno said: “The main difference between this and the other time is I’m part of the process. The last time the decision was made without me. I came into work one day and [was abruptly told], you’re out. This time it feels right.”
In the media, the debacle was described as “embarrassing” and a “public relations disaster”. But as the business professor Joel Brockner explains in his book The Process Matters, published in November, it is also an example of terrible organisational management stemming from an obsession with results rather than the process used to get there. It serves to show that how a process is handled really matters to those on the receiving end of the decision. As the saying goes, it’s not only what you do but how you do it.
As Brockner goes on to explain in his work, making Leno feel “part of the process” required relatively simple – and not particularly costly – steps: NBC’s chief executive Steve Burke organised a meeting with Leno; and Fallon made a point of expressing his high esteem for his predecessor. Leno was shown respect, he was involved in decision-making, and things were done transparently.
The example encapsulates three central points made in Brockner’s book. The first is that small differences in how things are handled can have a relatively large effect in the workplace. The second is that doing the process well often only requires very simple steps. And the third is, given how much the process does matter, why don’t managers strive to handle things better with more frequency?
Brookner is an academic but this book attempts to reach a wider audience. It is packed with examples from organisational settings and draws heavily on academic research but, as Brockner contends, it is also relevant to anyone in an authority position, including parents, educators and politicians.
If it’s relatively easy to make processes better, why do managers fail so often?
This is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Brockner posits two explanations: managers fail because of a lack of resources (they are not able to do the process in a high-quality way) or a lack of desire (they are not motivated to do the process in a high-quality way). Lack of resources may include a lack of information or lack of skills – such as staying calm when delivering bad news. Lack of desire may come from a fear of looking weak by sharing information or because managers are distracted by competing interests.
Does Brockner offer any methods to address this failure to ensure high-quality processes?
He does – this is in some ways a “how to” book. He sets out some suggestions for what individuals can do to better manage processes – such as regulating negative emotions, ie not being defensive when delivering bad news – and for what organisations can do, such as provide training for managers and put enabling structures in place.
Any more examples of why process matters?
Yes, Brockner refers to studies of patients who have sued their doctor for medical malpractice. Doctors are much more likely to be sued when a patient perceives that the procedure went badly and the doctors demonstrated poor “bedside manner”.
Tell me more about Joel Brockner.
He is the Phillip Hettleman professor of business at Colombia Business School.
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