The Process Matters: Engaging and Equipping People for Success

The Process Matters: Engaging and Equipping People for Success

by Joel Brockner


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The Process Matters: Engaging and Equipping People for Success by Joel Brockner

We do business in a results-oriented world. Our focus on growth is laudable for its clarity, but one of its downsides is that firms can lose sight of the process: how business gets done and the individuals or employees through whom results are achieved. This leads to compromised decisions and unethical behavior. It is not just what we accomplish that matters but also how we accomplish it.

In The Process Matters, Joel Brockner shows that managers have to do more than just meet targets and goals. They have to reach those ends in the right ways—with input, consistency, and accountability—if they want to effectively lead and manage in their organizations. Brockner discusses what goes into the right process, how it leads to better outcomes, why it is easier said than done, and how to overcome obstacles along the way.

Brockner demonstrates that a high-quality process often costs little and may not even require a great deal of time. In light of these facts, he considers the puzzling question of why good business practice doesn't happen more often. Brockner draws from various real-life workplace examples—from Jay Leno's departure (twice) from his TV show, to the improvement of shooting accuracy in the U.S. Navy, to the surprising results of layoffs in Canada. He also factors in a wide swath of studies to examine such issues as the importance of perceived fairness in the process, the management of organizational change, and the encouragement of a strong sense of self in those involved in decisions—in short, the ways that managers can bring out the best in their people.

Relevant to anyone who is in a managerial position—from the CEO on down—The Process Matters proves that seemingly simple differences in process can go a long way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691175676
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 05/02/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,195,096
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Joel Brockner is the Phillip Hettleman Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.

Read an Excerpt

The Process Matters

Engaging and Equipping People for Success

By Joel Brockner


Copyright © 2016 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-6564-2



See if you can figure out what these two situations have in common:

(1) John works for a high-powered investment bank. His work environment is always stressful, but this time he is really feeling the heat. His firm has had several bad quarters in a row. In a recent meeting with their boss, John and his team had been given a strict order: they needed to increase their contribution to the bottom line by 15 percent relative to the previous quarter. Seared in John's memory were his boss's parting words: "I don't care how you get there, just get there."

(2) I returned home late one night after taking part in a basketball free-throw shooting contest open to all members of the Columbia University community. I was feeling pretty good about things. Out of the fifty contestants who entered, I tied for first (making twenty-two out of twenty-five shots), which necessitated an overtime round between the other top finisher and me. The other person shot better than I did in overtime, so I finished as the runner-up. The next morning at breakfast, my three sons, then ranging in age from five to eleven, asked me how it had gone. I decided to make this a teaching moment, as in, there's more to life than winning and losing. So I proceeded to tell them that I had tried as hard as I could, that I really enjoyed the experience, and, oh, by the way, that I had come in second out of fifty people. My sons brought me down to earth quickly: "So, Dad, you lost!" they cried out, practically in unison.

At first blush these two situations seem pretty different from one another. But they also display a noteworthy commonality: our obsession with results. Indeed, several familiar expressions reveal the great importance we assign to outcomes, such as "The bottom line is ..." or "At the end of the day ..." Don't get me wrong — we should care about outcomes. Obviously we would rather succeed than fail, win rather than lose, and make more money rather than less. The problem is that all too often our obsession with results blinds us to the reality that how we get there, the process, also makes a big difference.

How the process is handled really matters to those on the receiving end of decisions. Just ask Jay Leno, the longtime host of NBC's The Tonight Show. Jay didn't take it well when NBC replaced him with Conan O'Brien in 2009. Why? Was it because, after being No. 1 in late-night TV, he resented being told that his services were no longer needed? Was it because, at sixty, he felt hurt that someone ten to fifteen years younger would be replacing him? It is hard to know the real reasons, but his more recent reactions to being replaced by Jimmy Fallon (who is even younger than Conan O'Brien) give us some clues. As he put it himself, "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."

Part of Jay Leno's satisfaction the second time around was probably because NBC's CEO, Steve Burke, made a point of meeting with Jay himself before any changes were announced. As Burke said after their meeting, "Clearly our goal has been to make this a smooth transition. Jay deserves to be treated like someone who has done a wonderful thing for our company for two decades." Another important member of NBC's senior management team, Lorne Michaels (the creator of Saturday Night Live), agreed: "What has been key to this transition has been the absolute consideration for everyone's feelings by all involved. It has been a transparent process." Jimmy Fallon also facilitated things by saying, "I have nothing but respect for Jay. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have a show to be taking over."

The Jay Leno example illustrates three of the central points of this book. First, look at how differently Jay reacted to the exact same decision when the process was done well rather than poorly. As the old saying goes, it's not only what you do, but also how you do it. Second, doing the process well often entails simple things like involving people in decisions, showing respect, and doing things transparently. Not exactly rocket science. Furthermore, doing the process well may not require much in the way of tangible resources. For Jay Leno, it only required a few key people to show him real respect; this cost very little time or money. Third, given how much the process matters, and given the simplicity of doing it right, you would think that processes would be handled well more often than not. Sadly and alarmingly, this is not the case.

Hence this book: I will be talking about how doing things in the right way can make lots of important differences. It can have positive effects on employees' productivity and morale, on the academic performance of chronically underachieving students, on how ethically we behave, and even on how we feel about ourselves. The saga of Jay Leno is anything but an isolated case. I also will discuss what goes into doing things in the right way. The specific elements that affected Jay Leno's satisfaction with the process are part of the story, but many other factors go into a high-quality process. I also will provide answers to the puzzling question of why doing things in the right way frequently fails to happen. After all, if something so simple and straightforward can have such positive effects, shouldn't it be done more often? What is getting in the way? By identifying the obstacles, we can figure out ways to deal with them, thereby unleashing the many benefits that result from doing things in the right way.

Mapping the Terrain

Throughout the book I will consider a wide array of situations in which two or more parties are interacting with one another, or have a relationship with one another, and are trying to complete some task or attain some goal. Most of my examples come from the workplace: for instance, how employees react to a significant change in their organization such as a merger or acquisition. I also will examine more microlevel workplace encounters such as one-on-one interactions employees have with their bosses. The book's contents are also relevant to people in authority positions, such as parents, educators, and politicians. Moreover, the importance of how things are done also applies to our encounters and relationships with others who are important to us (family, friends) as we go about our various life activities.

In all of these situations, Party A is taking some action toward Party B that, from Party B's perspective, consists of both a "what" (outcome) and a "how" (process). For example, an organization may decide to introduce a new strategic initiative, leading to downsizing parts of its operations. Or a boss may give feedback to one of her subordinates about the latter's recent performance. Or, on a more personal level, a spouse may make plans for the next family vacation. In all of these examples, based upon what Party A is doing, Party B can make a pretty good guess as to what the outcomes will be. Naturally, the more Party B perceives the outcomes to be favorable, the better she responds. For instance, Party B will embrace the organizational change, will support the boss, and will go along with her spouse's suggested vacation spot.

In all of these situations Party A also is carrying out a process, which refers to how things are done. For example, in conducting the performance review, the boss may be very top-down, taking into account only her own views. Alternatively, the boss may be more open in her approach. For instance, if this particular organization uses "360-degree" feedback processes, the boss may consider the views of the employee's peers or direct reports, or even the views of the employee himself. Furthermore, the boss may conduct the performance review in ways that indicate how interested she is in her subordinate's development, such as by conducting the review on its scheduled day rather than postponing and rescheduling it multiple times. And a wife's reaction to her husband's vacation recommendation also depends on whether she believes she made the suggestion in a timely fashion or listened to her reactions to his suggestion.

How things are done is especially important to employees during times of organizational change. Regardless of the nature of the change (e.g., whether the organization is downsizing or growing), the process must include a remarkably similar set of attributes for employees to embrace the change. I will have a lot more to say about the process of managing change in a later chapter. For now, suffice it to say that the pathway leading to the result is very important to people over and above the result itself.

Process + Outcome, and Process × Outcome

You have probably heard the expression "adding insult to injury." It is a reminder of how we care about the process in addition to the outcome. Sometimes we don't like what was decided (a bad outcome: the injury), and at the same time we don't like how the bad outcome was decided or communicated (a poor process: the insult). We usually feel quite resentful when both of these things happen at the same time. For example, if a friend breaks a date with me that I was looking forward to (bad outcome), and, moreover, didn't call me beforehand to say that he would be unable to meet me and I found this out when I called him to finalize the plans (bad process), I experience a double whammy. This is usually even worse than suggested by the expression "adding insult to injury." Many studies show that a more accurate expression of what people experience when they get a bad outcome accompanied by a bad process is "multiplying insult times injury." Usually the product of two numbers (e.g., 3 × 3) is greater than the sum of those same two numbers (3 + 3). So if the bad outcome produces three units of pain and the bad process also produces three units of pain, the net experience is not six units of pain but nine units. An analogy from the field of pharmacology may be helpful here. When a patient is given a new prescription (Drug A), he may be advised to evaluate how it may interact with another one that he is already taking (Drug B). There may be few problems with taking Drug A and Drug B separately. However, if those same drugs are taken simultaneously they may have harmful effects. In like fashion, we often experience the combination of a bad outcome and a bad process as an especially toxic mix.

Regardless of whether the combination of a bad outcome and bad process is best described as "adding insult to injury" or "multiplying insult times injury," the experience of the process affects many things that employees and employers care about. For example, in the workplace the process affects employees' motivation, which is comprised of several elements. Much like a vector, motivation has both direction and magnitude. To be motivated means that employees will do some things and not others (direction) and that they will put forth effort in performing those behaviors (magnitude).

One illustration of how the process can affect the direction and magnitude facets of motivation comes from the well-established finding that employees tend to be more motivated and hence productive when they work on a task with a specific and difficult goal in mind than if they have (1) no goal, (2) a difficult but nonspecific goal, or (3) a specific but not difficult goal. For example, suppose you fell behind in your reading and decided to play catch-up one evening. Before starting to read, you set the challenging goal of reading sixty pages. What is likely to happen?

Although you may not read as many as sixty pages, you are likely to read more pages than if you did not set a goal, or if you set a difficult but nonspecific goal ("as much as I can"), or if you set a specific but less difficult goal, say, thirty pages. Why do specific, difficult goals have this effect? For one thing, goals provide direction. If your goal is to read sixty pages, then you pretty much know what you need to do: read. Anything other than reading will not get the job done. In the words of Steven Covey (the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), if you "begin with the end in mind," it is easier to know when you are (or are not) doing the things that will get you to where you want to go.

One situation in which people may be susceptible to losing focus is working at the computer. All too often, I go to my computer fully intending to accomplish the goal of making headway on some challenging activity, say, writing this book. (Note the nonspecific nature of this difficult goal: "making headway.") Unfortunately, working at the computer lends itself to doing so many other things that are a mere few clicks away. For example, I sometimes tell myself that I will get to my writing "just after I check my e-mail." Upon emerging from my e-mail, sometimes hours later, I often find that I no longer have the energy to do what I initially set out to do. On the other hand, if I make the challenging goal more specific ("write five pages"), I am much more likely to remain on task. Why? If I wander over to "just check my e-mail," I know that this activity will be at cross-purposes with the specific goal I set for myself. In short, specific, difficult goals provide direction; they make it harder to veer off course.

The presence of a specific, difficult goal also affects the magnitude or intensity of our efforts. This often happens when we see ourselves making progress toward the goal. The perception of getting closer to our goal increases the effort we put forth to achieve it, a tendency known as the "goal gradient effect." Have you ever waited in a common area in a bank for the next available teller? My guess is that when you reached the point at which you were the next in line, each minute that you had to keep waiting felt interminable. Why? You were experiencing the goal gradient effect: the closer you were to your goal, the more motivated you were to get there, and therefore the more painful it was to not be there.

Of course, sometimes we may not be making progress toward the goal. We may have set a goal to read sixty pages, only to find two hours later that we have only read five pages, perhaps because we got involved in distracting alternatives ("just checking e-mails"). In this instance, the negative feedback may motivate us to redouble our efforts to get going. The point is that goals set the stage for us to receive feedback about how we are doing, and it is the receipt of the feedback that leads us to increase the intensity of our efforts.

In much the same way that specific, difficult goals affect what we do (direction) and the intensity with which we do it (magnitude), so does a high-quality process. Throughout the book, we will consider how the quality of the process influences both the direction and magnitude facets of motivation. For example, how things are handled influences whether people choose to behave ethically or unethically (direction). The quality of the process also influences how much effort employees exert to further their organization's interests (magnitude).

What Goes into a High-Quality Process?

Assuming you are onboard with the idea that the quality of the process can make a big difference, let's try to delineate the essence of a high-quality process. When people say "the process was handled really well," what do they mean exactly? There are a few ways to depict a high-quality process, as illustrated in a classic field experiment Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin conducted in a nursing home. At the beginning of the study, the nursing home administrator told all of the residents in a warm and friendly way that the staff wanted them to have a good experience living there.


Excerpted from The Process Matters by Joel Brockner. Copyright © 2016 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Introduction 1

2 It's Only Fair 21

3 Making Change Happen: It's All (or at Least Largely) in the Process 53

4 Taking the Process Personally 123

5 For Ethicality, the Process Also Matters 184

6 A High-Quality Process: Easier Said Than Done 233


A The Change Implementation Survey 271

B Scoring Guide for the Change Implementation Survey 276

C Measure of Regulatory Focus 278

D Measure of Work Regulatory Focus 281

E Measure of "Openers" 283

F Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Values 284

G Measure of Moral Identity 286

H Measure of Emotional Reappraisal 288

Notes 291

Index of Names 305

Index of Subjects 311

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