Facilitating workflow and business process improvement is a science and an art. In its scientific clothing, workflow is about identification, dynamics, variables, equations, testing (simulation), metrics (inputs, outputs, throughput) and the forces mitigated by effective process engineering. Of course, there’s more to it. In its artistic clothing, workflow and business process analysis is not unlike psycho-analysis. There is a problem-state (as-is) and a desired-state (to be). In order for the psychoanalyst to facilitate change, he or she must build rapport and apply some rather artful techniques in order to gently yet effectively produce a new outcome. The art is in the questioning.
Questions as Art
Asking questions skillfully is grace. It’s fluid and flows. Resistance is softened in the listener/answerer and the truth of conditions is allowed to safely emerge. Skillful questioning opens the door to willingness and honesty. Artful questions progress logically yet they lack the icy cold of reason and logic. Artful questions also lack the abrupt, mechanical sensation that scientific questionning prompts in people. These are, after all, people we’re dealing with.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
AI was developed by David Cooperrider as an organizational development approach and methodology that would engage people with their own change and performance. AI is a unique way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in people and the reality of their conditions. In the process, it enhances the system’s capacity for collaboration. AI uses a 4-stage process:
- DISCOVER the organizational processes that work well.
- DREAM and envision processes that would work well in the future.
- DESIGN, plan and prioritize processes that would work well.
- DELIVER the proposed design (implementation).
The core idea with AI is to build solutions around what works. Instead of focusing all your energy on fixing the 1% that’s wrong, AI focuses on how to create more of what’s already working. The approach positively acknowledges peoples’ contributions in order to increase trust and alignment.
Precise Questions – NLP
Bandler and Grinder – founders of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) developed an approach that engages people in developing clarity in the sensory dimensions of their current and future states. This approach is much more complex but suffice it to say, by focusing on what processes will look and sound like and how individuals will know when workflow is flowing, the future state becomes crystal clear. Primarily, the NLP approach seeks to challenge the underlying assumptions in what people throw at you. For example, when people share generalizations like “we always stack all the enrollment forms over there” the NLP approach would question “ALL the enrollment forms?” and “ALL the time?” and “over WHERE SPECIFICALLY?”. Further, the NLP approach would ask gentle questions like “Is there ever a time when you wouldn’t stack them over there?” These are over-simplified examples to be sure but the point is, by seeking precision in a gentle way, you get a more refined sense of what people want to experience.
The Art of Discovering Beliefs
Facilitating workflow and business process improvement is about overcoming resistance to change. Sharon Drew-Morgen does an excellent job of teaching us that people inherently want to maintain homeostasis. They don’t fear change. They fear disruption of the status quo. I think she’s right on and I am a strong advocate of discovering why people believe the current state can’t be overcome. Questioning into the barriers and obstacles – including attachment to the current state – is crucial to gaining understanding.
Taking the time to acquire some proven questioning skills will go a long way to producing much more than a new process diagram. Artful questions produce answers that are truthful and most likely to become actionable quickly. That’s buy-in!