Q: My company has processes for getting things done that I find to be inefficient and that don't necessarily make a lot of sense to me. I'm thinking about paying lip service to them and doing things my way behind the scenes; what do you think?
A: Think hard about the possible consequences of this approach, both positive and negative.
The inner game
To be blunt, what you're describing could be career suicide, depending on the visibility of the process and the tolerance level of your bosses. On the other hand, you could be bringing game changing innovations. The key will be your skill in driving change.
The first question for you relates to your feelings about processes in general. People vary along a continuum from loving process to craving autonomy: where do you fall on this continuum?
If you're generally good with participating in defined processes but are wired to critique and improve them, look at the specific processes that you find problematic. Look at them from all angles: What you dislike about them. The true impact — is it really as bad as you think? The reasons for the processes and the advantages they offer. The changes you'd make and the benefits you'd expect. And perhaps most importantly — the down sides of your ideas.
And what if you can't find specific reasons for disliking them? It could be that you're one of the types of people who just don't like following other people's processes. I wonder if that rings true for you. If so, this is a tendency you're going to need to manage in yourself if you want to succeed within an organization. Otherwise, you could become the dreaded "cowboy," going your own way and not seeing the costs to yourself or others.
The outer game
Let's assume that your goal is to help drive constructive change. To do that you need ideas and influence. Ideas are easier — they can just come from you if you're the creative sort; influence depends on your skills at building relationships and inspiring confidence.
Start close to home, with your boss, who should be able to discuss process goals and help you understand any dynamics with internal stakeholders. The worst thing you can do is ignore someone who has a vested interest, or slam the process that is someone's "baby."
Then start building your credibility with modest changes to lower risk processes. You'll gain a reputation as someone whose ideas actually work. If you see a way to make a bigger splash, just make sure that you presell your idea to some well-placed people who will then have your back.
The same suggestions hold if you've already developed a reputation as a process breaker. Be willing to do some rehab in the interest of longer-term advantage.
There will be times when you have ideas that are good, but that don't move forward. Don't get frustrated or get too argumentative; recognize that just by expressing quality ideas you're enhancing your reputation. These things can just take time.
The last word
To make a difference, be a constructive change agent while following both the letter and spirit of internal processes.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.