workers at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics
PHOTO: Vytautas Dranginis

For two weeks last month, some of the world’s premier athletes came together in Pyeongchang, South Korea to take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics. While some of the sports featured in the games may be unfamiliar to many parts of the world — think biathlon or curling — there’s no denying all of the participants were at the top of their respective sports.

The same holds true for the upcoming playoffs in professional basketball and ice hockey. While the sport and particular skills needed to excel may be vastly different, none of these elite athletes simply coasted to get where they are today. In every case, it took years of practice and continuous improvement, not to mention the ability to deal with immense pressure from coaches, competitors, fans and even themselves, for these athletes to consistently perform at their highest level.

A Singular Ability to Focus

What separates the performance of these successful athletes from so many others? 

All successful individuals seem to have one trait in common. Whether we’re talking about an athlete preparing to compete in the Olympic downhill or a business executive taking charge of her team in the midst of a crisis, these individuals are able to control and effectively channel their natural human reaction to pressure by focusing on what they need to accomplish in the moment.

This is easier said than done in many organizations who are drowning in process complexity. So how do you achieve the process clarity required to position teams for success. The first step successful business execs should consider is how to provide the members of their team with quick access to easy-to-follow processes. Because process improvement depends on teams sharing knowledge and working with each other, the processes they use must be readily accessible and easily understood. Unfortunately, business teams – like sports teams – sometimes tie themselves in knots with unnecessary levels of process complexity. 

Related Article: Tame the Anarchy of Innovation With a Process-Driven Culture

4 Steps to Cut Through Workplace Noise

To remove complexity and ensure you’re helping, not hurting, your teams’ performance, try these four steps:

1. Describe Processes Simply

Teams need process information that is engaging, user-friendly and useful. If your processes aren’t easy to use, change how and where you make them available. Consider the needs of each team when deciding what format to use. Make additional details available only if and when necessary. 

Don’t get distracted by process exceptions. They can be described separately in the process detail. Bottom line: If it’s easy to understand and easy to use, teams will embrace process knowledge, resulting in improved quality and consistency.

2. Create a Single Source of Truth

Create a single point that enables teams to collaborate and covers the basics of “how things are done here.” By effectively capturing the critical process DNA and know-how of the business, you’ll eliminate areas of duplication and confusion.

Related Article: How to Involve Employees in Process Improvements

3. Empower Process Owners

Teams need to own their own processes. They need to know that they have the ability to simplify their processes and to identify and implement process improvements to optimize performance. A healthy process improvement culture relies on empowered process owners who are not afraid to step up and take action.   

4. Enable Innovation 

Process owners need to have the freedom to try, and sometimes fail, in their efforts to improve and innovate. Like team coaches, leadership teams can effectively communicate and endorse this message.

While process clarity is an important ingredient for day to day operational excellence, it becomes essential in times of stress. Processes are truly tested when teams are under pressure, when they need to make decisions quickly or work through challenging transformational changes. 

While these may seem like simple, common sense approaches, it’s surprising how many businesses — and athletes — continue to complicate the fundamentals to the point where it undermines their performance.