Make the Process the Hero

Accountability Organizational leadership Transformation


Key Point: Heroic behavior at work is often an indicator that some process is really broken. Yet we often applaud heroic behavior to recover from a screwed up process, instead of honoring people who build exceptional, flawless practices.

I recently heard about a situation where a FedEx driver won the coveted Purple Promise award. According to the person who was telling the story, the FedEx employee’s truck broke down and in his commitment to deliver every package on time, he flagged down a UPS truck, transferred his packaged goods to the competitor’s vehicle and met the Purple Promise. That’s pretty ballsy! I wonder, however, if the mechanics that put a process in place to avoid any breakdowns ever get recognized for prevention. In my mind, they deserve the Purple Promise.

On a personal note, I just experienced a situation where a sales person drove 10 hours to pick up and deliver contract papers necessary to meet a closing the next day. His personal dedication made the deal closing viable. I bet you want to say “wow,” that sales person ought to be recognized and even rewarded. However, here is the dilemma… The reason the sales person had to take on heroic behavior is because he and his company’s processes are totally messed up. And when I say “messed up,” I mean completely out of control. The same broken processes have people working past midnight, on weekends, doing extensive rework, and enormous repetition and waste for customers. So why should we applaud heroic behavior when it is the result of processes that stink?

Character Moves:

  1. It is important to recognize heroic behavior, but even more important to recognize a heroic process. I prefer a steady capable surgeon who applies a reliable operating process to one who heroically saves my life after taking a “short cut.” Challenge yourself and the team to build heroic process.
  1. Look for indicators of opportunity to create heroic processes: too much overtime, work that has lots of customer recovery, complaints, and “warranty” work that few people want to do. Also, look for people that are considered “indispensable.” That’s likely because they continue to turn a crappy process into a positive result and hence stay heroic.

Heroic processes in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’ve never worked for a huge company like UPS or FedEx, but I think the reason these individuals are awarded for their “above and beyond” service is because they simply don’t have the voice to do something like “change the process.” Especially in a timely fashion… Should every worker feel like they can be listened to? Absolutely. But, their small heroic actions are going to be heard much louder than any words (read: suggestions) that could trickle up to change a much larger, company wide process. We’re talking about those actions now, aren’t we? That means they made an impact. In my opinion, leaders should be commended when they do actually monitor and recognize lousy processes, because they’re not the broken down driver who’ll be presented with the problem in the field. So, if a leader has to present an “above and beyond” award to a worker, let the leader then also deliver a promise that they’ll do their best to make sure the worker doesn’t have to earn one for the same dumb deed again. Don’t take away the Medal of Honor just because the precarious orders of a general put the soldier in the position to perform. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis