How do you make something great? How do you take an experience, a product, a talk, and make it something exceptional?

My wife and I love hot chocolate. When I go to coffee shops, I typically get the hot chocolate. Unfortunately, there are very few “hot chocolate shops” in the world, so I’m relegated to getting it at coffee shops. Recently, while at a meeting, I ordered a cup of cocoa and instantly fell in love with it. It was the perfect blend for my taste buds, and I couldn’t wait to bring my wife back to try it. I just knew she would love it, so I kept it a secret and bided my time till I could get her to the shop for a cup of her own – at which time I properly built up the experience she was about to have. When she finally had her first taste … it was ok. Nothing special. It definitely didn’t stand out the same way it did weeks earlier when I tried it. I had lost credibility with my wife on what constitutes good hot cocoa.

One simple tool to making something great is to make it consistent. Make it predictable. Meticulously focus on the details so the experience is the same. A blog on the Disney Institute recently said:

“Exceptional service is achievable for every organization because service is ‘architected’ from systems and processes that you control. .. Exceptional service does not simply come from a friendly transaction or helpful technology alone, it is the result of deeply understanding your customer’s expectations, putting in place the right guidelines, organizational processes, and service standards to exceed them, and then consistently delivering that service over and over again.” (I added the emphasis.)

For many, that word is the antitheses of innovation. It is interpreted as formulaic, stodgy, and unchanging. It is often viewed as a tool to keep the “new” from happening. And yet, exceptional service or hot cocoa (as the case may be), depends on it. Without processes, chaos rules and a customer cannot predict, with certain clarity, how his/her interaction with your organization will go. Interestingly, most innovation in science has come out of the scientific process – a set of rules and expectations that scientists engage in to ensure they eventually discover new truths.

In an organizational startup phase, processes are implied. The original team just knows the expectations of what it means to be effective in the organization. The processes exist, but they are a function of the social norms implicit in the small community. As the organization grows, it becomes more and more difficult to impart those processes casually. As a result, processes become more formalized.

These new processes are in place to ensure the values and mission of the organization are being acted out by every individual in the company. This brings great benefit to the clarity of a new employee’s role. Well-defined processes empower the employee to take action within a well-understood range of acceptable actions. And with that clarity, and new employee can begin to make the values of the organization his/her own.

Innovation happens within a structured way of thought, not with a total absence of it.

P.S. – Some organization go to an extreme. Last year, I read a process requiring me to hold the hand-rail when walking down the stairs – because the organization cares for my safety. These kind of procedures are the reasons why processes are misunderstood and mocked. Taken to an extreme, things get silly and the processes lose their effectiveness and are completely ignored.