One of my favorite quotes is the following from Toyota which appeared in the HBR article “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System” a few years ago.
“We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes. We observe that our competitors often get average (or worse) results from brilliant people managing broken processes.”
I was reading a Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and The Tipping Point) article a friend had sent me a while ago from the New Yorker called “Are Smart People Overrated?” which made a similar point. The article itself is very interesting and talks about the culture at Enron which was a culture of “stars” focusing on MBAs that grabbed the bull by its horns and ran with it. It points out that stars work to write books or in other individual focused challenges, but “organizations that are the most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star”.
The article compares Enron’s failure and the Navy’s failure in WWII vs. the German U-boats to the successes of Southwest, Wal-Mart, and Procter & Gamble. All of the later are cultures more focused on the process versus creating a culture of all-stars.
As you think about the importance of process, these are good examples. Building a process that survives turnover, acquisition, market change, and other typical issues is critical. Your processes need to be able to adapt and change, but they also need to have codified implicit knowledge so that you can survive change.