One of the most difficult aspects of creating a climate of process-based management is achieving the required level of buy-in. It’s tempting to say “executive buy-in” but we need buy-in across the whole organization—having support only at the c-level is not enough to make sustained change.
Getting the right people on board at the right time, and keeping them there, is often a serious challenge. Everyone is busy. Changing to a process-based management approach sounds more like a problem than a solution.
In addition, we are often working in an environment where the organization is reasonably successful, so what problem are we trying to fix?
We can appeal to the abstract idea of ‘silo-busting’, but that may not resonate enough to prompt significant change in how we visualize and manage an organization. Worse still, although it may never be acknowledged, I suspect that we often also need to deal with the unconscious bias that “silos have always worked well, and the walls protect me!”
My experience across different organizations, and national and corporate cultures, tells me that there are three streams of related activity required to build and sustain commitment to process-based management: process improvement, process management, strategic commitment. These are parallel streams, although their timescales and cadence are quite different. They may start in any order but, once started, each must continue.
Process-based management is about changing corporate and personal mindsets, so don’t expect it to be fast or easy. There is no magic presentation that wins hearts and minds with a few clicks. We need to carefully nurture an accretion of understanding and trust based on proven results.
Process improvement focuses on individual processes and is the classic lower-level process work. It is, of course, the purpose of all process work—we must be improving processes, i.e. improving organizational performance, if our process view has any value.
This is not to be dismissed as unimportant—it is the goal. It is also the easiest to achieve since it is usually about fixing some current tangible problem, and both the pain and the gain are obvious.
In looking to the longer-term goal of embedded process-based management, we must make sure that this short- and medium-term work continues efficiently and effectively, and that we collect the success stories because we’ll need them in the other two streams, especially process management.
Process management provides a systemic way of increasing the frequency of well-directed process improvement and is, therefore, a logical extension of the process improvement stream as described above.
In Tregear Circle terms, it is characterized by the addition of the PO circle to the PI circle. Essentially, process management is about creating the perpetual improvement/innovation engine of the PO/PI circles. It creates an environment where we can always make the best evidence-based decisions about where to invest process improvement resources.
Acknowledging that process improvement is a well-accepted ‘good thing’, it allows us to efficiently do more of that, and to choose our target processes wisely. It puts the continuous in continuous improvement.
To get this going requires a process architecture1 that is ‘good enough’, and measures and process owners for, say, five pilot processes, i.e. get the circles turning for a small number of demonstration processes.
It might be tempting to start work on many more processes as soon as possible, but we want to give ourselves the best chance of demonstrable success. Choose processes where there is a good, i.e. interested, candidate for the process owner role and where there are process problems that can usefully be solved. Once the circles are turning well enough for the initial set of processes, add some more. Rinse and repeat.
This process management activity will feed back into the process improvement work indicating which processes should be improved and why that is so. We must always remember that process improvement is the goal. Process management without process improvement is, by our own process theories, waste that should be eliminated. Nothing succeeds like success, and we must use well-targeted success to demonstrate the power of process-based management if we are to gain strategic commitment.
Strategic commitment is ultimately required if process-based management is to be embedded in the culture across the whole organization. Warning: culture change takes a long time—possibly years, not months—and this is a reason, not to delay, but to start now.
The objective here is to find the links between whole-of-organization strategic issues and process-based management. There must be a strategic reason for strategic commitment.
What are the big issues facing the organization and the industry in which it works? What changes are customers, regulators, suppliers, and investors demanding? What opportunities are there to enhance the organization’s value proposition by capitalizing on new technologies and business models? We need to find compelling reasons for a change to process-based management.
For example, in a recent client meeting we discussed a significant strategic issue embodied in a radical change from a world where products and services have been mainly analog to one where they will be massively digital, with market expectations of significantly lower costs for traditional services (perhaps even to the point of those services becoming commoditized).
Importantly, there are also significant opportunities to develop new services and value propositions flowing from that same digitization. Profound changes will happen across this organization’s value chains, and beyond their boundaries into the operations of intermediaries and customers. It will be vital to have a deep understanding of current and future cross-functional processes, and more importantly, the difference between them.
As well as identifying the strategic issues, it is necessary to design the pathway for getting the process view of those issues onto the strategic agenda. The strategic issues themselves are likely well in focus; the possible process response may not even be in sight. We need to find a beachhead, one or more senior executives who see the potential, even if still a little vaguely. Our goal here is to, not just give presentations about process-based management, but get to the point where the senior executive team can give that presentation.
Mindset is generally agreed to be the most difficult of the 7Enablers of BPM. One way to deal with that is to focus on particular minds rather than group mindsets. Start with one mind, one supportive executive, to build understanding and a plan to enlist others.
This third stream is about strategic positioning, and its success will also depend on the evidence created in the process improvement and management streams proving that such a strategic response does work in practice.
Where to start?
The initial focus in an organization might be on any one of these activity streams, but it’s usually about process improvement because everybody believes in that, even if in practice it doesn’t get done as much as it should.
The ‘bottom-up’ approach (improvement-management-commitment) is the most common. The reverse order is easier, but quite rare in practice.
1 In my previous Reimagining Management columns http://www.brcommunity.com/articles.php?id=b814 and http://www.brcommunity.com/articles.php?id=b818 I described the 7Enablers of BPM, the seven elements that get the circles turning. These are also explained in detail in the book Reimagining Management.