Tom is a business process consultant at some of the largest enterprises in the world. His experiences in the strategic use of technology give him thoughtful insights into the rapidly changing world in which we live. He has a strong background in finance, education and technology.
It’s just past the holidays when many people make New Year’s resolutions. How many will stick around to see 2013 and how many will be forgotten by March? How many resolutions are already forgotten or failed? This question got me thinking about a documentary our family recently watched – Food, Inc. — and the types of solutions that last and those that don’t.
A big problems the movie discussed was the poor health of feedlot cattle. The cattle’s poor health was brought about by a number of conditions including overcrowding, sustained unsanitary conditions and a diet of cheap corn, a food they were never meant to eat. One widely adopted solution; keeping the cows permanently drugged up on antibiotics, is a great example of throwing technology at a problem without understanding the big picture or thinking about sustainability. How long before the people who eat the beef start to get seriously sick from all the drugs that shouldn’t have been there in the first place? This is a question on the mind of many, but it hasn’t changed what people eat in a meaningful way despite warnings and expert input.
We see this pattern of short term technical fixes everywhere. For example, in our recent housing boom we reached a point where families could no longer afford housing. The short term fix was to engineer suicide financing – Option Arms, Liar and NINJA (No Income, No Job, No Assets) Loans that gave the appearance that the system was still functioning normally. Until it blew up.
Contrast this to a much abridged example of a more sustainable approach to problem solving. In the early Twentieth Century, Henry Ford wanted to expand the market for his cars. His approach was to make his workers more productive by better designed processes. He could then pay them better, which he did – instituting an unheard of $5 a day minimum wage at his factories in 1914, thereby doubling the wages of many of his workers. This then led to a larger market for his cars as many workers were now able to afford cars for the first time. The point I’m making is that Ford developed a sustainable solution that lasted for years. It also contrasts with the two earlier examples in that its elements supported and reinforced each other. It was a virtuous cycle.
How does all this tie into BPM? We’ve all heard the complains and stories of short term gains from exciting initiatives such as SCOR, Six Sigma and Lean, but then cynicism about how long the change lasts or what it really did for the bottom line. Cynicism is organizational cancer. How do you make sustainable change?
- Easy – Sticky change isn’t too difficult to adopt and doesn’t require excessive effort
- Simple – Technology isn’t the only way to effect change
- Programatic – Make business process improvement part of an ongoing program
- Cultural – The things that define us as a company get more of our efforts
- Exec-supported – Anything that lasts is supported at a high level; the C-level
- End-user-supported – The most important of all and the result of doing the other things well.
Business process management is all about managed, sticky change. Are you creating change that sticks?