Emerging Universal Business Language: Process

Mike GammageThe following is a guest post by Mike Gammage, a business process expert with years in the field both selling solutions and solving problems at the customer site.  At Nimbus since 2003, Mike has worked with clients such as Accenture, Dell, Unilever, Steria and Marathon Oil on process management and performance improvement programs.

Common LanguageWhen Noah Webster produced the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language in April 1828, he insisted that: “As an independent nation, our honor [sic] requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”  And so, by the fall of that year, as the view from the railroad caboose showed leaves in a blaze of color, American English had moved center stage…

Seriously though, Webster’s use of language to create a new ‘superior’ identity for his ‘tribe’ is an interesting example of how languages diverge. As evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel points out in a fascinating essay in New Scientist this week, linguistic diversity is rooted in the desire to assert the identity of a ‘tribe’, most often against a backdrop of conflict over territory and resources:  “There really has been a war of words going on”.

One of the many extraordinary phenomena of our time is the speed with which a truly global language is emerging.  The result, says Pagel, is “a mass extinction of languages to rival the great biological extinctions in Earth’s past”.

One in six of us on the planet may speak Mandarin but humanity is rapidly converging upon English as its auxiliary language. Vastly more people learn English as a second language than any other. Global corporations may be headquartered in Germany, France, China or Spain but English is almost invariably their adopted global language.

But in the world of work, and especially in the world of global business, English only goes so far.  Work is increasingly complex. Most often, it requires collaboration between many people, in different regions and organizational units, with different motivations and with different roles and responsibilities – and all enabled and automated by IT systems.

To even describe work in this context is challenging.  To collaborate effectively, to exploit new opportunities in an increasingly interconnected and cumulatively more complex world, demands a language above and beyond English.

In the same way that, through no plan or expressed intent, simply for the benefits it brings, English is becoming the world’s favourite auxiliary language, so too with process, which, by a similar evolutionary path, has emerged as the global business language essential for effective collaboration. Procure to Pay, Value Chains, Operating Models, Lean Manufacturing, Hire to Retire, Order to Cash, Supply Chains – these terms have emerged as part of the everyday vocabulary of process.

This new world calls for a new conception of process.  To be fit for use, it can no longer be the preserve of a corporate elite – in IT or Quality or the Six Sigma team – it has to be universal.  It needs to connect with people doing real work: to support them and to enable them to contribute to improving the way things are done. And so it has, above all, to be engaging: visual, intuitive and personalised.

No surprise then that a process management platform is coming to be seen as the beating heart of the 21st century enterprise, the essential infrastructure that enables effective collaboration on innovation and continuous improvement.

Noah Webster was a revolutionary and idealist so I think he would probably approve of the way global languages are bringing humanity closer. Either way, he must be tickled pink that a Brit is writing this in American English.

*War of Words – Mark Pagel:  New Scientist 8 Dec 2012

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Categories: Process Management

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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4 Comments on “Emerging Universal Business Language: Process”

  1. December 12, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Mike,

    Great article, irrespective of the type of English you used. Webster is reported to be somewhere in my family tree but that is suspect to me. The emergence of a universal business language surrounding process has been emerging since business started. A business is nothing but a series of processes performed by Employees, Vendors and Customers. The better those processes harmonize, the more successful the company.

    Perhaps the reason that process isn’t already the keystone of all business language is because there are too many distractions. Since nearly 70% of a companies workforce is in Operations, I doubt the corporate elite who want to hold sway over process actually understand it nearly as well as the people that do it daily. There is an old saying: those that can – do, those that can’t – teach. Perhaps it can be modified in this instance to say those that can are in Operations, those that can’t are at corporate Certainly corporate processes are important and for that you have an ERP/system of record. Everyone else has been on their own to figure out the best process in spite of the constraints those same systems place. The evidence for this is found in the staggering number of spreadsheets and work arounds that still control a large number of the actual processes of any company.

    A process isn’t defined broadly in vague terms such as Procure to Pay, Value Chains, Operating Models, Lean Manufacturing, Hire to Retire, Order to Cash, & Supply Chains. Process is the nitty gritty of what a single person is doing at a particular time to contribute to the overall efficiency, visibility and accuracy of the business. Collaboration with a Vendor or Customer means that what you do in a process makes their life better; and if they don’t have any processes themselves you give them yours. Bakers Footwear just won Supply Chain of the Year, beating out Boeing and IBM, by providing its Vendors processes that made their manufacture and distribution of Bakers products more efficient, accurate and visibile. Bakers gain is obvious as well as financial: 38% faster lead times and 35% lower direct labor and transportation costs.

    You are correct to identify the importance of process in business. It should in fact be a universal language that everyone begins to focus on daily. Jack Welch famously said that expenses wear shoes. Similarly, the success of a business is determined by the process they choose to execute; and 70% of the processes wear boots.

  2. December 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Process can actually be defined in broad terms since process breaks down to more process or rolls up depending on the needs of the situation.

  3. hilarychapman
    December 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I am a native speaker of English, but I see the need for an easy-to-learn auxiliary language, Esperanto. What do you think of Esperanto?

  4. December 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    I agree with the comment about Esperanto. Your readers may be interested in seeing http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    Their new online course http://www.lernu.net has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

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