What the hell happened while I was gone? Over the past 20 days (!) Egyptian rebels ousted a dictator via the non-violent methods largely perfected by Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mark Zuckerberg. I didn't even know you could Friend three of those guys. Yet here we are.
But today I'd like to look at one other aspect of what happened over just the last three days: the role of the military in all this and how it applies to the cultural rebellion that is BPM. Three days ago it was understood by all the Wise Men that Mubarak was going to resign. Two days ago he went on TV and said he was… staying! And the VP and the Generals supported him. But now we get to the crucial part: the rank and file of the military didn't follow. They were in the streets, continuing to protect the rebels in the largely non-violent way that the rebels themselves exhibited. And yesterday my guess is that the Generals reconsidered and chose honor over division. And so Mubarak is out.
A lot of that is fact… some is supposition. There's one more fact I find interesting: Egypt's army is a conscript army. Which means its army, given its size (1/2 million Egyptians) will inherently reflect all the nation's constituencies and values - these will be internalized to an extent not possible when the army is not "democratically" selected. [Note: I'm not implying anything against a volunteer army, it also has many merits, I'm simply saying that Egypt's isn't, and therefore the demographics of the army more directly reflect the demographics, and therefore the sympathies, of the entire population.]
Thursday was the turning point, the day when the culture of the rank and file Army and the culture of the rebels at Tahrir Square coincided.
And what was I doing on Thursday?
Thursday I met with two of our BPM customers. One, a mortgage lender, was about seven years into its BPM journey and was hosting the other, a global manufacturer, who started a BPM program about three years ago. The summit was to dive deeply into the cultural change that was required to do BPM at scale, and to discuss and show the value derived from doing this. It was cool to see one company who in their own words "has been able to re-think their whole business model" because of BPM. They've been able to survive a very rocky few years in their business in part because BPM practices "produced higher quality loans," allowed them to "react to regulations that have come down the pike in increasing frequency over the past three years" without increasing costs, and has produced a cultural acceptance of change so that major process change can be delivered in weeks and people embrace it without the cultural shock that most process change engenders.
The senior business person from the larger company made the comment that "we can talk ourselves into how we are so complicated that this is impossible, or we can simply start doing [BPM]." Another person was impressed that at the mortgage company, everybody now understood "that they were in a process, and that they know exactly who is going to be working [on this business object] next." I'm guessing that in most companies even that basic understanding is lacking en masse, in cross-functional processes.
Bringing it all back home
As I sat in front of the TV last night thinking about the role of the military in Egypt over the past few days, and stumbling across this idea that the very nature of the military's rank and file response - and the fact that it reflected largely the feelings of the rebels, both in their viewpoint and also in their essentially non-violent actions - it started me thinking that there's a role for a conscript army for BPM. In most projects we always look to champions to lead and carry the day in deploying new applications or business change. And no doubt, leaders are required. But it might also behoove us to think that forced conscription may also play a role so that we are ensured of having viewpoints, understandings and values of everyone represented in our BPM projects and programs. If you agree with me that BPM is as much a cultural issue as it is a technical one, then making sure our teams reflect the existing culture is essential to success. Only if you move the existing culture will you succeed at scale with BPM. A conscript BPM army, then, might be an interesting tactic to pursue in your program.
Last October I gave a speech where I talked about the next decade of BPM. I suggested that this decade [in BPM] would be more turbulent, more social and more transparent. I guess what I meant was that business itself was undergoing "global climate change" and that therefore adaptability itself was going to become a company's biggest competitive advantage. Adaptability by humans to changing conditions, although enabled by using the right technology, is a cultural issue.
Thursday afternoon the last thing we talked about was "looking back, did you achieve the results from BPM that you were expecting?" The CIO of the mortgage company said "No." Eyebrows raised.
"When we started in 2003 we were looking at high growth years ahead and we were requiring linear headcount increases to react to that growth. We started our BPM program so that we could scale, growing the business without requiring linear expense growth. But then the meltdown happened and instead what really happened was completely unexpected. Our [BPM-based] processes had made our loan quality improve so we didn't have to buy back any of our loans, which killed or maimed a lot of mortgage lenders. And then the regulations started hitting us right and left, yet we were able to respond to all of these without resorting to outside service providers (at increased costs) which is what most mortgage lenders had to do. Our people were used to getting tasks and knew that the processes were built for change, so acceptance of all these changes was relatively easy. We still have to train people on the changes, but change itself was no longer scary." I left there thinking that at this company, at least, BPM was directly responsible for saving some jobs, helping this company stay strong in the face of adversity.
Like Bob Dylan said: Things have changed. If you do business in the Middle East, things have changed. If you do business in the financial markets, things have changed. If you are a manufacturer, things have changed. And they will continue to. BPM can help you build a business that is adaptable; and adaptability in and of itself is becoming a value proposition, maybe THE value proposition, of this first half of the 21st century. Making sure your BPM program is built around a conscript army - a direct reflection of all the elements of your society whether they are BPM champions or not - may be a good way to start.