I'm on my third startup and I've discovered three differentiators between winners and losers: focus, sustained execution & culture. The same can be said about any new initiative, I guess. Lots of companies have gone "six sigma" yet few are really great at it. Saying "everyone is a green belt" does not a culture make.
The same is true for BPM.
So what is "culture"? How do you instantiate it? Can you do this in a repeatable, sustainable way, or is it simply the result of random evangelism by high priests. In a nutshell: how do you develop, scale and then maintain a culture?
I've been struggling with that question ever since it became apparent that culture is the single biggest impediment to moving from a "BPM project to program." There's little doubt that BPM is simply one milestone on the longer arc which is the movement of technology into the business, as business people regain control of their information. But it's a big milestone. There is as much cultural change required to do BPM at scale as there was to move to desktop computing at scale. This isn't an IT choice of, say, "BPMS vs. Ruby-on-rails."
It is BPM vs. business-as-usual.
I'm reminded of the time when the COO of a "top 10" law firm told me that "lawyers will never be typists." That was in 1990. Of course, by 2000, every lawyer was "a typist." Cultures changed, as did the economics of law firms. Firms either led or followed the move to desktop computing, but in the end everyone adapted. And the leaders thrived.
The same is now true for BPM.
Business economics are changing, and BPM can be either a catalyst or a response; an offensive weapon or a defensive one. You can lead or you can follow.
But in order to lead you must accelerate the culture required to adapt and adopt. Today's business culture, from top to bottom, is resistant to much of what BPM preaches. We pretend to champion:
- Incremental, continuous improvement
- Structured change
Instead, despite our rhetoric, the actions of people in company after company show that:
- We prefer to "boil the ocean" and fix everything at once (often taking the subtle form of: "automating a bad process just means you still have a bad process")
- We really prefer doing things our own way and letting others do things their own way
- And we truly believe our way is better, as opposed to some common way
We are BPM hypocrites.
In yesterday's New York Times, David Brooks wrote an insightful column about dignity (and the loss thereof) in the public sphere. He wrote about how as a young man George Washington, who would become the US's first president, wrote down "110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior," and then applied those rules to his own daily life. Brooks calls these rules "the dignity code."
"[A]s the biographer Richard Brookhiser has noted, these rules, which Washington derived from a 16th-century guidebook, were not just etiquette tips. They were designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward man. Washington took them very seriously. He worked hard to follow them. Throughout his life, he remained acutely conscious of his own rectitude.
In so doing, he turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, 'Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation.'"
I love that idea, that "inner morals" might be "shaped by the outward man." Of course, religious and other ritualistic frameworks have existed for this same reason for centuries.
Brooks touched on this same topic last week in The Conversation, a New York Times online weekly discussion he has with Gail Collins. They were chatting about whether hypocrisy in public figures is a relevant issue. He wrote:
"I suppose it all comes down to whether you believe good character is constructed through culture and artifice, as I do, or whether you think people are naturally good and that social conventions are warping and destructive."
Character as a result of "artifice." Does BPM have an artifice, a dignity code that we can look to in times of stress?
We will all, at times, be hypocrites... we won't always do the "BPM-appropriate" thing, but we need to try. We need those rules of BPM Etiquette and Decent Behavior, so that we can objectively assess our progress. Without them, it is simply too easy to avoid "walking the talk." We will continue to give lip service to "agility" and "continuous improvement" and "change as fast as the business" but we won't. Not really.
We need a BPM dignity code.