The Happy Fifteen Percent

The March Mini-Poll that BPTrends ran asked readers to tell us about how their executives felt about business process change. 15% said that “hardly anyone in our organization is interested in business process work. 35% said that it was most middle managers in the organization who were working to sell process ideas to executives. Another 15% said that their CEO and the executive team believe in processes and encourage business process initiatives of all kinds.

Over the years I’ve often been asked what a process advocate should do if he or she finds oneself is a company where management isn’t supportive of process work. I’ve usually said that I have no good ideas about how to change senior management attitudes. I know that exciting things happen in companies where senior management supports process change. I also know that process people can be very frustrated working in companies where senior executives aren’t interested in process change. And, as best I can tell, process people really have no control over who is hired to head their organizations. If I’d heard of any smart ideas, I’d pass them along; but I haven’t.

I guess I’d simply suggest that anyone who is really interested in process change should check on management attitudes before signing on, or, if they find themselves in a company that isn’t interested in process, they should consider moving to another company.

I’d add one important qualification. Some organization’s executives are interested in process change, but don’t call it that. Some CEOs are interested in Innovation, or Transformation, or even Capability Improvement. If you CEOs are interested in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, you can usually fit “process” in by simply ignoring the name and focusing on achieving better performance. But if the CEO is really uninterested in changing the performance of the organization’s operations, then you have a problem.

As I’ve remarked in other contexts, there’s no rule that says organizations need to prosper or succeed. A large number don’t. The trick, as an employee, is to identify and then work for an organization that will prosper and succeed.

The happy fifteen percent, in our survey, are those who work for organizations whose executives are enthusiastic about process improvement. Once you find you have a job in such an organization, then you should dig in and help improve the organization. For the rest, we just have to do what we can improve our organizations in small ways, hoping for executives to arrive who understand process and are willing to commit to bolder ventures.