In a recent post Zip-top bags, monkeys, and BPM by Jonas Ekström he shares his personal experiences and challenges in BPM. In the post he goes on to mention a presentation he attended in which the presenter used an analogy about monkeys and behavioural conditioning, similar to the research done on dogs by Ivan Pavlov in the 1890’s.
This started me thinking about how external conditions can influence situations and condition people (or dogs in Pavlovs case) without them even realising it.
Taking this a step further it made me also consider how important people as individuals and as a collective are to any business when being innovative, taking risks, making decisons and following through. My analysis is by no means scientific and just aims to document my brief exploration of the subject and its related challenges.
So what makes us human and what does that mean for business?
Ben M. Bartlett summarises human behaviour and the factors that influence it quite well in his post “Ultimately, this is what will make or break your business“. He lists a few points that are quite obvious when you read them but probably not foremost in peoples minds when in a day to day working environment:
…Because business is a complex web of human behavior and interaction, it is important to figure out how this web impacts on your business. Here are some points to consider:
- All organizations are run by human beings, each with his or her own personality type, prejudices, preferences and behavioral norms.
- Customers are human beings. To understand customers, you need to understand human nature and behavior.
- Products and services are purchased by human beings. To understand what products and services people will buy, you need to understand human nature and behavior.
- The sales process is primarily a process of human interaction… whether this interaction be in person, phone, mail, fax or online.
- Human behavior can be effectively managed through the appropriate structures and systems. However it is important to realize that while some personality types thrive on structure, others are paralyzed by it.
- Many “business” problems that crop up in your business could actually be human problems.
- Human beings build businesses, not technology, or money or buildings
- When it comes to business, humans can be your biggest asset…or your biggest liability.
The key points that immediately jumped out at me (specifically in terms of BPM and IT in general) were points 1, 5, 6, 7, 8. They illustrate something I have always believed about the challenges faced by IT and its adoption by the ‘Business’ and visa versa.
So what? How can these aspects be harnessed and/or overcome?
There is a lot of talk in the press about how the Business wants innovation and IT needs to be more responsive but at the same time they (IT and Business) do not respond well to the degree of change on either part that this requires.
When IT works closely with business stakeholders this challenge can be overcome (well at least in part). If the communication and shared risk is not however well understood and/or managed initiatives inevitably turn out to be more difficult to deliver and many times do not deliver on initial expectations.
In my readings, I came across the Satir Change Process model, named after Virginia Satir, an American author and psychotherapist. Her model is best represented in the diagram below which describes Performance fluctuations as a result of change.
These steps were Satir’s way of discussing the process of change. Note that individual in this case can be interchanged with group (in the business context).
Status Quo (White and Grey)– The status quo in Satir’s theory is the normal or accepted knowledge. This knowledge is accepted and comfortable for the individual, and the individual generally has a vested interest in keeping the state of things the same.
Introduction of the Foreign Element (Transition area between White and Red)– The introduction of the foreign element, is the stage in which a new or foreign piece of knowledge is brought to the individual’s attention. The individual is often unsure of the new knowledge and may at first reject it in the stage below.
Chaos (Red) – Chaos is the stage in which the individual tries to grasp the new knowledge that may either expand or contradict the status quo. During this stage the individual may become confused by the new knowledge and may reject it outright in an effort to protect the status quo.
Practicing (Yellow)– Practicing is the first stage of integration. The new knowledge is used in practical application and the individual establishes a familiarity with it. The individual also ties the new knowledge to already accepted information or past personal experiences.
New Status Quo (Green) – The new status quo is the stage when the previously foreign knowledge becomes part of the individual’s new “reality”. The knowledge is accepted and becomes part of what the individual considers normal.
A succession of these cycles gives us an upward spiral of incremental improvement. If we keep the change, we can prevent from getting stuck in a rut (late/old status quo – the grey zone). Drawn in a timeline, we can see increments like this:
How does this relate to BPM and other IT initiatives?
Recently I have posted on how an itterative approach to BPM development and implementation can deliver incremental business value. This approach is very tightly aligned with that of change management in an organisation.
In my experience, the challenge faced by both IT and Business is the age old one of “if there is no immediate problem to be solved, don’t try and fix something that is not broken”. No matter how tempting it is to introduce change, if the immediate problem and the benefits are not well understood an existing/potential project tends to turn into a cycle of continual recalculation and justification rather than a vehicle for ongoing delivering success that can be built upon in future.
This cycle of disillusionment can also act as the ‘hose of cold water’ (using the monkey analogy) that over time means everybody loses out. To break out of this self perpetuating cycle people in the organisation have to take a risk and thereby start the process of change. The question to be answered however is what and how big is the reward?
That said, if there is however a clearly defined business problem that needs to be addressed, and it can quantified in terms of ROI a BPM project or any other initiaitive both IT and Business are in a much better position to deliver success.
Additional Research & Reading: Aberdeen Group – BPM and Beyond, The Human Factor of BPM (Nov 2008)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence and where referenced, that organisations own copyright