If you are contemplating change, business process improvement or organizational transformation the keys to success are people, process and technology. These three factors, more than any others, will govern the degree to which you succeed or fail. Almost any change you attempt will have some effect across all three of these areas because they are so intertwined.
However, before you even contemplate change in any of these three areas it is critical that you get the information part of the equation down. Now, more than at any other point in history, information is king. Having a complete understanding of the information that flows through these people, processes and technology is the critical component in ensuring that any change leads to meaningful results. The fact is that the information that runs most organizations is probably the thing within the organization that is least subject to change. If you are in the retail business then you how much you sold something for, the terms of the sale and customer information have been important and relatively unchanged for hundreds of years and from organization to organization. The same is true of construction and most other industries. Sure there has been some change, maybe now we need an e-mail address, etc but the pace of change is much slower than the change in people, processes and technology. The mechanics of processing an order in retail has changed dramatically over the last 20 years with the introduction of online retailing, etc with huge repercussions for the people, processes and technology involved.
Once you clearly understand the information required to support the breadth of the area you are targeting for business process improvement or organizational transformation you can begin looking at the people, processes and technology:
- Processes: This is a great place to start because it drives the requirements for the other two. For example if your new process for car sales no longer includes the salesman negotiating the price you may begin to look for different qualities in your salespeople or provide different training because negotiation skills may now be less valuable in comparison to other skill areas.
- Technology: Once you understand how the process should work, you can develop a solution that meets those requirements. I have spent a lot of time working backwards from solution to people to process and it can be incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, this happens quite a bit particularly when solution activities are vendor driven.
- People: I put this last, which I think some people will disagree with but I believe that one of the great advantages of people is their flexibility and adaptability. These traits are becoming even more important as the pace of change in the world increases. Once the process and technology components are defined the approach to people can be evaluated and developed.
In no way am I suggesting that people aren’t important to the transformation process I just think that at least first attempting to optimize the first two conceptually enables you to truly understand the implications for the people involved. You can also evaluate the organizations (people) ability to change based on current skills, etc. I really do not like the idea of starting from the people side and trying to evaluate change initiatives on the basis of what can be accomplished based on an evaluation of the existing personnel because while that may be comforting to the people who are subject to that change I don’t think it holds up over time, nor will it result in a business process improvement or transformational activity that will withstand the forces of the marketplace. If you sub-optimize your organizational processes because you are afraid that your existing personnel may not be able to scale to meet the challenge you may be underestimating your people, but you are almost certainly setting yourself up to fair poorly in comparison to peers who do not place themselves under the same constraints. You may need to segment or develop a phased approach to the change initiative but I do not believe that you should settle for a final scenario that is deliberately sub-optimized on the basis of fit to existing personnel.
What do you believe? I know there are a lot of people who believe in working from the people you have towards optimal solutions for those people because the social factors involved in working from this direction drives buy-in which in turn drives success. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts in this area because I do believe that, in the end, the success or failure of a solution is often tied more to human factors than to technical merit. I try to emphasize developing the people and processes and then focusing on the sales pitch to the people as my mechanism for buy-in, but let me know what your take is.
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