Presence over Process

by Lorne Mitchell on 22/09/2011

This week, the bees went to bed for the winter. Fed down with verroa treatment in the hope that most colonies will survive the winter.

I have also had three very different conversations this week about the importance of Business Processes. In each conversation, I came to a different set of conclusions. However, there was one over-riding idea that shone through from each conversation. The obsession with the current process-centric religion in management thinking has actually made many of our service-based organisations less, not more effective and less, not more efficient.

The first conversation came from an experience I had with a US-based hosting company I have used for about ten years. Last year they put SAP into the company. Two months ago the company was sold. The service has been declining for about a year. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The new process involves forcing you to ring a US telephone number which is actually answered by someone in the Phillipines who filters you so they can direct you to the right department. The problem I had involved both Domain Names and Hosting – so I ended up being put through to two departments. In the end I was double-billed and had to ring back a week later to complain – when I went through the same rigmarole – and was sent an email to say I couldn’t reclaim the money because it was against company policy. I rang a third time and finally got through to someone who sorted me there-and-then. Sounds familiar? More like a telephone company? Yes, indeed. I then got hold of the Director for Customer Experience and Process Design on LinkedIn to share my story. He was a Harvard MBA. He saw my profile but ignored me. The company is called Network Solutions.

The second case was with a former colleague whom I had lunch with. He is an aspiring partner at one of the big five consulting practices. He told me he was writing a paper about the importance of process design in telecoms companies. I cited the above story and said that Presence was more important than Process. He looked quizzical. He could not compute. He was not sure how he could implement Presence and make money out of the idea from a consulting assignment.

The final conversation was with an enlightened ex COO of a Telecoms company with whom I had lunch with on Tuesday. He said he was process mad – yet when you listened to his stories of how he managed processes, there was a great deal of practicality and experience blended in with the importance of providing the right information to the right person at the right time to turn customer issues and questions around on the first call.

In the crusade to banish the obsession with Process centricity, I continue to marvel at the bees that I keep. They don’t have crazy processes to waste time. They have developed an approach that balances Process AND Content (or pollen/nectar collection) IN THE MOMENT so that they can respond with far more intelligence than just following a book of rules. Interestingly, the model they use shows that outsourcing is extremely wasteful and makes no sense at all. If you have to hand off, do it only once (not three times like ITIL). The models from the bees also demonstrates the sense of investing in small, agile “cells” of capacity and capability tuned to specific types of demand.

To summarise, I believe it is time to create a new management paradigm based on Presence (modelled much more on the natural world that the bees have developed over 50 million years). It creates a paradigm shift that takes us away from the insanity (or caetextic thinking) of process-obsession and into a new much more organic model based on cells or colonies that can respond to demand of various types a seasonal basis.

Just like the bees do.

I am writing a book on the idea – so expect more like this in future postings.

I have also posted Presence over Process on MIX – The Management Information Exchange – please add comments and vote for the idea there or add your comments here as you wish.  Always valuable!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Brunnen September 23, 2011 at 08:07

Lorne,

Thanks for this thought – and, looking back over a lifetime in and around the world of telecoms, the last 2+ decades of an increasing obsession with Process seems to have led to collective memory loss; organisations that have forgotten why they were born.

That decline seems to have accelerated from the time that centralisation and the closure of local presence was justified in the name of efficiency and these strategic decisions ignored what would now be called ‘un-captured values’.

Recently my broadband/telephone line became faulty – one leg of the old copper pair had deteriorated to such an extent that it was almost disconnected and the most likely suspect point was the junction box at the top of the nearby pole.

To get this fault dealt with first required that I receive an email with an attached document that should be printed, signed and returned to the supplier (by Fax) promising to pay £312 in the event that they did not find a fault.

How this process was expected to be managed without telephone or broadband access seemed not to be of any great concern. Only when I had driven to an intermediary’s office and completed this process was it possible for the supplier to consider investigating the fault. Result: a simple (but all too common) fault eventually remedied after four days of disconnection and massive disruption to my work schedule but with no hint of compensation.

Clearly this process has, from the supplier’s viewpoint, been honed to a point of perfect risk reduction but, at the same time, it is a process that reinforces the increasingly popular realisation that they have forgotten why they were born.

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2 David Cross October 3, 2011 at 19:55

Thanks for the thought provoking post Lorne, the idea of presence being a more effective management pardigm than the currently dominant process-centric way of thinking about business interaction is interesting. Is there also a need to consider context, such that in some scenarios it might be more senisble/appropriate to take a process-centric approach, whilst in other scenarios the presence-centric approach would be most appropriate? Off top of head perhaps the criteria for taking one approach over the another might be product/process complexity, or transaction value/volume etc. Or is your position that presence is always preferable to process?

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