If blogs are supposed to be about free-wheeling opinions, then I need to share a big one today: this economy is suffering in part because consumer sentiment, confidence and trust are at an all-time low. That’s a no-brainer. However, building rapport and confidence with consumers is not the responsibility of government. I am afraid for those business people at all levels in companies who are waiting for a legislative or bureaucratic solution to the consumer confidence problem. Government intervention can work for injecting capital and regulating banks but you cannot mandate or regulate sentiment. Helping your customers and prospects with the decision to buy what you’re selling is your responsibility. You need guts and new ideas right now. This isn’t to say that there aren’t macro-economic forces that need to be corrected. Of course, there are. It is to say that business plays a role and those who understand that role and the processes involved in injecting consumers with confidence will win big. Those who are passive, will not.
Here’s a very simple example of what I mean (I share this and other stories for the sake of the small business owner, the non-profit and the smaller government agency). I met a guy last week who is taking advantage – that’s right…exploiting – the current economy and selling carpet cleaning to people who had been thinking about buying new carpeting. He’s growing his business everyday because his customers see the value in preserving what carpet they have and delaying a bigger purchase. His marketing process literally seeks out those people who were going to buy carpet and he offers them a cheap alternative. He’s new to this service offering but he saw an opportunity and seized it. Bear in mind, he seized it in a rather big way by buying a carpet-cleaning franchise. That’s guts.
GM and Chrysler are designing their solution to their collective demise by entering into merger talks. They have a business problem so they’re looking for a business solution. Can you imagine the business process opportunities in this case? With any luck, they’re talking about engineering “green” cars that run on something other than gasoline – something they should have begun 30 years ago. If you’re struggling right now, are there any lessons to be learned from this example? Can you imagine a business process that involved another business even if it meant your competition? Can you imagine engineering new products now before you discover you’re in a deeper hole? That’s creative and disruptive thinking.
eBay is re-engineering and discovered they had inefficiencies. Sadly, those inefficiencies were directly related to positions and people. Those people have names and families. Many hundreds have lost their jobs. What if they had evaluated their processes much earlier and re-assigned people to developing new markets and products? Could they have staved off drastic cuts and grown their business instead? Can you look into your processes now and divert resources from wasteful cost centers to top-line profit centers?
Growth is a Process Too – Put the ‘B’ and the ‘M’ back into BPM
Keep in mind that BPM stands for BUSINESS PROCESS MANAGEMENT. Break it down. BPM is an approach to managing business based upon a process view or perpsective. Business and management have everything to do with enabling growth. There are several dimensions to the “growth” role of BPM.
- Growth by virtue of increased market share through improved sales processes and delivery systems
- Growth in sales by virtue of reduced pricing and better positioning
- Growth in profits on existing sales by virtue of cost cutting measures (elimination of waste)
- Growth in sales by virtue of rapid innovation, differentiation, and new features
- Growth in terms of customer loyalty resulting from higher quality and a reduction in defect-related complaints
This is not for the squeamish. The kind of leadership I am talking about – the nerve to walk into executive offices asking for the time to discuss the process-driven way out of down markets – is a trait found in people who see growth as both vital and the natural bi-product of doing things right. People who see across horizons to a time when today’s innovation is tomorrow’s normal. People who believe in the relationship between customer needs (demand based on pain or desire) and a company’s ability to supply that need in a cost-effective yet profitable way. Always seeking to understand the demand side of the equation first!
Tell Your Story
BPM offers business people from all backgrounds and disciplines a common language and view into how things are done and can be done. In many respects, BPM is to management what film is to story-telling. It provides every story-teller and every audience a common platform for interpretation and dialogue. Get your BPM into the streets and tell people what makes you unique and how it is that you keep evolving for the sake of the customer.
Apple does this all the time. Steve Jobs schedules a big story-telling hour and everybody shows up to hear him tell the story of Apple’s latest innovation, new processes, new suppliers, new design. Can you do something akin to that in your market?
Where Are You Headed?
Give some serious thought to this direction thing. Are you shrinking or growing? Are you heading off in a lateral direction to find new markets in new geographies? Are you aligning yourself in a vertical market so that you become integrated in something else with new partners? Either way, can BPM help you get there?
If you and your team haven’t stood in front of your core processes in a long time – big, colorful, projected on the wall – then I suggest strongly you do that. Don’t read them for the sake of technology or throughput. Look at your process diagrams and models with the eyes of an explorer and get the big picture into view. They are the best map of your territory. You need to know where you’re going and so do your peers. Use your maps and tell your story. Share your vision.