In his book entitled Beyond Reengineering, Michael Hammer describes the need today for organizations to become process centered.[1] He argues that organizations in today’s environment can no longer afford to have individual functional “castles” that basically operate independently of the rest of the organization.  It is only after the organization looks at its business as a series of end-to-end business processes will it be successful in improving cycle times, customer satisfaction and reducing costs.  Having been personally involved in defining, operating and measuring an organization using a process centered approach; I can tell you that it works.  In fact, there are very few experts in this area that debate that point.  However, there is debate as to how and why we got to the point where this has became such a pressing need.  Many argue that it is driven by global competition.  Others claim that customers have become more sophisticated, demanding a level of efficiency never before seen.  Yet others assert that demanding stockholders, with multiple options for investing their funds, are the reason.  I happen to believe that every one of these observations is correct, but there is another driving force behind such significant change in the business world that few talk about.  I touched upon it in a previous chapter, but will expound on it here. It is just another symptom of shortermitis, and I will refer to it as the Revolving Door Syndrome.

Twenty years ago, the majority of dedicated, hard working corporate employees would wake up each morning, asking themselves the following questions:  “What can I do today to make the company I work for more successful?  What positive contribution can I make to the bottom line?”  Or at the very least the question was posed as “what can I do today to keep my job with this company?”  As you read this, if you are saying to yourself, “I still think those thoughts today”; I say, “good for you.”  However, I should warn you that your loyalty is most probably unilateral in nature.  It is impossible to get inside someone else’s head, but if actions are any indication of thought very few companies today are focused on full employment for Bob and Susan as their first thought of the day.  Instead, they are focused on their product.  Is it well developed and designed?  Is it marketable?  How can we make it better?  How can we get it more “shelf space”?  How much can we get for it?  These are often the more pressing questions of the day for the corporations that we know and love.  So is it any doubt that these are the very same questions employees are, and should be, asking each day?  Not about the company’s product but about themselves as a product.  That’s right!  More and more employees, especially at the executive levels, are waking up each morning and asking themselves what they can do to make themselves more marketable, better developed, and better able to demand a higher price in the marketplace.  This is a major shift in thinking.  The well-being of the company becomes, at best, secondary, and the individual’s well-being is no longer tied to the well-being of the company or organization.  There was a time, not too long ago, when you heard stories of people becoming suicidal because the company they worked for was going bankrupt.  Just recently, I had the opportunity to interview a number of individuals from a company that had filed for Chapter 11, and without exception, each of them viewed the experience as a great developmental opportunity.  Where in the past they might have felt like failures because the company they were a part of had failed, these folks viewed it as another step in “product” development, where the product is their skills and personal capabilities.  Said differently the focus shifts from the company to the individual.  With this shift in thinking comes a change in how folks spend their day.  By definition, if you view the product as being yourself, you must not only spend time focused on “product” development and design, but also “product” marketing and sales.  The product marketing comes in the form of networking throughout the industry regarding what skills and abilities are selling the best, and where the industry trends are headed.  The product sales come through the networking that informs the marketplace of your skills and abilities.  Let me provide and example.  I will take a specific skill, and show how an individual might engage the same type of product life cycle approach to an element of his career.  As with other products we will start with the research and development phase of the life cycle.  By studying the corporate business world and its trends, suppose our “product” (we will call him George in this case) learns that there is an unusual amount of available capital showing up in the particular industry that he is a part.  Based on that information George develops the hypothesis that many companies over the next decade will move to a growth strategy that relies more heavily on acquisition than they have in the past.  Next he might test his hypothesis by contacting some venture capital firms and corporate executives in the network to test the waters.  After this and other similar research activities, George moves into the development stage.  In the development stage George may take a look at the current and proposed activities going on in his existing company that might afford him the opportunity to develop his skills in corporate and business development.  Examples of this could range from becoming in involved in the development of the business plan to actually involving himself in an acquisition or divestiture for the company.  Another way that George may engage in the development of the product is through specific formal education in mergers and acquisitions.  Under this scenario George might be willing to take an assignment that is viewed as a “step down” in order to develop his product.  In the long run, when the focus moves away from progression within a specific company to career progression “product development” becomes more important than promotion.  Take a moment to think of examples of people who have made job changes that appeared illogical to you because it did not seem to match the normal progression.  At least some of those moves will start to make sense when viewed from this “product development” perspective.  Now let’s assume that George is through the product development phase of his product and ready to move into the marketing and sales phase.   This phase can take on different levels of intensity depending on George’s sense of urgency to move into this new phase of his career.  That sense of urgency will be determined by a number of factors, not the least of which being how satisfied or secure he is in his current position.  It will also be determined by George’s perception of the opportunity window and marketplace demand.  Much like any firm selling a product or service George can spend his marketing and sales efforts focused on general image and goodwill or very targeted sales.  Much like a consulting firm might market its image through complimentary newsletters or general image commercials, George may do the same by networking throughout the community just to let some key people know that the product is out there.

You might think that the type of activity described above has little to do with the high rate of turnover in the executive ranks.  In fact, there is an age-old debate surrounding the point at which our mental images and thoughts turn to action.   Just as many argue that there is no correlation between our fantasies and our actions, one could assert that time spent flirting with the concept of job change and the process surrounding it is at worst a distraction, and at best an insurance policy that allows us to maintain a healthy perspective on our careers.  While there is merit to this argument, and the benefits are real, it would be shortsighted to ignore the risks.

It is much like the person who firmly believes he or she can continuously flirt with a colleague at work, even to the point of fantasizing about being with that individual, without ultimately acting out some or all of those fantasies.  If this form of deceptive denial were true there would be far fewer broken marriages today.  The reality is that human beings are far more contemplative than we sometimes realize.  There are numerous studies regarding the number of times a criminal will commit a crime mentally before actually acting it out.  I am not referring to the planning and plotting stages of the crime where the criminal cases out the target, plans the escape route, alibi, etc.  I am referring to the visualization and fantasy regarding what it would be like.

In many ways being involved in the processes above bring us much closer to the chance of an encounter for job change on a daily basis.  Flirting with such possibilities can be just as seductive as flirting with that colleague at work.  Often nothing will come of it, but the process alone increases the odds significantly.  Think about the number of times that you have heard someone say, “I wasn’t really serious about a job change.  I just wanted to see what was out there.  I never really thought I would make a change.”

No Turning Back

Let me pause here to make an important point.  I have been talking about how things have changed and some of the negative implications of those changes on businesses today.  I am not suggesting for one moment that there is any chance things will go back to the way they were.  Although sometimes history repeats itself, change is almost always irreversible.  Those who long for the “good old days” waste considerable productive energies on a pipe-dream.  While attitudes and values often tend to flow in cycles, change is change.  Just as physical matter that has changed properties can never return back to it’s original state, the business world will never again be the same.  Technology alone has rendered that impossible.

These Are The Good OLE Days!

So what are you going to do about it?  Many of you are not sure you like the way some aspects of business have changed.  You feel that shortermitis makes it difficult to be an effective leader.  You have difficulty inspiring a vision when it appears that everyone around you is terribly near-sighted!  You do not know how to instill loyalty when you cannot promise anyone, including yourself that they will have a job next year (or next quarter for that matter).  You find it nearly impossible to garner support for a purpose bigger than the individual because everyone has been told that it is “every person for himself”.  So, should we just fold up our tents and go home?  You can if you want, but I still have a retirement to fund!  In this next section I am going to offer some ideas and concepts that will allow you to operate as an effective leader in this New World.  I must warn you, however, that once you apply these principles to you leadership tool kit, you run a much higher risk of becoming a great leader.  And when the day comes that people speak of your name in the same company of such great leaders as Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr.  I expect some of the credit.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

[1] Beyond Reengineering: How the Process-Centered Organization Is Changing Our Work and Our Lives, By Michael Hammer

Be Sociable, Share!