The manager without qualities
During holidays, I refrain to read business related books, because this is what I read most during the year and sometimes I really feel tired, tired to read gossips, hype and complains. Before I leave to holidays, I make a selection of books that I bough trough the years. It may happen to buy a book and read it past 5 years (or more). In 2008, I bought Robert Musil’s masterpiece, The man without qualities (hence the title of the post in German) but happened to shelve it after reading 200 pages (the book has in the Portuguese edition around 2.000 pages) because I felt lost reading the plot. The first time I pick up the book I was finishing my vacation and I had no energy to read the remaining of it. I felt tat the book was very dense and disturbing because there was not a standard, or what is called the “law of narrative order”, or if you prefer in BPM language, structured procedures.
After all these years I returned to the book revisitation. The more I read the book, the more strange and lost I was. The book is a collection of stories, some of them related other not. Some are in temporal order and make sense, others are just there to reflect about facts of life (Musil was known to study philosophy). I was getting intrigued as I progress with my reading, because the book was considered to be a masterpiece, specially by writers like for example Milan Kundera. Anyway, I make some search around the the writer works and curiously I did not find many meaningful links. Still, London Review of Books, synthesizes quite well the spirit of the book:
None of the main characters in The Man without Qualities has a story. It is a novel that disdains stories, that rejects ‘the law of narrative order’ as an adequate way of construing the meaning of a life.
Other interesting fact is that the book was not finished. Musil died before it could put and end, despite according to scholars of the writer, it did not make sense to reach to an end because life is in “Perpetuum mobile”.
What work became to be
One of the things that catch my attention reading the book, was the concept of social interaction that was described when Ulrich’s father died (Ulrich is the protagonist, the one that according to other character’s and recognized by himself not to have a single quality). Ulrich’s father was a distinguished professor and respected person in the community. When the news spread that he died:
The university needed to know about the funeral, a used gods salesman quietly wondered if there were clothes to sell, a used bookstore shop manager became to announce himself, with many apologies, on behalf of a German firm, offering to acquire an essay that should be in the library of the deceased, a priest, a representative of the parish, asked to speak to Ulrich to clarify a detail, the life insurance company came with endless explanations, another person was looking for a cheap piano, a real estate agent left the card in case of any interest to sell the house. […] Everything objectively related to the death occurred.
If you forgot that this part of the book points to an era before the first world war, around 1910 – 1914 and therefore the type of interaction that occurred in the society is very different what we are used today, is really very interesting how each character is aware of the signs and interacts with information that it’s interested related with the work sphere. What beats me is that today most of C-executives still rely on next day, monthly business intelligence reports to have insights of what is happening inside (most of the times data is not pointed were operations occur and managers suffer from an inside out mentality ) of the enterprise. When we are living on real time principle, re-read the last paragraph from Musil’s novel and try to transform your operations without suffering from a process silo mentality (we can produce orders on real time but logistics only start to think about planning on Tuesdays and we don’t know we’re the trucks are when the customer is asking us “Where is my order?”).
Technology is enabling enterprise transformation to limits we have never realized before, specially when customers already took control of operations and they used their own technology and smart devices to design their processes to interact with enterprises.
But unless your company lives in a monopoly sea, technology is useless, unless you change your attitude as a manager. Yes, competitive advantage is not only a function of unlimited financial resources, intelligent technology, smart people, it’s also a function of management style that you must master.
Cybernetic attitude means to understand organizations under a system thinking approach. Business processes, are part of the organization ecosystem, these must also be discussed under the same approach.
System thinking approach is widely broadcast, but poorly understood. System thinking must at least have the following properties that reflect in the way the process operates that is itself a system. These properties are more process design principles that cannot be translated into process models (most of process model languages. like BPMN, were not conceived to handle these properties, thus please stop criticizing it):
- Must have a purpose, results oriented. If the organization is a bank the customer wants to open a bank account quickly and have access to financial products to support operations or daily life (outside in). The bank wants to capture funds (inside out). having a purpose must be customer centric oriented, but depending on the organization culture, translating the outside perspective into a an inside perspective can be important (fast open account, equal funds increase).
- Must have boundaries clearly defined. Boundaries must be more open as possible. Must be vertical and horizontal.
- Horizontal borders means to include all stakeholders involved. Pure end to end processes execution. If your company have an e-commerce based business model, leaving out your logistics partner, responsible to deliver the merchandise is to condemn your enterprise to failure.
- Vertical borders, means eliminating process silo thinking. In a insurance company environment, when creating a new insurance product not being able to abort it because the customer has bad reputation due fraudulent activities is not very wise when designing the process. In a government agency that is responsible to issue for example, declarations that states a company does not have any kind of debt regarding tax payment, should have channels open to exchange information with a different government agency that provides the same type of service regarding social security contribution and both declarations must be presented when private companies are making business with government.
- What is the environment it operates. What are the markets, the customers segment you serve and how the organization get them served. Remember getting feedback from environment is crucial for adaptation, due to the fact competition emerges from nothing with new business models, capital less incorporation and disruptive technologies (ZIPcar just to name one example, considered a non-business, non competitor, no nothing), but also how the organization collect information about the attitude, the experience, the feedback from the customers that is flowing outside of the organization enterprise systems (that most of the times is the single source of information managers rely to make decisions).
- Must have feedback and regulation:
- Outcomes must be achieved taking into consideration strategic objectives and targets, otherwise there is no alignment between operations and strategy. If your customer self-service process, was designed in a way it pushes your customers to call to the contact center and the strategy of the company is to decrease call centers size and go for close 100% automation. Outcomes and key process steps must be monitored and KPI’s must be setup.
- Responsibility for operation execution must be setup and process participants must be rewarded taking into consideration process performance instead of showing up on their daily job on time.
- Beyond the monitoring and control, there must be channels to communicate directly to top management critical KPI’s that reached a threshold value, instead of filtering it across the organizational pyramid or reading the company reports in the next month when is too late. This is very important to top management being able to react when it’s still possible. A critical KPI is sales for example or churn rate after a disruption occurred and the company is not being able to proper handle the situation.
- Must be independently audited to verify if controls exist, if controls are effective if feedback mechanism exists and regulation is accomplished.
- Must have resources: Lynchpins, IT that can make the difference, capital, infrastructure, equipment.
Having the ability to think in this way is to be able to understand reality without predefined doctrinal references. Understating the functioning of the system, the information flux, the reasons of it’s dynamic, puts the manager in conditions to know how, why and for what the system, the process operates. In other words, to become a real manager. It will be able to make the right decisions in order the business process fits its purpose.
Cybernetic management think about the dynamic of the systems instead of muted process models. Cybernetic management socializes information and put individuals at the center of operation to make the best decisions, making out the most of human reasoning. IT can enable great organizational transformations, but without a shift in management style you will quickly loose your edge.