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Business process change depends on leaders, experts say

Experts explain why making meaningful changes to business processes requires having a leader that can oversee those changes and guide everyone involved along the right path.

By now, most savvy organizations have figured out that they have to embrace digital transformation to provide a...

good customer experience. One of the keys to making this transformation possible in the enterprise is ensuring your business becomes more agile. But many businesses find that figuring out how to make the change can be elusive.

There is no magic metric for agility that can be taken from an enterprise data warehouse or performance management system, according to the 2014 Forrester Research report, "Business Agility Starts with Your People." Forrester defines business agility as the transition to a digital business that allows an enterprise to embrace market, organizational and operational changes as a matter of routine.

Taking charge of business process change

Since transformation means doing things differently, organizations need someone who can spearhead new and more appropriate processes to solve the business challenge at hand, said Kai Hammerich, office managing director for Copenhagen, Denmark, at Korn Ferry. Enter the business process leader.

Executives [who] master the change management of processes are well placed to lead organizations through periods of change.
Kai Hammerichoffice managing director, Korn Ferry

"Executives [who] master the change management of processes are well placed to lead organizations through periods of change," Hammerich said. "The new breed of executives [is] as comfortable with defining and changing processes as they are with customers and the financial aspects of leadership."

Business process leaders have a critical role to play, agreed Janelle Hill, vice president and analyst at Gartner. This includes being able to explain why any business processes change is occurring.

"They better have pretty darn good process skills to begin with, but on top of that, they can play an instrumental role in helping people change,'' she said. "Getting people to do work differently and behave differently and work [on] new processes and driving adoption of that will be a huge effort."

The importance of re-engineering

Among the skills a business process leader needs are the ability to do process re-engineering, she said. Not surprisingly, Gartner is seeing re-engineering work specifically focused on the customer experience.

"You want [a customer] to have one experience versus having different ones if they use the telephone or go into a store," Hill explained. "You re-engineer to make it consistent."

This process could include integrating systems that previously weren't integrated into an end-to-end process, she said. Re-engineering should also include taking advantage of new technologies, including mobile, social style interaction, big data, the internet of things, virtual reality and autonomous robots.

"There's so much new technology, it depends on the industry you're in and how you'd take advantage [of it]," Hill said.

Half of the working population will be millennials in 2020, according to Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

"They grew up developing their interactions with Facebook and social media. They have a different way of working and its 100% digital, and that's how customers want to work."

Comfort with change

A business process leader needs to have qualities such as the ability to be a change agent, Le Clair said. Business process leaders must be enthusiasts of change, he added, though this is not easy for everybody.

"There are some people who are inherently activists who are comfortable with change," he observed. "Most people are not. They are resistant to change, and change introduces anxiety."

Another key attribute is having what Le Clair called the right digital psychology, meaning enthusiasm for ways to do processes in a digital manner. This is someone who advocates leveraging social data, mobile channels and eliminating analog- and paper-based processes.

The digital psychology

Being a business process change activist and having the right digital psychology are among the competencies that Le Clair has said will foster business agility. Another key attribute is the ability to understand the intersection of the customer journey, customer experience and the technologies needed to support that.

According to Le Clair, there are too many business process managers who understand customer journey but don't understand how it connects to a company's internal systems, so business process change doesn't become actionable. The ideal business process person, he said, is someone who has enough understanding of core systems, technologies like cloud and how these things can drive an organization.

Le Clair also said business process leaders must strengthen or develop the communication and political skills needed to be a strong change agent. The business process leaders he has seen involved with digital transformation appear to have been pulled from various roles and put in charge of particular initiatives that are deemed important. And there isn't a set department they come from, he added, saying he has seen them come from both the IT and business side.

Hill concurred with Le Clair that if a business process leader focuses on understanding newer technologies and being innovative, they will be successful in finding tremendous opportunities to expand their influence in the organization.

"I've seen a number of individuals who might get a request from the business about how to change a process," she said. "The good leaders will say, 'That's a good idea and we can also do this,' and it becomes a really intelligent process. Or, 'Here's how we can use data in different ways for additional value,' so they can be part of the effort to truly innovate the organization's products and services."

Next Steps

Learn how DevOps metrics can improve business agility

Learn more about the platform-based business model

Access our expert guide to digital transformation

This was last published in December 2016

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What qualities do you think a true business process leader needs to have?
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Not so long ago, "reengineering" to many people meant the same thing as "you're fired." I see less of that lately, but -- especially when mixing with long-timers -- it's a phrase managers should use with some care.
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