Business Process Owners: The Key to a Nimble Company
By: David Hamme, author of Customer Focused Process Innovation: Linking Strategic Intent to Everyday Execution (McGraw Hill Education, 2014)
How strategically agile is your company? If it changes direction with the maneuverability of an aircraft carrier, you are far from an outlier. Most companies struggle to take even the most brilliant ideas and translate them into market success.
Arguably the most common impediment to capitalizing on good strategy is the misalignment between the scope of a strategic initiative and the organization that supports its execution. In a nutshell, it comes down to scope.
Most game-changing initiatives span multiple functional areas (e.g. marketing, human resources, operations, etc.), which are overseen by different managers — each with their own budget, resources, and priorities. To the surprise of no one, strategic progress gets bogged down, as multiple managers have to adjust their budgets, priorities, and resources to conform to the new strategic direction.
While execution is frequently stated as the reason for failure to achieve the expected return on a strategy, organizational deficiencies are the true underlying reason for the gap. This is why many companies are constantly exploring alternative organizational structures (i.e. a reorg).
One solution to the challenge is the use of a business process owner — a role I enthusiastically promote in my recent book, Customer Focused Process Innovation: Linking Strategic Intent to Everyday Execution (McGraw Hill, October 2014).
The Function of a Business Process Owner
Process owners are analogous to department managers in that they oversee part of the organization, but in contrast, their sphere of ownership is tied to a process, not a functional area like HR, finance, marketing, or operations. Ideally their place is to oversee a complete end-to-end process, taking raw inputs and converting them into customer-valued outputs.
In most instances, the underlying process spans multiple functional departments. The benefit of this approach lies in its ability to marshal resources to align the strategy with operations. For leaders wishing to supercharge their organization’s change capabilities, there is no better structure.
Business Process Owner Job Skills
Consistent with their role, business process owners are a unique brand of individual. Unfortunately, they are in short supply in most companies. Individuals who are successful in this role are driven to put their hands in the dirt. They seek understanding of the intricacies of an operational process. Yet they retain the ability to step away from the frenzy of daily operations and see the bigger picture.
Business process owners are the motivators behind change efforts — pushing their team to overcome barriers and achieve audacious goals. They are passionate, yet fact based. Proactive, yet level headed. And as they represent a new wave of managerial styles, recruiting them is not a routine effort. They are not traditionally labeled functional leaders, but rather individuals set apart by their unique mindset.
In contrast with the job title, good candidates for these roles are not always steeped in process know-how. While it is definitely beneficial for them to be versed in Lean, Six Sigma or other process methodologies, those are skills that can be taught. What is important is their ability to understand the operational innards of an area and how they can work it to align with greater corporate goals. Some of the key attributes of individuals occupying this role are…
Broad Experience: As leaders of innovation efforts, Process Owners have to understand how the pieces fit together. This knowledge is only truly gained through experience by bouncing about from role to role. This in turn requires that they be…
Diggers: Individuals who get things done by going to ground zero, deciphering how things work, and possessing the understanding to make adjustments to capitalize on the situation. Process owners delve into the weeds and absorb the details, because they know this is where true change takes place. Mired in the details, they must also retain a…
Customer Focus: Any innovation effort will be adjusted and redesigned as new information comes to light. On occasion the original strategy may be fatally flawed, requiring major readjustments before it delivers the intended outcome. To recalibrate strategies, key to this role is the ability for the business process owner to be customer focused.
Again, this is a mindset best gained on the ground floor connecting with customers. Having such a background provides an awareness of the customer that cannot be taught as effectively in any other way. Dealing with a changing scope also requires process owners be…
Level headed, pragmatic, and fact based: Changing situations allow ambitious individuals to capitalize on the chaos for their own personal gain. Doing so may well limit the benefits captured by an improvement effort. Process owners are the rudder of the organization’s change efforts and need to base improvements on facts and not emotions or political concerns. Bringing strategies in the face of adversity requires a certain level of…
Natural Leadership: Some of the best candidates for business process owner are individuals who just seem to have the knack for getting things done. They plow through resistance and find a way to deliver when others fail. They are capable negotiators and excel at coordinating with other leaders.
The Importance of Business Process Owners
The critical importance of the business process owner to the strategically nimble company makes onboarding them a priority for leadership teams. As noted earlier, individuals with the right skills and experience to serve as business process owners are in short supply, but they are out there if a company approaches the search differently and seeks them by searching for specific competencies.
The key to finding business process owners is to search where they work. In many cases, they serve as consultants floating from client to client, or they are internal superheroes shepherding a major improvement effort, or they may be lodged in a localized area continually achieving outstanding performance results. If you know where to look, you can find them.
David Hamme is the managing director of Ephesus Consulting, a boutique-consulting firm that focuses on driving game-changing initiatives for its clients. He is the author of Customer Focused Process Innovation: Linking Strategic Intent to Everyday Execution (McGraw Hill Education, 2014).