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Beefing up BPM capability can improve your organisation's ability to compete on cost, quality, speed and service.

For most of the past 40 years, Transfield Services business improvement manager Wil Carey has been telling managers and management teams that they need to get back to the basics. And when it comes to business process management (BPM), Carey says, nothing is more basic than empowering the organisation's business unit managers, and helping them recognise that everything the organisation does is a process and hence can be described in a procedure.

"The simple [fact is] that everything we do is a process," Carey says. "Most people don't think of it that way. Even when it's explained to them they have some difficulties comprehending it, but everything that we do is a systematic series of activities that when done in a certain way generate a certain, specific result. When you come to understand that, you can build a system that can help managers and leaders improve on what I call the core competencies."

Successful BPM, Carey says, relies on line managers being informed, involved and empowered, not to mention well versed in the area of the management process. As a leading provider of outsourced solutions, Transfield has developed a number of training programs and assessment tools to ensure that line managers have the competencies necessary for BPM and the leadership skills to identify and carry through improvements. Together these have succeeded in embedding a culture of BPM and improvement into the organisation.

"I read some proverb that said the simple confounds the wise," Carey says. "Unfortunately in the world in which we live in today, people reject simple solutions because they feel the answers must be more complex. But basically, I've developed a really simple approach to understanding the core competencies required in line managers. The behaviours of line managers in most corporations today, working with clients on a day-to-day basis, even though they don't have the authority to make major decisions that'll impact the company long term, make all the difference in the world."

Improved BPM gives organisations the actionable information systems needed to compete, not only on cost, but also quality, speed and service. Beefing up BPM capability should be one of any organisation's primary goals.

Carey believes there are five key elements required to successfully embed a culture of BPM and improvement into the organisation:

  • Process, procedures and governance - excellence can be achieved through operational discipline without being too restricting).
  • Communications, which Carey calls the number one core competency.
  • Relationships - managers must understand the importance of working with and around people)
  • Accountability - a core competency of leadership.
  • The process - quality management process, which means always remembering to keep the business vision and the client in focus.

Strong capabilities in all of these areas have proved essential to Transfield's business process management efforts.

"Transfield Services is growing, in terms of the generation of wealth, at a fantastic rate - a very, very high rate," Carey says. "Therefore they're very fragile in the area of middle management if in fact they don't spend a fair amount of time building that middle management competency. So they're doing that, and that's very smart for sustainable long-term growth, and the [future of the] firm in the marketplace.

"They really are spending a fair amount of time building and developing the basic core competencies, as well as understanding what people may need in a specific area or business line - you know, building on those competencies, looking at the process of understanding the management of the day-to-day."

Organisational BPM efforts do depend on people, and the organisation should never lose sight of the fact that it is people who drive business improvement, agrees Peter McDonald, group manager process improvement with WMC Resources. At WMC that translates to avoiding a major bureaucratic structure around BPM, while recognising that business improvement starts with a reliance on people's abilities, skills and competence but equally relies on having the underlying systems in place to empower them.

"The focus still is on our people: making sure that they can do what they can do best, giving them the flexibility, but then you must also have processes that allow them to do it within a certain framework," McDonald says. "In the 80s or 90s we spent too much time working on people and all this stuff. We forgot about our processes, our systems, so when things went bad, there was no safety net or processes to support or ensure things were going to go well."

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