From “People As a Process” to “Process as People”


In short : the role of people in businesses and how to develop them and get the most out of them is a core concern for businesses. It’s impossible to manage people as they were processes anymore but, paradoxically, it implies businesses learn to manage processes as if they were people.

We often read that the three cornerstones of enterprise 2.0 or social business are people, technology and processes. Considering that technology is only a catalyst for the two others, we’re back in a traditional discussion onĀ  the people/process duet : role, interactions, relative importance and management.

The shared assumption that underlies most of thoughts is that in a world become unpredictable, sustainable performance will come from the ability to adapt, handle exceptions and show creativity in designing new solutions. It leads to an undispensable reflection on the importance and new role of people in organizations and a new way to see processes.

Two different fields ? Practically yes because not being owned by the same people because of their different if not opposite nature. But it shouldn’t because one can’t live without the other (people design, execute and improve, processes provide frameworks and make things manageable) et the future or both depends on a common vision that should lead to a joint approach.

Logical legacy of the industrial era and (at least in France as Nicole Turbe Suetens wrote, in French in this post but I’m not sure the problem stopped at our gates) of the predominance of the engineering culture, we’ve always tried to manage people as if the were processes. To be more specific, like processes that were relevant at this time. Specialized, interchangeable, lacking in autonomy or initiative, incapable of contributing to improving their work (other being appointed to think on their behalf). In short a mechanistic vision that made sense at the time people were only a gear in a tangible production chain and had to perform tasks with the same regularity as the machines surrounding them.

In fact people were there to replace machines and systems that were not invented yet or were still in their infancy so they were not widely used.

The move to an economy based were flows and raw materials are made of intangible matter and the change in workforce capabilities and education changed the conditions. And the characteristics of our economic environment /market / competition only makes the trend stronger.

First ground swell : people must be managed differently. Because their value doesn’t lie in their ability to endlessly repeat the same tasks and sequences designed by others anymore. Because the very nature of their work requests them to take initiatives and design solutions in the context of a the processes they execute. Because, as we’re moving from “push” to “pull” organizations, they are the one who should be pulling the whole system instead of undergoing it. Because their ability to learn and continuously improve determines how sustainable their own performance as well as the organization’s will be.

A new approach to the place of people in organizations and work models that’s hard to set up. Because people-centric approaches come up against systems that are not. And when it comes to change the system, the first matter that raises is…processes.

To achieve a high level of efficiency, processes should be highly flexible to work in a fast moving context, embed their performer’s problem solving and creative capabilities instead of the sole intelligence of their designers, be able to learn from their own experience to improve. Like people, they’ll have to become agile, creatives, adaptive and learning.

In short we’ll need to learn to manage processes as if they were people and not people as if they were processes. And accept that the second don’t cause variability but of enrichment.