Four Cultural Values for Effective Business Process Management

Cultural values and process management? Current research shows that they have more in common than you might think.

The award-winning article, “Which cultural values matter to business process management? Results from a global Delphi study,” shows that companies that can anchor just four values in their corporate culture achieve not only a good working atmosphere, but also a greater return on investment (ROI).

Researchers have now brought this theory into practice. With a newly developed tool, companies can get an overall picture of the organizational culture and provide their employees with a good cultural environment. Without much time and effort, this can be the key to success.

Process Management as a “Modern Management Approach”

SAP spoke with the article’s authors, Dr. Theresa Schmiedel and Prof. Dr. Jan vom Brocke from the Hilti Chair of Business Process Management at the Institute of Information Systems of the University of Liechtenstein.

Hochschule VaduzUni Liechtenstein / Wirtschaftsinformatik 18.05.11

Q: Where did the idea come from to write an article about cultural values in business process management (BPM)?

A: Around five years ago – both through our theoretical research and in our practical work – we started realizing that experts find these human aspects very important in principle but had no idea whatsoever about how to implement them in practice. Business process management is usually limited to the methodical and technical aspects of process design. We believe that’s one of the main reasons why many projects fail. This realization sparked our research in this area.

Q: Why do you think culture plays such an important role in BPM?

A: By culture, we understand the common value system that people in an organization share. These are based not only on where employees come from, but also on a whole range of personal experiences and influences. That’s why each individual brings their own canon of values with them. And if employees don’t strive for excellence or innovation because these things are not part of their value system, all of a company’s efforts to achieve excellence and innovation are initially doomed to fail. Our study’s key question was therefore: Which cultural values support process management?

Q: What does your approach actually look like?

A: We pursue an integrated approach that aims to empower companies to shape new processes and be innovative. You could say it’s a modern management approach. Process models that specify every individual step are not necessarily required and can even be a hindrance. A good organizational culture with good resources, a strong network, opportunity for discussion, and so on, is often much more important.

With this in mind, we use a BPM maturity model, which Australian colleagues helped us develop. It is based on the International Handbook of Business Process Management, of which we are co-publishers. The model contains six factors that contribute to a successful, innovative company. And there you’ll find not only IT and methods for process modeling, but also strategic integration and an organization in which the responsibilities are clear. The human factor is just as important, if not more so. That’s because tomorrow’s processes comprise much more than new technologies such as mobile or social media. It’s mainly the people who have to perform the tasks differently. The organizational culture that employees actually experience plays a central role here.

Q: Which cultural values have emerged as being helpful for BPM?

A: As part of what’s known as a Delphi study, we surveyed around 60 BPM experts from the worlds of academia and business in several rounds. This enabled us to gradually identify a set of values that contribute to efficient process design. In the final results, we came up with four such values:

1. Customer orientation: The interests of internal and external customers should be included in BPM planning.

2. Excellence: This means both the continuous and the innovative improvement of business processes.

3. Responsibility: On the one hand, this is about formal responsibility (who is responsible for what). On the other hand, it’s about inner responsibility (commitment) to meet BPM targets.

4. Team work: This means cross-departmental cooperation within a company, which can be fostered at both a formal and an informal level.

Q: How do you deploy the results of your research in practice?

A: Our research aims to create long-term added value for companies. We have developed a tool with which you can measure the “fitness” of a company’s organizational culture for BPM. It has already been used – and is currently being used – by numerous companies to evaluate how their own culture is perceived within the company.

The tool enables the gathering of representative data to reveal an overall picture of the organizational culture. The company can then see how its culture is perceived by its employees. Finally, measures can be derived from what’s been learned to create a more friendly environment for process management. In such a way, a very high ROI can be achieved with comparatively little effort.

In addition to personal project-based consulting, we have a comprehensive range of courses about this topic at our university, so we continually transfer the results of our research into practice.

Q: Do you believe that cultural values will have more influence on BPM in practice in the future?

A: Absolutely. Culture doesn’t make companies pretty in the short term, but rather healthy in the long term. This isn’t a completely new phenomenon. Of course, culture was always an integral part of managing successful companies. We have more the impression that general awareness about the meaning of culture for BPM is increasing, and culture can be used in a much more effective way to shape BPM and IT projects. It’s definitely worth focusing on it from time to time in day-to-day business. That’s the only way an optimal environment can be created for BPM.

Besides, we are in an age where ability to innovate will dictate the future of many companies – so the role of people will become even more important. Even the best workflow management system can’t develop or reinvent itself on its own. It’s a fact that the human factor plays the most significant role here, because only humans can be creative and imaginative. And people perform best in a cultural environment that values this and in which they feel at ease.

Photos: Shutterstock/University of Liechtenstein