BPM: Understanding Organizational Culture

By Bob Larrivee posted 07-25-2012 10:43


No matter what you think or have been told, BPM will impact the culture of your organization. It will inherently change the way things are done and how people work, so in that light, you must plan for the change. This also means you need to understand the cultural dimensions of your organization which is often overlooked and many times not even considered. Impact on culture is a big element that needs attention when changing process. Cultural readiness is essential to successful change and transformation, but understanding the impact your change will have is just as crucial before you introduce new changes.

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall - in his book Understanding Cultural Differences: Germans, French and Americans - identified two forms of organizational culture. These are Monochronic meaning one task at a time and Polychronic or multiple tasks at a time. In a Monochronic culture the tendency is to focus and keep things in order with a mindset that there is a time and place for everything. Typically the Monochronic does not like disruptive environments. In a Polychronic culture the tendency is more toward multitasking with many things happening at once. It is not unusual for meetings or phone conversations to be interrupted while in progress. This of course could be seen as rude or insulting to those who are not familiar with the Polychronic culture. (As a side note, being Polychronic should not be used as an excuse for rudeness and a lack of business etiquette but that is a whole other discussion.)

When looking at the impact of your BPM initiative and the changes you are proposing will have, one consideration and assessment you should consider is the type of organization you are dealing with, is it Monochronic or Polychronic? Within each of these dimensions, Hall looks at several elements. These are:

  • Cultural dimensions
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Activity co-ordination
  • Task handling
  • Breaks and personal time
  • Temporal Structure
  • Work/personal time
  • Organizational perception

In my view, what Hall presents here is extremely relevant and important to BPM in that if you do not understand the cultural dimensions of the organization, change may be difficult. If you are planning to make changes that will force the transformation of a Monochronic organization toward a more Polychronic environment, the resistance will be much greater and your approach will have to be much different than it would for a Polychronic environment. As part of your project and in fact if you are an international organization, for your long term program, impact analysis that includes the cultural dimension should be a focal point. When assessing the readiness and cultures across the enterprise, you will likely find some significant differences between the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe. This could also be true of regions within your geographic location. In Europe you may find significant cultural differences from country to country and the same would likely be true of the Americas. How you approach change makes a huge difference and how you prepare for change relies on understanding cultural differences.

If you are ready to move forward and are finding yourself stuck or unfocused and are not sure where to begin or what to do next, seek professional assistance and/or training to get you started. Be sure to investigate AIIM's Business Process Management training program.

And be sure to read the AIIM Training Briefing on BPM (authored by yours truly). Click on the image to download and read.

What say you? Do you have a story to tell? What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you have a topic of interest you would like discussed in this forum? Let me know.

Bob Larrivee, Director and Industry Advisor – AIIM

Email me: blarrivee@aiim.org   

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#BusinessProcessManagement #Impactanalysis #changemanagement #Polychronic #process #Monochronic


07-31-2012 11:08

Your comments are very true of BPM, but I have found them to be true for ANY technology that changes the way people work. When we installed Instant Messaging on every desktop, the tech team was stunned when users called the HelpDesk asking how to turn it off. It was "inconceivable" to them that anyone would view it as a distraction. Just a simple lack of understanding that other units/users have a different work culture.

07-27-2012 14:02

It will always come down to the people. Having all the advanced software systems in place means nothing if your people don't know how to/don't want to utilize them. Major technology changes the way people do their jobs--it's important to prepare for that.