The Improvement Ethic

Scott Francis
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Mike Gammage posts the question:  is BPM ethical?
Against this background, the hard reality is that the business case for any significant BPM project is almost invariably based on job losses. The jobs may be lost through automation, or through productivity increases.  The BPM project will typically enable the same work to be done by fewer people.  More positively, the BPM project may enable the same people to do more work – that is, there are no jobs lost immediately.  But, even so, the societal effect is not dissimilar because economic growth will now create fewer jobs. Put crudely, and for the sake of this argument, BPM seems to be a job-killer. Now I believe, as will many of you, that work is about far more than simply generating wealth and meeting basic needs. Work provides each of us with a role in the community, it enables us to develop our talents in service to others, and to contribute to the advancement of society. So it’s a serious question that deserves attention: Is BPM – my work– ethical?
I commend Mike for undertaking a post on this subject.  I have a few thoughts for him to consider when he returns:

1: Competition is the Job Killer.

The first thing to realize, is that BPM isn’t the job killer.  The job killer is the competition for your customers. If you can’t win that competition for customers, you will have a massive dislocation of jobs.  That competition is faceless and unrelenting, unfortunately.  You don’t get to look into the whites of your competition’s eyes and try to agree on a reasonable pricing model – if you do in the US, it is called collusion or anti-competitive behavior (there are similar rules in other locales). So you have to invest in improving the cost structure and performance of your business, in order to remain competitive.  BPM is a tool to do that.  Just like Microsoft Word and computers put a generation of typists/secretaries out of work, BPM and other software will put a generation of manual paper-movers out of work (or copier repairmen perhaps?).

2. BPM can Save the Jobs of the People you know

A Good BPM implementation can save the jobs of the best people in your company.  By making each unit of work more valuable, it is easier to justify paying them, even increasing their pay.  You’re increasing their economic value add to the system. Moreover, if the people doing the work become the people improving the work, they can really maximize their positive effect on the business. It also frees up labor to focus on other value-adding areas of the economy (though, I’ll grant, that is an easier macro- than micro- argument – individually not everyone can make the shift, and not everyone has the savings to bridge the gap – which is why I’m a big fan of unemployment benefits and insurance). Finally, if you can sell the value of these process improvements to your customers, you can actually use process improvement as a way to increase your top line, not just your bottom line.

3. Manage for More than one Bottom Line

BPM and the like can help you achieve more than just cost savings – BPM can help you more reliably achieve any outcome you set out to achieve – higher customer sat, a higher net promoter score (NPS), reducing impact on the environment, increasing customer lifetime value, etc. This is sometimes called the “Double Bottom Line” or “Triple Bottom Line”.  But realizing that your business is about more than just money, why shouldn’t you use process improvement to increase your odds of hitting ALL your business goals rather than just some of them? Although BPM causes us to examine what we do, and second-guess the positive outcome, I believe overall it is not only ethical but necessary.

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