The Future of Process Management

To Thrive in the Current Environment, We Need to Change the Way We Think and the Systems We Use to Manage Our Companies

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This different management style was driven home to me recently. As a retired engineer and now a grandfather, I have been interested to watch the career development of my two sons.  My first son is a self-employed entrepreneur who lives in the world of Linux. His crowing achievement was not the award of a million-dollar contract for a piece of hardware and software he developed, but a letter from Linus Torvalds telling him that a piece of code he had written was now a part of the Linux kernel.

My second son was hired recently by Apple to be a business manager in an Apple store. After several months of multi-store training, it was time to take a trip to the "Promised Land" in Cupertino. He and nine other trainees arrived at their hotel on Sunday evening. On their iPhones they had text messages telling them to meet at the corporate headquarters at 8:00 a.m. the following morning where an Apple vice president would meet and welcome them. After the requisite greetings and assignment of badges, the vice president led the team through the door into the impressive Apple lobby. The entire lobby was filled on both levels with Apple employees who were giving them a standing ovation.

What company does this?

Later in the week, my son was standing in the food line, tray in hand, talking to another of his class. When he noticed the eyes of his colleague widen, my son turned around to see Steve Jobs standing in line, tray in hand, right behind him. Steve, noticing the trainee badge, stuck out his hand and said, "Welcome to Apple, Dan, we're glad you’re on the team." Steve then got his food and went to sit with Apple engineers, as is his custom.

What CEO does this?
I asked my son how this made him feel? You can guess his answer—Awesome!

Interesting, isn't it, that the companies who are mired in the old command-and-control model of management, such as Kodak, Blockbuster, A&P, GM, Sony and, yes, BP, are struggling, while those employing the new model are thriving?

On February 18, 2011, President Barack Obama assembled a meeting of the leading innovators at the house of venture capitalist, John Doerr. Present were the likes of Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, John Chambers of Cisco, Dick Costolo of Twitter, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Eric Schmidt of Google and a few others. There was one glaring absence―Microsoft.

It appears that Microsoft has lost its position as an innovator. Instead of attending this meeting, Steve Ballmer was hosting Nokia's CEO, Stephen Elop to discuss Microsoft’s investment of billions of dollars in Nokia phone technology and marketing in order that Nokia adopt the Windows 7 platform for its mobile phones. Few analysts expect this marriage to dent the Google/Apple domination of this industry.

What happened? It seems that Microsoft lost its way somewhere. Instead of fostering creativity, it tried to hang on to a legacy. "At one point," says business strategy expert, Gary Hamel, "Microsoft had 4000 engineers and programmers working on Vista." Each was doing what they were told to do, but none had authority be creative.

The process industry is ripe for change as well. No one knows this better than a company such as BP that has been burned by an outdated management model. As at BP, bureaucracy bogs down other process industries. We struggle on, day by day, trying to make a difference, but are thwarted at every turn. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from those in the industries mentioned. Perhaps by working together, we can bring a change to an industry which badly needs a new "process management" model. As we collaborate to invent new ways to engineer, construct and operate our industrial processes more safely and efficiently, perhaps we can strive to accomplish what Steve Jobs says to Apple employees: "We're here to put a dent in the universe."


Dave Beckmann was a senior vice president at Emerson Process Management until 2005 when he retired.  He is now a consultant and motivational speaker for the industry.

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