Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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7/13/2011
09:32 AM
Venkatesh Rao
Venkatesh Rao
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Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens

Too many Enterprise 2.0 evangelists don't understand what really makes companies special, what gives them their heart.

The description "he/she is a process person" is sometimes used as a dismissive insult in large enterprises, a reason to sideline people from important discussions. Why does this matter in the Enterprise 2.0 conversation? It matters because many 2.0 evangelists are process people, and they're the worst enemies of the movement.

Take a look at this picture. If you are not stirred by a sense of awe at some level, you are one of them. I am not asking you about your intellectual understanding of this picture (I'll explain that in a bit.), but your emotional reaction to it.


How can you figure out if somebody is a process person? Ask them to point out the heart of their company. They will either not comprehend what you're talking about and cover up their incomprehension with a superior, cynical air and laugh at you for being naively spiritual about your work; or they'll provide a clueless answer that has nothing to do with the specific company or industry (like, "it's all about our people, our values, our customers").

This incomprehension is the reason process people are generally relegated to the status of second-class citizens.

Awareness of the existence of a corporate heart is actually the mark of the hard-headed business type who has a stake in the game and the skills to be a player. Even the corporate raiders out to prey on ailing companies believe in hearts. (In fact, they're often interested in stealing them.)

Corporate hearts are usually hidden in plain sight, in glossy pictures in marketing brochures. And no, I'm not talking about the barf-worthy pictures of smiling, multi-racial ensembles of the most photogenic employees. The heart is never people--something social media types find hard to fathom.

What's more, only enterprises have hearts. Startups and small businesses don't. The former are searching for their hearts, while the latter borrow the hearts of their founders and become empty shells if the founders leave. Only companies that have outgrown their founders' personalities and transcended human imagination have hearts.

Bailey Yard

The heart of Union Pacific is hidden inside a cathedral of the industrial world: Bailey Yard. On the outskirts of the obscure town of North Platte, Neb., it's the largest railroad classification yard in the world. I've been there twice. For $7 you can ride an elevator to the top of an observation tower at its edge. Only religious nut jobs like me seek out the place.

I grab every opportunity to visit corporate/industrial hearts like Bailey Yard. (If you can line one up for me, get in touch.) For us capitalist-atheists, it's the closest we get to religion. I have a growing collection of such pictures. (I hope it's obvious why I picked Bailey Yard as the example for a post on The Brainyard.)

Bailey Yard is incomprehensibly huge. You have to swivel your head (and camera) a full 180 degrees to take in the panorama. The picture above is about a 20-degree slice.

If you can spot the small part within this cathedral that I consider the heart of Union Pacific, bonus points for you. I will reveal the answer at the end of this column.

Every enterprise that is generating economic value, no matter how Dilbertesque its internal workings, has such a heart. Some hidden part of its operations that will make you simply stagger back in genuine, religious awe. No matter how corrupt the management or incompetent its employees, so long as a business has a true heart, there is something precious inside.

If you cannot see this heart, and cannot feel the awe, you are a process person. You deserve your second-class-citizen status.

Cathedral Builders And Stonecutters

Process people were immortalized by Peter Drucker in an anecdote in Management by Objectives and Self-Control:

"A favorite story at management meetings is that of the three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, 'I am making a living.' The second kept on hammering while he said, 'I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.' The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, 'I am building a cathedral.'...It is the second man who is a problem…there is always a danger that the true workman, the true professional, will believe that he is accomplishing something when in effect he is just polishing stones or collecting footnotes."

(Aside: there's an excellent movie, Pushing Tin, about air traffic controllers, whose plot revolves around a cathedral builder helping an egotistic stonecutter see the heart of the airport industry.)

We live in times when large corporations dominate our lives more than nations do. Generally, we view this fact as a bad thing. Loyalty to nations-patriotism--is viewed as a praiseworthy trait, but loyalty to businesses, especially large ones, is considered somewhere between pathetic and evil.

This is justified if you're talking about loyalty to corporations as legal entities or to narrow and cancerous notions like "maximizing shareholder value." But loyalty to the heart of a corporation is a different thing altogether. In a way, the heart transcends the corporation itself. If Union Pacific were to be broken apart, or Bailey Yard sold to another company, it would still retain its spiritual significance. If it were shut down due to obsolescence, mourning would be called for.

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Paul Dandurand
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Paul Dandurand,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2011 | 4:55:17 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Many call the "proces people" as them over there, but in reality everyone part of an organization or business is by default part of a process or multiple processes whether they admit it or not. The second stonecutter mentioned above is not proces focused, but task focused. He only sees what he's responsible for, although does want to be the best at it. The larger process is building an awesome cathedral and the third stonecutter has the ability to see this. He has the entire vision of where the process of building will lead. He may even have the ability to see his own part of the process in the larger solution scheme. Oh, and what about the first stonecutter? He may be the most practical process person. He sees his job as part of his overall method of putting food on the table for his family.
rscullom
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rscullom,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2011 | 4:34:19 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Vankatesh - As an engineer I share your sense of awe of Baily Yard and the intricacies and subtleties that create the magnificent mechanical heart of the UP enterprise. Bailey Yard is the pump, and while there is emotion tied to the elegance of the solution, it is also the point at which multiple processes intersect to create an efficient whole.

With that said, I totally disagree with your usage of Bailey Yard in an essay on "process people," since "process people" built the mechanical side of Bailey Yard. In a different environment (race, sex, religion, etc.), this would be offensive because it categorizes people based on their lack of emotional attachment some people see or the emotions some people get when the come upon the mechanically elegant solution. Simply because people don't "see" what you "see" doesn't diminish their importance or significance.

This is a worldview difference. Since my religion is a little more inclusive, all types are needed to build the enterprise. All types have a seat at the table. They bring their strengths and weaknesses, and are not second class. Each has a role to play, and the differences bring a fullness to the whole. It's interesting that you use Drucker's story about a cathedral, the significance for the stone cutter is about "why", and not about self. In Pushing Tin, it is a person who teaches another person about significance.

You share some nice points about Bailey Yard and the need for purpose, but the essay suffers because the premise is mean spirited.
MLCollard
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MLCollard,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2011 | 2:53:18 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Dear Venkatesh - I find your article intriguing and slightly disturbing at the same time.
A heart is a complex organ that relies on number of processes to be in place in order to achieve something that can be viewed as quite simple - existence itself.
A heart is made up of four chambers, valves and blood vessels that are part of a bigger system which are fully integrated with each other and communicate with each other in that system. To dismiss the processes as second citizens and dispensible it to miss the very essence of what a heart needs to be truly functioning and viewed in its full glory. You will also fail to appreciate the bigger picture or system that your heart is endeavouring to sustain in its entirety. In order to identify the heart of a business in your terms - you need to understand the sum of its parts and how they are all integrated - or it might just stop beating.
dave_id8
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dave_id8,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2011 | 12:57:22 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Venkatesh - Always a pleasure to read your articles. They are well told and thought provoking.

Business is all about heart. Because vision and values are transcendental, independent of any current mode of execution, process is ephemeral.

While I completely agree with your premise that Enterprise 2.0 is not the heart, and I'm not fond of self-important whining, I think that new technologies may both connect far flung people to the heart in a way that also adds liquidity to process so they can be responsive and goal-oriented - follow the heart. People are aspirational. Systems, not just ego, make them procedural. There is an opportunity to engage people and organizations to move with their environment.

Afterall, the rail-yard reveals the heart, but is only representative of inter-modal transport. It also depicts and archetype of rigid process. If in the future teleportation were to become safe and efficient, these railyards would be anachronisms.
pearl
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pearl,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2011 | 12:26:58 AM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Hi, Rao, very good posting, well-described the paradoxical mindset each one of us may have: victimized mentality vs.entitled mentality, as process person, as Drucker's essential analog, you have to not only see, via your eyes, but also via your both brains and hearts, to envision your organization with its own purpose both symbolically and practically. Well, beyond we have glass ceiling, or bamboo ceiling, we could add a new one: Process Ceiling.
jkatt
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jkatt,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2011 | 4:34:03 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
"What.....the curtains?" :>)

Very nice. I was hoping to read a story about "old-school" (AKA "1.0") being essential to web 2.0 relevancy. Still not sure whether you wrote that, or not!?! :>)

But the need for both is what we call "3.0" consciousness.

RE: corporatethink v. nationalism, I refer you to Mr Jenson's speech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

("Because you're on TELEVISION, dummy!")
dlinkous24001
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dlinkous24001,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2011 | 2:37:11 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Interesting, but what the author is calling the heart is also part of the process. Perhaps it could even be seen as the heart of the process. Moving cargo through a systematic chain of events to get it from point A to point B. Shippers like UPS and FedEx do the same sort of process, using hubs and distribution centers as part of their streamlined process to keep costs low and efficiency high. It's a matter of opinion - and we all have one. It's good to get the perspectives of many so we can see the bigger picture and gain full appreciation for it all. No matter what the size or focus of the business, though, it takes people to justify its existence and make any dream a reality. Even the humps can't beat without people to keep it "humping".
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2011 | 10:05:18 AM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
This is a really thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Venkatesh. It seems like no matter where you stand, what your role is or what the project is, using the "heart of the business" as an anchor is the key to success.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2011 | 9:48:35 AM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Thank you for your comment, bbonin750. I have always found that you need process-oriented people to apply order and to make those big ideas actually work in a practical/safe/revenue-generating way.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
bbonin750
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bbonin750,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/28/2011 | 9:24:43 PM
re: Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens
Anyone who cannot see the importance and value of processes could just as easily be relegated to being a second class citizen. Automation is great...the buzzword of the last 5 years. I can tell you first hand after managing multi-billion dollar operations that automation is only a fraction of what it takes to effectively manage business. It takes people and processes, as well at technology. Technology, without processes to use manage it and extract value from the automation, it is worthless. I get the impression that the author is venting about a personal problem he has with a process oriented employer or supervisor. Frankly, I have had similar issues with supervisors so focused on broken automation that it has driven me bonkers. I should have written a counter paper.
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