Understanding and Re-humanizing Business Systems are Crucial First Steps to Get Blockchain Ready.
Make no mistake: blockchain is going to change the world. It is, arguably, going to be bigger than the Internet itself. The adaptation of blockchain will be like the gold rush in the 1800’s - a defining, historic period making a lot of people rich, (and a few people poorer), and creating not only entirely new industries, but also cities, landscapes and villages. The ability to attach value to a transaction rather than simply information through the use of blockchain-enabled smart contracts and secure distributed ledgers is a game changer.
As a systems/business analyst who’s been in the trenches with business owners and entrepreneurs for decades working on streamlining their businesses until they work like a well-oiled machine, I can get giddy with excitement when I think of blockchain (yes, I am that much of a nerd).
A time-consuming, expensive, 6 week bureaucratic process reduced to 1 ½ hours?
Rent a car and drive off the lot within a few minutes instead of waiting in long lineups and signing multiple paper forms?
Financial transactions that are trustworthy, fast, simple, easy, and don’t cost me atrocious banking fees or penalize me for simple oversights?
Sign me up!!
But then, like a deflated balloon, I start to think about the actual day-to-day realities of Canadian businesses.
And I start to worry.
I worry about competitive pressures, stress, inability to adapt quickly, how even our current systems are not humanized and how stressed out everyone is.
I mean, we can’t even get our payroll systems working, we can’t even come to an agreement on the pipeline and how to transport our oil internationally without entrenched partisan politics rearing its ugly head and everyone standing in their corner yelling at each other?
And it’s not just the big issues. Before we wag our finger in judgment at the federal government’s payroll fiasco ...
... hands up who’s ever wasted an afternoon trying to get a printer to work or trying to install some ‘latest software’ that head office foisted on you?
Who’s ever quit a job in frustration because, while they loved the work, how they were forced to do the work, how they were treated, was bureaucratic, annoying and soul destroying?
We have an amazing country. I’ve worked with innovative businesses and good, hardworking people. I believe there's a solution to every problem and a world full of opportunities for the taking.
But are we ready? As my partner David Chalk recently said “technology makes things invisible to the human being”, and he’s right, it does.
Blockchain does that on steroids.
Why 'on steroids"? Because it not only hides the technology - it hides the business processes as well. As nice as it is to tighten up a 6 week paper-based administrative process (in this example, registering a new business) to a 1 ½ hour online process, in creating that blockchain-based process, the developers would have needed an in-depth understanding those processes - of exactly what went on during those 6 weeks.
And when I say in depth, I really mean it. Registering a new business, as common as it is, is still a legal process that has a lot of repercussions in the economy itself, in tax collection/ government and in small business management and oversight.
How will this change affect the government employees? The small business owner? The forms suppliers? The software systems currently in use?
Are there any financial implications to this change? Where might things go wrong?
Is the new system going to be congruent - meaning that it achieves harmony or compatibility across multiple dimensions, such as emotional, financial, visual, functional?
(Multi-dimensional congruence is a concept I explain in my book The Possibility Process - it is also a crucial concept we teach in our introductory "Ready, Set, Blockchain" course, and central to a successful blockchain based project).
Because blockchain makes the technology invisible, all these dimensions must be fully understood and documented before embarking on a blockchain based project. Because once all those processes are programmed into the black box of a blockchain, they are lost to the human eye. If something goes wrong, how do you track it down?
This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do once the technology goes invisible - over time, people just forget why and what the technology is actually doing. Think of car mechanics. Years ago, the average car owner knew enough about car engines to do all but the most difficult car repairs himself. Nowadays they maybe change the oil or change a tire, but beyond that? Forget about it, it would probably even void the warranty!
As a society, we’ve simply forgotten how and the technology itself has gotten so complex, we can’t keep up - and the computers are taking over anyway. (Check out our recently released e-book for a story about a car repair shop having to adjust to these new realities).
The other thing that happens when technology makes business processes go invisible, is the human, emotional side of the equation changes.
There’s another story in our e-book about a company where there’s a lot of chaos, fear, anger in the workforce. Long term employees, top managers and salespeople are quitting in frustration because change is being rammed down their throats. They feel unheard. The new systems just make their jobs more frustrating instead of less. The change, instead of liberating them from drudgery and allowing them to explore and innovate, instead of adding value to the company, is handcuffing them and actually making the company less valuable.
I call these types of change initiatives and systems soul-sucking (and if you’ve been in one of those companies, or involved in those kind of change projects, you’ll know what I mean).
And that example was only a standard software rollout project - blockchain is a technology that allows us to integrate actual money and legal contracts right into the automation. Yes, the possibilities are exciting, but the stakes are high too.
Whatever pitfalls that arise during a regular business process improvement project, or new software rollout projects, are magnified in a blockchain related project - because not only are the processes becoming even more automated and invisible to us - they are also attached to money, value, legal contracts. They could, and will, change the very function of many people’s jobs.
Many of today’s jobs have what’s often called a ‘middleman’ type function. They are the person, usually well-educated and analytical, that ‘stands in the middle’ of two businesses, or two organizations and reviews the process.
For example, take a sales contract at a construction company - after decades in business, their sales contracts are pretty cookie cutter, and their well trained salespeople use standard templates to construct the sales contracts. But, being prudent, all contracts are sent to a lawyer for review prior to execution, and likely at several stages of the construction process as well.
Nine times out ten, the lawyer reviews it, and sends it back ‘approved’. But, occasionally, she notices an anomaly or questions something, and changes are made. She even may have a suggestion to improve the contract templates. As an expert in construction law, she’s always paying attention to any new trends or laws that may impact the preparation or execution of the contracts, and brings them to the attention of company management as needed.
But what happens to this lawyer’s job when the blockchain takes over the ‘monitoring’ process? The blockchain allows the creation of ‘smart contracts’ that interact with financial instruments, government entities, even smart devices in a secure, trusted way. It enables what the World Government Conference in Dubai last year called “the internet of agreements”. That construction company, in the next few years, may well be looking at their legal fees, and realize that becoming part of a well executed construction blockchain system could be a huge money saver.
I’ve always looked on business and business process improvements as a means to add value to the world, to build innovative, prosperous companies, to bring out the best in people, and I see blockchain as a positive, exciting technology that could help achieve that end. If you aren’t considering blockchain, and actively getting ready for it, you risk falling behind.
But I’ve also learned that unless you take their human needs into account, until you listen to people, they will dig their heels in and resist change every step of the way - especially if you threaten their jobs or make them feel less valuable. Blockchain may fundamentally change a number of previously sought-after middle class type jobs, or even eliminate them all together. How do we ensure those valuable human beings with so much knowledge and so much to offer are given a chance to thrive?
In order to be blockchain ready, we have to be people ready. More than ever, any anomalies, any rogue processes (those annoying, time/money-wasting things that we don’t realize we’re doing, or we’re ignoring), must be looked at before it’s too late. Otherwise, we may create technologies that make them 10X worse, and 10X harder to fix!
If we don’t get blockchain ready by looking deeply into the multi-dimensions of our current systems, we risk de-humanizing our businesses and losing precious knowledge, instead of re-humanizing them, gaining knowledge and wisdom, and taking advantage of blockchain to be innovative and prosperous.
There is so much potential for growth and innovation in blockchain that as a business process expert, I can get giddy with excitement.
But I also know that people processes, systems leadership and personal/team leadership form an integral part of any blockchain based change initiative. Sometimes we get so excited about technological possibilities that we rush forward before we have really looked at the processes we are trying to automate, and the multiple ways that will affect all the people in the system (customers, owners, employees, contractors, lenders, suppliers).
And with blockchain, that could be a disaster.
It’s easy to forget that whatever idea or desire behind a change initiative comes from human beings. It comes from us. The humanization of the change must be an integral idea that drives the whole thing.
We have to get ahead of it. Or we will not be driving change, change will be driving us.
And we may not like where it takes us.
Tana Plewes, Business Process Master, Hume Chalk, designs and builds communication structures and practical systems that navigate the realities of people working together–behavioural economics. Tana holds a Masters Degree in Leadership from Royal Roads University and applies best practice models such as Lean Startup, Business Model Canvas, SCRUM/Agile, E-Myth Mastery and others.
Tana helps business leaders create 'workplaces that work for everyone', by pinpointing and overcoming Invisible Barriers to innovation and success. She brings a team of knowledge experts to facilitate the development of concrete scalable systems that transform how business is done with positive increases in worker satisfaction, productivity and profits.
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