Posted by: Adam Deane | 19/06/2012

BPM: Organisational Politics

NeversecondsI’ve been following the amazing story of Martha Payne.

Martha Payne, a nine year old girl from Scotland, had been writing a blog called NeverSeconds, as part of a school writing project.

She had been photographing her school lunches every day, with permission from her teachers, and posting the pictures on her blog with a review and a few thoughts about her day.

Within weeks she had a million hits on her blog, with pupils around the world sending in pictures of their own meals. It has attracted attention from national newspapers and chefs.

She decided to put her blog to good use, and asked her followers to donate to a charity called Mary’s Meals that funds school food in Africa. She started off the donations by sending £50 that she got from a magazine that reprinted some of her photos.

All this from a nine year old…

But all this publicity seemed to have touched a nerve.
Argyll and Bute Council, the local council in charge of providing the school lunches, decided to close her blog.

This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too.

It is here the social media wave started.
People started talking about it. People were outraged.
By mid-morning it was the top Twitter trending topic in Britain and the third world-wide
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted: “Stay strong Martha” before urging his 2.3 million followers to retweet the message.
The UK media that monitors Twitter picked up on the story. The international media followed.

Argyll and Bute Council tried in vain to defend their position by issuing a statement claiming media coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service

A classic example of local government failing to grasp the power of social media.

Petitions were launched.
The Scottish Education Minister, said the decision was “daft” and he would be asking the council to overturn it.

In a mater of hours Argyll and Bute Council did a spectacular U-turn

“There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council’s policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the “Neverseconds” blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity.

A happy ending:
Martha was allowed to continue blogging. The publicity caused by the ban helped Martha to smash her fundraising target for the Mary’s Meals charity, with total pledges of more than £85,000 ($130,000). A school kitchen will now be built in Malawi as the result of her fundraising.

As I said, an amazing story…

You would expect that the reason for the council’s fiasco was due to arrogance, but if you start pealing off the layers, you find the regular organisational problems: lack of communication, lack of visibility and an abundance of fear.

A month ago elections to Argyll and Bute Council were held. New leaders were appointed.
A month before that, two Press officers were suspended after two instant messages on the council’s Microsoft Lync system were discreetly intercepted by independent investigator.
Employees said they are afraid even to make casual conversation in the corridors.
The council leader hinted that the original ban decision was not brought to his attention and that low level employees made decisions without consulting with managers.
Nothing surprising here, we’ve all seen it before… Organisational internal politics…

So, how does this story relate to us?
When we talk about implementing BPM, we do so in a clean, clear and logical way.
The only problem with that is every organisation has internal politics to deal with.

Sometimes the BPM system has been brought in to help sort out the mess.
Sometimes BPM is the one that causes the mess.

Everyone will tell you the right way to design a business process – is by designing it around the business procedure, not around people.
But in real life you find that you need to “bend” the process around political obstacles.

Knowing how to deal with internal politics is a skill. An important skill.
Dealing with organisational politics is one of the hardest, yet interesting parts of any BPM programme.


  1. I am a strong advocate of including politics and culture when defining your processes and managing your BPM programs. However, very few, really want to accept this fact and tend to ignore this influence and think processes are rational in nature. Processes are only rational in objective, in reality and being natural, it as much political and cultural on top of the rationale.

  2. Is BPM then rational or logical or is it based on emotions? And if it is based on emotional and irrationality of the organisation how does KPI and more concrete and metric based activities have a direct co-relation to actual process improvement. BPM’s main aim was to facilitate improvement and change but it says alot for the methodology if this kind of issues still crop up. “It isn’t a plug and play one it’s more like these are some ideas we have which we want to sell software based on this”

  3. You make a really good point. You start something that you figure could not be wrong in any way, but then the simple fact that any change is a change, and there can be unintended consequences. The word “unintended” does not really describe it; these are consequences that you would never have dreamed would be possible. In this example, without being able to predict how the publicity would effect their jobs, the workers simply react against change.

    I have seen this many times in BPM projects — and no amount of pre-screening, participatory development, attempting to “include politics and culture” in process definition would completely avoid. That what “change management” is all about — reacting with respect to the reaction — it is a necessary part of any BPM project.

  4. I think addressing the political obstacles to process change is the real opportunity for Social BPM.

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