#12 Tribute to Michael Hammer, an Authentic Communicator & a True Visionary

by | Sep 8, 2008 | Blog | 0 comments

Michael Hammer, the influential business writer, visionary and consultant, who died in early September, was a rare individual. He, along with his co-author, James Champy, of the 1993 best-selling book Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution, invented re-engineering. He later publicly admitted the error of his ways when “re-engineering” got hijacked as a term synonymous for layoffs. And he attracted groupies way before Steve Jobs.
While Dr. Hammer was not associated with LEAN per se, he was a hero to many of us involved with LEAN. Over the past decade, Dr. Hammer’s passion was process management. And in my book, he was the father of the process management movement. In fact, I've quoted him a number of times in my new upcoming book, Lean Communications: The 5-Step System for Doing More With Less and Getting Great Results.
From Dr. Hammer’s perspective, process serves as the umbrella for getting value from the use of popular tools such as LEAN, Six Sigma, and LEAN Six Sigma. That connection is why Dr. Hammer and his work are so important.
To Dr. Hammer, processes are “the end-to-end set of activities that together create value for a customer.” He wrote about this at length in his 1996 book,Beyond Reengineering: How the Process-Centered Organization Is Changing Our Work and Our Lives.
Business processes are much more than activities or tasks though. They are related actions that typically cross multiple functions or departments to create an output that is of value to a customer. (“It’s not a process unless you’re making at least three people mad,” Dr. Hammer explained at his October 2007 seminar I attended. That sentiment is something I and other internal communication professionals can really relate to.)
The October seminar, his first dedicated to process owners, was an amazing experience.  Dr. Hammer was a brilliant thinker and quick wit. He challenged himself and his guest speakers, asking “Why?” almost every other question. He also was a speedy synthesizer, summarizing the speakers’ key points for the audience and then describing what he thought the critical next steps should be.
Watching him and the 200+ audience members in the hotel classroom, I also was struck by his authenticity and appeal. In his lectures and querying of his speakers, Dr. Hammer was definitely living and working in the moment and sounding very current.
Yet, his teaching techniques were decades old. He still used overhead transparencies with a pen. He still employed the “expert/idiot” model of speakers talking to audience. He invited the audience to ask questions, but only if they were willing to write their queries on note cards and pass them to an individual who collected them and delivered them to Dr. Hammer.
For the most part, his audience seemed to adore him and this meeting set-up. Many had attended so many Hammer conferences over the years that they had lost count of the actual number. A large number of individuals I spoke to during the breaks said they looked forward to the same format each time because it was familiar, comfortable and always constructive in terms of the quality and quantity of information conveyed. Some also said they also enjoyed seeing the same sight each time—an academic at heart, well-dressed in a business suit with his hair needing a good brushing.
While I left the two-day seminar feeling numb after all the sitting with little two-way interaction, I knew I had learned a lot from the master. And I respected him even more for being true to a delivery formula that worked for him—although not one that I follow or advise others to use.
This seminar will always have bittersweet memories for me though. Not even a year later, two of its principals are gone, Dr. Hammer and Rick Magoun, the Vice President, Supply Chain Strategy for The Clorox Company. Rick was the seminar’s lead-off speaker, following Dr. Hammer’s introduction. Rick talked about “Mastering the Challenges of Process Ownership.”
I had the privilege of working with Rick on his presentation and then watching him deliver it. His style was exactly opposite Dr. Hammer’s. Rick was a good ol’ boy from Arkansas, very humble and non-assuming. But Rick was smart as a whip, a high achiever, and an engineer who had mastered people issues. He was a delight to work with and an inspiration. He died at the age of 57 last February, also way too early.
Here’s to their memories and their contributions to process and to our worlds.      


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *