Change your firm - but change your culture too

Inside business: process re-engineering may be in vogue, but it won't work unless all staff share the dream

New businesses emerging in the former Soviet Union and China might be surprised to hear it, but to Arun Maira many of the Western companies they are looking to emulate resemble communist states by sticking to centralised planning systems.

Mr Maira, senior executive with management consultants Arthur D Little, claims that - at a time when organisations need to be able to "go in many directions" - a lot of companies force their staff to do the same thing.

Although the era of management by fiat is slowly coming to an end, Mr Maira feels there is still a need to apply market economy principles to large organisations. Companies need to create a position where employees are "pulled by aspiration rather than forced through fear".

Fundamental to this is that the role of individuals is taken seriously. Lip service is paid to the slogan that "people are our greatest asset", but much of the real attention is concentrated on improving processes.

This is all very well and business process re-engineering can be worth while, but it is not enough on its own. As Mr Maira and his colleague Peter Scott-Morgan point out in their book The Accelerating Organisation (McGraw-Hill): "It's dawning on people that processes don't learn and improve themselves. People learn. People can make the improvements to processes that bring results."

The book - subtitled "Embracing the Human Face of Change" - attempts to add some pragmatism to what has become a rather mechanistic approach. Indeed the authors, pointing out that there is a contradiction between process re-engineering and making people the key to improvement, see it as a manual for helping organisations deal with the "damaged resilience" that can result from a re-engineering programme.

They are worried about this for sound business reasons. It is now accepted that change is continual rather than one-off, so it is vital that the people in organisations have the energy and enthusiasm to keep adapting.

This realisation led the authors to the notion of acceleration and the idea that the best companies would stay ahead by changing faster than their competitors, as the Japanese car makers have demonstrated in recent years. Doing this involves "organisational learning", a concept currently in vogue but worthless if it is restricted to knowledge management and running training courses, or indeed becomes the only thing managers worry about. The accelerating organisation has to have lots of other things going on as well as learning. In particular, it must also become more flexible and nimble.

Conversely, with all this activity around, there is a need for some form of stability. The idea of drawing on an organisation's core values is commonly the solution to this. But, at a recent event organised by Arthur D Little, senior executives - perhaps surprisingly - decided that the driver of organisations should be "shared dreams".

Even this notion suffers from the disadvantage of sounding fine in principle but being very difficult to make work in practice because it has to bring in the entire workforce. It requires everybody to align themselves around the basic notions, and then needs to ensure that the senior staff in particular take the appropriate actions needed to make it happen.

Mr Maira and Mr Scott-Morgan point with approval to Microsoft chief Bill Gates's admission that he was wrong to be sceptical about the Internet, and his subsequent decision to throw huge amounts of resources into correcting his mistake by catching up and overtaking the competition.

And they warn that there is no choice in this matter. It is an "absolute requirement" for organisations to be flexible and to abandon control from the centre, says Mr Scott-Morgan. "Whether we like it or not, we're on a treadmill of never-ending change."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most