For a generation, management services practitioners have been involved in a succession of corporate initiatives from quality, through process improvement and re-engineering, to knowledge management. Many of these have involved the development or adoption, and the subsequent application of, standard methodologies and common tools and techniques. Their focus has largely been upon raising productivity and lowering the cost of existing activities. In many contexts, squeezing the cost base and the reduction of staffing levels continues to the present day. However, new concerns, pre-occupations and requirements are beginning to emerge. Corporate leaders, and a growing number of investors, are placing more emphasis upon creating value, developing new ventures, and generating additional sources of revenue.
The European Commission, and many Governments around the world are now putting a high priority upon supporting new ventures, especially in knowledge industries. Within the UK, this year sees the launch of a major new national initiative to promote enterprise and support entrepreneurship.
How will these developments effect the role of central support teams? What can, or should, management services professionals do to help companies: identify and release entrepreneurial talent; stimulate, facilitate and enable enterprise; and support new ventures? This article draws upon an ongoing family of investigations into why some businesses are so much more successful than others (see Figure 1). These suggest that alert, imaginative and responsive practitioners have an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the transformation of the contemporary corporation into an incubator of enterprise, and become valued members of enterprise colonies.1
The business world of the new millennium will be very different from that experienced by many management services practitioners at the outset of their careers. The monolithic corporations which they joined, with their formal procedures and standard products, were run by those who `took the decisions' and felt they `knew best'. Order, predictability, conformity and homogeneity were valued. Diversity and `standing out' were discouraged. Subordinates did what they were told. They worked upon prescribed tasks. On the whole, they implemented rather than created.
Market conditions and practices have dramatically changed. Obstacles of distance and time, and barriers to entry, can be more easily overcome. There is greater variety and choice. Customers are demanding bespoke services and more imaginative responses to their individual requirements. To attract their attention, individuals and organisations are having to differentiate their approaches and their offerings.
Increasingly, people in `customer facing' or 'front line' roles are being required to think and act like entrepreneurs. It is neither desirable nor practical for more senior staff, and those in remote corporate head offices to become involved in the multiplicity of relationships that require a distinct approach to meet the needs of a particular situation. Hence, the recent preoccupation with empowerment and delegation. Those who are in direct contact with users and consumers have to be trusted to respond and act appropriately.
However, many corporate initiatives are exceedingly general, while the rationale for empowerment and greater delegation of responsibilities is not always made clear. Such drives may need to be accompanied by specific steps to promote enterprise and develop entrepreneurial attitudes and skills. Confident companies actively help people to better understand their inner selves, and encourage them to take advantage of their unique qualities and distinctive strengths.
While not everyone may have the potential to become a tycoon, and the insecure may feel threatened, in many organisations people are welcoming the greater emphasis now being placed upon what are perceived …