Business Process Reengineering

Article excerpt

A retrospective look. Part two.


Al-Mashari and Zairi (1999) indicated that 'Empowerment' and 'People Involvement' were equally 'critical' to Business Process Reengineering's (BPR) chances of success, yet in the research referred to initially there was evidence in both LGOs of management's (some senior) reluctance to let go of their control and release the creative talents of their people, in order, as Al-Mashari and Zairi suggested, to 'Create an Effective Culture for Organisational Change'. The driving forces (Lewin, 1947) remain on the increase, and within the two collaborating LGOs there was evidence of people seeking to buck the traces of the old ways - called locally, 'City Way'* and 'County Way'* - in order to bring about some of the more 'radical' changes required, but it was difficult for the lower ranks to feel 'empowered', when the 'resisting forces' were seen as senior management.

(*ldentities concealed for reasons of confidentiality.)

Part of the 'cultural inertia' referred to was evident in the lack of strategic linking to project choice, yet, strategically, choice of project is of fundamental importance. 'Will this project take us further towards our strategic objectives?' 'Yes'? Or 'no?' In the case of the larger (23,000 FTE) of the two LGOs, with one exception, there was no real evidence that the projects in the selection studied were strongly linked to strategic objectives, yet, and importantly, selecting processes for reengineering that are in line with the organisation's strategic goals is far more likely to deliver the service improvements and waste reduction that is required.

This importance cannot be over emphasised; a major branding company was recently commissioned (albeit hypothetical Iy) to 'make Gordon Brown, and new Labour, attractive once again' (Liddle, 2008). One of the employees said: "What we would do for Labour, if they came to us, is force them to reconnect with their principles. They have to try to remember what they are for."

The owner of the company, Wally Olins, then chipped in with agreement: "They've become distracted by other things, by the process of governing, and lost the point of why they are there. They have become exhausted; the ideas have dried up. That sort of thing happens with a lot of companies."

Ideas are the life blood of innovation and change. Remembering what (you) are 'for', or 'there' for, is to 'reconnect' with your purpose, your reason for being. Effective reengineering (or process redesign or systems thinking), begins with 'reconnecting' with 'purpose'. The fundamental question is, 'Why does this process exist, and for whom?' or as Champy (1996: xiii) asks: 'Why are we doing what we are doing?'

Evidence from this research indicates that managers within these LGOs have, in some cases, become 'distracted ... by the process of governing'; or, in their cases, the maintenance of their position (eg, salary, staff numbers, budgets, 'turf', status) within that 'process of local government', which Argyris (2002: 213) called 'Model I - defensive reasoning'. This cannot be acceptable.

Strong strategic leadership is required to 'reconnect' these organisations to their reason for existence, to 'un-distract' them. In this context, this strength of leadership had not been apparent in either organisation. There was no evidence of any 'reengineering leader' who is 'a senior executive who is strongly committed to reengineering and who possesses the title and authority necessary to institute fundamental change' (Hammer and Stanton, 1995:86).


This highlights the other outcome of the study mentioned initially, the lack of 'effective leadership at senior level(s)'. Without effective leadership, there can be no successful change initiative. Reengineering (or process redesign, or systems thinking interventions) are, for those involved, high-risk strategies - it is oft-cited (though challenged by this research) that fewer than 30% of reengineering efforts succeed. …