During the past thirty years, American industry has witnessed phenomenal change—driven by international competition, swings in economic cycles, and changes in government policy ranging from protectionism to the promotion of competition and free trade. Change is just about the only thing that is assured (Vaill, 1989).
During these times, executives, consultants, researchers, and students of management have witnessed the coming and going of many ways to manage change—to gain and keep a competitive edge. Management by objectives (MBO) and a myriad of Japanese-like approaches have come and gone. In their place are management techniques that promise to have more staying power because they represent cultural change, such as total quality management (TQM), or they promise broad systemic solutions that revolutionize work, such as organizational restructuring and business process reengineering (BPR). Yet another popular approach to managing change that sounds good enough to help manage stock values is downsizing.
Announcements of downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering have become an everyday occurrence during the past decade. Some large organizations have announced personnel cuts as high as 50,000, although few details and time frames are provided. Blue-collar and, more recently, white-collar jobs are being eliminated in the seemingly endless pursuit of becoming “lean and mean.”
Downsizing and restructuring seldom occur by themselves. If an organization is to have fewer employees who accomplish more work and assume a customer focus, they must work better and smarter, and thus enters BPR, which restructures work. It is critical to rethink how work is performed as attrition, layoffs, early retirements, consolidations of departments and roles, and the elimination of layers of management