Mike Bett, vice-chairman of British Telecommunications and a companion of the British Institute of Management, is confident of the benefits of his organisation's cultural changes.
British Telecom has been much in the press this year - with attention centred on two major strands of change. One of these comes from outside the company - the duopoly review which will shape the future of telecommunications in the UK during the 1990s. The other is generated by the company's management board and is a far-reaching reorientation and restructuring of the company, to put customers first and to make sure of continued success in demanding global marketplaces. This initiative is known as Project Sovereign.
This heralds a new way of focusing on customers - a new culture. These are big ambitions, magnified further by the scale of the organisation itself. With over 25 million customers in Britain alone, the 230,000 British Telecom people are based at around 8,000 locations in the UK and there is a rapidly growing number around the world.
Although BT is often seen as a technology-driven company, its future achievements will concern people - its people and its customers. To continue to be successful and maintain competitive advantage, quality and satisfaction must be built into every customer relationship.
BT has invested wisely in strategic analysis, and it was close attention to strategic imperatives that convinced the BT board that 1990 was the year for change. It took this decision aware that it would be difficult for many of its people to understand why such change was necessary when things were going well. During the 1980s many UK companies were galvanised into change by worsening market performance; but BT decided to change from a position of strength. It was able to use the time to make major changes in a thorough way, rather than using a sense of crisis to jolt its managers.
In the packages of change launched by chairman Iain Vallance on March 29, a new framework for the company's organisation is a key strand. For many years BT has been structured in a way which reflects the historic dominance in the business of telephone service to UK customers. This has supported a very large UK division (with around 200,000 people) which has found it difficult to focus on specific customer needs.
From April 1991 this will be restructured into a total of seven major units providing a basis for building flatter organisations within each division. The move towards less layers is central to BT's restructuring. Historically British Telecom has made much use of "general management" and has in recent years had as many as five layers of general management sitting above functionally orientated managers. This brought benefits during the transition of BT into the private sector, encouraging an entrepreneurial style, but now the drive is for more targeted management and teamwork across the functions.