UK: EDITORIAL OPINION - A GRAVE NEW WORLD. - Change, it has been said, is not without inconvenience, even from worse to better. 'Better' in business means enhanced efficiency, greater productivity, higher quality and superior competitiveness. Better is t

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Change, it has been said, is not without inconvenience, even from worse to better. 'Better' in business means enhanced efficiency, greater productivity, higher quality and superior competitiveness. Better is the watchword of the day; worse is unthinkable. One of the more cathartic ways of seeking improvement is the one our cover story (page 18) is concerned with: re-engineering. It goes by other names, none perhaps more appropriate. There will be many people who will declare themselves 're-engineered' with a wry smile. It lacks the implied slur of 'redundant'.

To implement successfully this fast-spreading gospel, which is displacing the lately fashionable management nostrums, all core processes have to be identified and re-examined. Down go the barriers insulating one function from another and dissipating the old sense of mystery about what other people did. A prerequisite is that everyone has to understand what is going on, which in many places will be a revolution painful to behold. It follows that communication has to be comprehensive and one of the things that will dawn on participants quite early is that re-engineeering almost invariably means fewer people. There is the possibility that those released from certain functions could be used to generate growth elsewhere - the economic climate permitting. At the moment, it is a possibility rather than a probability.

Those re-engineered out of their jobs will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have collaborated in producing a more robust company, better able to survive: a cerebral satisfaction at best and no consolation. It is surely a hard world that we live in.The odds on failure are high unless, as our expert advisers counsel, all the rules are followed. Sun Life appears to have done the trick and is greatly pleased to have been re-engineered, counting its blessings in better business; perhaps, among its regrets, the departure of one-quarter of its customer services managers. They chose to leave rather than live with the new order.

Managers are no less vulnerable than anyone else in this process of beginning again. Many, of course, will gird their loins and launch out elsewhere. As we report on page 36, the MBO business, though grittier, is still thriving. Tougher conditions have to be met than in the '80s when entrepreneurialism was a vogue but rather vague and ultimately vain. Not everyone who dares now will win but the chances are there for the bold and carefully calculating.

And into this business world of no certain survival, are now coming those who thought that serving Queen and country had married a praiseworthy vocation with a certain security - if not of life and limb then, surely, of an on-going career. Relative peace having broken out, at least in respect of superpower confrontation, officers with beneficial redundancy terms but still with the need to command employment, are pressing their suit that the specialist training and leadership qualities with which they have been imbued are ideal for this grave new business world. When Sir Becomes a Civilian (page 28) explores their situation.

So it is not just businesses which have to look to their basic processes but people: what new can they bring to the party in skills and competencies - re-engineering themselves in fact.

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