Re-engineering - like reorganisation and restructuring before it - is now generally understood to be a simile for that other, more unappealing 're'-word, redundancy. Anticipated employment trends point to a further sharp reduction in full-time permanent employees. As Simon Caulkin observes in 'Take Your Partners' (page 26), these trends are alarming - and not only for those who, as victims of past exercises in 'downsizing', are currently in search of full-time permanent employment, nor yet for others who are nervously awaiting the next round of 'structural changes'. It is also worrying for the well-being of the companies, and thus for the economy as a whole.
What's needed is balance. The pendulum has swung away from the overstaffed, overweight structures of a decade ago (when Hanson could close Imperial Group's huge head office, virtually unnoticed by Imps' ramifying operations). But it has swung too far in the opposite direction. Too many companies today are preoccupied with the benefits to the bottom line that can come from paring away at fixed costs. This has become an obsession, like anorexia. Management eyes the already feeble corporate frame, and continues to slash at yet more pockets of what it perceives to be fat.
The battle for productivity can never end, but management's focus should no longer be limited to reduction of fixed costs. The challenge is to ensure that the enterprise has the skills and motivation to generate and grasp opportunities that differentiate its products and services from those of its competitors.