Re-engineering the Downturn

Posted on February 9, 2011 by Aidan

Back in the early nineties I was working with Business Process Re-engineering which is still current today if as part of other systems. It laymans terms it was a way of looking at a process within a company – for example how an invoice is processed – and simplifying it so that it takes less time, includes technology where possible and removes steps from the chain. It leads to efficiencies and better value for money.

Difficulties in implementation include the difficulties in crossing departmental barriers, getting people on board and retraining.  However in competitive adaptable organisations with the will to do so it can be achieved with spectacular results from lower costs, improved adaptability, faster time to market and quicker response to customer demands.

Looking at the Public Sector organisations we have in this country – I wonder has it ever been done. The strong us and them culture that exists, the “change nothin” policy, the slow adaptation of technology, the resistance to all things new (without compensation!) and the lack of will (from the top down) to change the status quo.

With the Political Turmoil at the moment there are a lot of ideas and promises flying around. However loads of glib solutions abound. There are cultural problems as well as organisational problems to be addressed. Cutting jobs is not the whole answer although cutting some is part of the solution. Stretching front-line staff to breaking point by refusing to replace those who leave or are on maternity leave is an idiotic solution.

Culture is first and foremost. You have to win hearts and minds. I wrote before about the Monkeys in a Cage

Researchers started with 4 chimpanzees in a cage (all having a great time I presume screeching, scratching etc) which are left to their own devices to form a group. A bunch of Bananas is then put on the roof of the cage and the chimps, naturally, climb up the cage to get the bananas. After a while the researchers started to hose the cage (and Chimps hate being wet) with water everytime they went for the Bananas. Of course it did not take long for our hairy cousins to figure out that going for the Bananas was a no-no. Being researchers, they then introduced another Chimp who when he saw the bananas immendiately went to get them with the resultant hosing of him and his cellmates. So the next time he went for the Bananas his cellmates stopped him. And this became the norm – every time a new Chimp was added and he went for the bananas the others stopped him. After a while the researchers stopped the hosing and eventually they had a group of Chimps who had never been hosed. And yet still they refused to go for the bananas and stopped any new member going for them either.

Sean Lemass warned after he set up the semi-states that they needed to be monitored closesly lest they become more focused on the interests of their employees than those of the country. Some of our best people are swamped by the culture that pervades parts of our Public Sector. Trying new things and trying to improve the system is frowned upon. Vested interests and power centres block change and will continue to do so while there is so little else there to reward people. Cutting jobs is part of the solution but only part. Cutting inefficiencies is the trick. Leave the systems as the are and cutting a job only leaves another poor soul with twice as much paper in his or her in-tray.  And a bigger bottleneck in the system.

To do this needs a change in culture. A better reward system and a happier more motivated more flexible group of people. Lots of international organisations have achieved this – why not here in Ireland in our Semi-States and public sectors?  Because of the us and them mentality, because top management are often appointed for their political affiliation rather than their abilities, because nobody in power wants to change.  We need more like Willie Walsh at the top. We need to treat our people better, to train them better and to be able to remove them from their jobs (managers especially) if they cannot do their jobs –  nowadays we promote the problem! Legislation exists nowadays to protect people and to keep it fair. So job cutters, budget squeezers everywhere – aim for smarter work, better efficiencies and try to have a bit of imagination! Less of the broad stroke quick fix solutions! And the “us and them crew” try and think of the interests of the country eh?

I once got into an amicable conversation with a man over a pint and we were getting along well and he told me he was the union rep for his sector.  Immediately interested I asked him something like “what are the main problems you see with the restrictions forced on you by the systems and bureaucracy you are forced to operate with”… for which I got a suspicious look followed by “jeasuss – you sound like you one of dem fookin management”.

And so it goes on…

Aidan Higgins