There’s an old Beninese proverb that I feel will be an apt introduction to my review – “An old story does not open the ear as a new one does.” In simple terms it means that if you continue concentrating on old ideas and do what you have always been doing then you miss on the opportunity to do something new. And when we speak of reengineering an organization, isn’t that precisely what we are doing?
My choice of this book is definitely premeditated. Not only is Reengineering the Corporation considered as a groundbreaking work in the last two decades, but it discusses a highly challenging, sensitive and controversial subject – organization reengineering – the one thing that everyone knows is mandatory and yet avoid. In the present business milieu in Nigeria, as organizations we need to adapt to change. Whether an established bank like Diamond Bank or a startup like Spinlet, Wakanow or iROKOtv, it is necessary to imbibe into our systems new business processes, information technology, advanced analytics and more, to witness quantum improvements in outcome.
What works in favor of Hammer and Champy’s Reengineering the Corporation
Originally published in 1993, Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy discusses a poignant business topic of the current millennia – how to bring about improvement in business performance through reengineering. By discussing the state of affairs in American organizations in the 1990s, the book highlights the need to stop looking for excuses in external factors like global competition, federal laws etc. and finding the real flaw in internal processes. By debunking Adam Smith’s original concept of division of labor, it moves beyond conventional wisdom and talks about welcoming change in the post Industrial Revolution age through re-thinking, and making better use of existing resources and capabilities for improvement.
What also works is that it distinctly differentiates between continuous process improvements and reengineering. It starts with the historical perceptions as stated by Adam Smith and Henry Ford, but sternly emphasizes that reengineering means quantum improvement. Reengineering simply stated means a fresh start; it means to let go of previous processes and culture and make new beginnings for better accomplishment of results. The authors clearly establishes how reengineering affects the company, the customers and the employees and why it necessitates the need for a leader with vision to bring about change. Considering the dynamism in market place, the reengineering process is a journey from the familiar to the unknown; it involves risks, fatigue and the fear of failure; and hence is the collective effort of the leader, the staff and community to successfully bring about organizational reengineering.
Where Reengineering the Corporation fails
Though there are three detailed case studies discussed in the book, I was hoping for a few more. There are relevant examples cited, such as the reference to Ford and Kodak while emphasizing how radical and striking change is what distinguishes reengineering, this is the only section I am hoping that will be improved in the forthcoming editions.
Also, I am not completely in favor of the total concept of reengineering from scratch. Hammer and Champy insist on companies completely discarding the old processes and methodologies for the new, but that is not something I recommend. In Nigeria, the resources are limited; and there are times when complete reengineering cannot occur simultaneously with ongoing business transactions. I guess what I propose is re-inventing – making structural and process changes that will help in optimizing resources.
Why read Reengineering the Corporation
The illustrative and detailed case studies are what appeal the most about book. The reengineering stories and thoughtful critique of IBM and Duke Power have a lot to tell especially about how global conglomerates perceive, implement and adapt to change. Also in our case, it’s an eye opener. Sitting in Nigeria, Africa it’s not always possible for us to be exposed to the western way of cosmopolitan thinking. The case studies help us in witnessing a world of change and sustainability that we as Africans are otherwise unfamiliar with.
The book is also a noteworthy read for managers who are implementing change. It will help them understand the far reaching consequences of reengineering that affects performance metrics, changing roles of employees, decision making etc. It is also necessary for them to keep in mind that reengineering changes certain workplace characteristics as well. For instance, people are more empowered, tasks change to multidimensional work, performance is measured by results, organizational structure and roles change etc.