CXO

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Continual reorganisation

Will management churn bring progress to a halt?
Continual reorganisation - not a good thing
26.05.05, 11.05 GMT, Templeton College, Oxford, UK

When I started in industry (a long time ago), the reorganisation of a company was not only a big deal it was a rare event. Today some companies seem to be in a state of continual reorganisation to the point where they have been overcome by a debilitating churn of people, managers, reporting charts and responsibilities.

For many this clouds the purpose, ideals and objectives of the company, at a cost of lost business and opportunities. How come?

With each new wave of technology and the resulting acceleration of business, I have seen managers seek to optimise their organisations to exploit the new opportunities presented. When the MTTR (Mean Time To Reorganise) was measured in years and was generally longer than the MTBM (Mean Time Between Managers), it all seemed to work. There was a managerial continuity and reorganisation was a minor inconvenience and generally brought about advances in operations and performance.

But little by little, the MTTR was whittled down from several years to yearly to every few months, to become shorter than the MTBM - and ultimately for some to become a continuum. What does this most often achieve? This was perhaps best coined (supposedly - at least according to this website) by Petronius Arbiter in 210 B.C.:

    We trained hard... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.

Why is reorganisation so necessary? How about Dickensian management styles and mind-sets? I'm talking about rigid reporting structures, well-defined rule sets, quality control systems, centralised control and sometimes more managers than people.

Most of these are proven, work well and indeed are often a necessity in a stable organisation in a stable market. So you find farming, food production, car manufacturing and white and brown goods plants tend to be very stable with few big reorganisations.

It is in the IT-driven sectors where the chaos is at its peak - defence, communications, IT, and services are all prone to the continual churn of reorganisation. Here, hierarchical and rigid management systems never work for long; it is much more of a guerrilla warfare environment than lines of red coats marching line abreast with fixed bayonets.

Sadly it seems there are few organisations able to cast off and leave Dickensian systems behind. They went electronic by putting all their existing processes and paper on screen, and as a result have seen little benefit, with little learned!

They really need to redesign and rebuild for flexibility and adaptability, not rigidity and reorganisation. Will they do it? Perhaps, and probably when disaster is staring them in the face. Why? About 70 per cent of the managers will have to go - to be replaced by more effective and less damaging machines and communication networks.

But this is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas... it will most likely take some time. However sooner or later companies will discover the power of under management and empowerment, as opposed to the debilitation of hyper-control!

And one more thing...

For the tech Luddites, workaholics and sceptics out there - some of whom posted comments in response to my most recent blog entry on the acceleration of society - I can only say that I observe and report things as I see them.

But to please you I have asked my fiancée to give her perspective in a blog post that will appear very shortly. (And I haven't bribed or influenced her in any way - honest. She is her own woman and will report things as she sees them.)

There is no point in asking my sons to contribute as they are deeper into technology than I am and my daughters would just love one throat to choke when it comes to IT services and support.

In short, they are frustrated that tech cannot do even more even faster.

So look out for the next blog as it extends the theme into the company scene and in particular the domain of continual reorganisation.

Oh, and thanks all for the inputs - all varied and fun - as ever!

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About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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