Business Process Reengineering and Human Resource Management

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Business Process Reengineering and Human Resource Management By
Hugh Willmott
Judge Institute of Management
University of Cambridge, UK
A later version of this article appears in Personal Review, 23, 3: 34-46 (1994) For more information on published articles by Hugh Willmott please refer to http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/close/hr22/hcwhomeBusiness Process Reengineering and Human Resource Management Hugh Willmott

Manchester School of Management, UMIST
Abstract
This article reviews the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) vision of radical business process change, focusing upon the use of information technology to facilitate a shift away from linear/sequential work organization towards parallel processing and multidisciplinary teamworking. It highlights BPR’s cursory treatment of the human dimension of its programme for radical organizational change and raises the question of how HRM specialists are to respond to its trivialisation of the complexities and dilemmas associated with the reengineering of work processes.

Introduction
‘There is a new-look menu over at the Consultants’Cafe. Good old soupe du TQM and change management pate are off. Perhaps you would care to try some business process reengineering instead?’
1
During the 1980s, executives were invited to sample and digest a series of ‘recipes’ for enhancing corporate performance. Notably, they were urged by Peters and Waterman to emulate the successes of ‘excellent’companies by strengthening their corporate cultures 2

. More
recently, Total Quality Management (TQM) has been widely promoted and adopted as a means of achieving continuous improvement
3
. However,
‘A recent study indicates that around 85% of the organizations using TQM are disappointed with the outcome ....... experts are predicting that TQM will be replaced by corporate re-engineering as the technique most favoured by organizations anxious to maximise their people and material resources’

4
In order to compete successfully against ‘sleek startups and streamlined Japanese companies’, Hammer, the leading advocate of Business Process Reengineering (BPR), asserts that ‘companies need fast change and dramatic improvements’

5
. In BPR, the emphasis is placed
upon the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to play a key, enabling role in transforming the design of work processes
6
, a role that stretches far beyond the
automation of existing methods of manufacturing products or delivering services 7
.
‘Nearly all our processes originated before the advent of modern computer and communications technology. They are replete with mechanisms designed to compensate for "information poverty". Although we are now information affluent, we still use those mechanisms, which are now deeply embedded in automated systems’ 8

ICTs are identified as a means of quite radically ‘reengineering’organizations to achieve market responsiveness whilst substantially reducing labour costs. Making the transition from function-3 centred to process-oriented organizing practices necessarily depends upon the ‘human resources’ who enact, and are also (re)constituted by, BPR. Given BPR’s focus upon business processes, it is remarkable how little attention is given by BPR to they human dimensions of organizing. The paper begins by reviewing the BPR vision of radical business process change 9

, focusing
upon its use of information technology to facilitate a move away from linear/sequential work organization towards parallel processing and multidisciplinary teamworking. The neglect of the human dimension within BPR is then identified. Finally, the paper questions how HRM specialists, in particular, are to respond to its trivialisation of the human and organizational complexities and dilemmas associated with the BPR recipe for radical organizational change. It concludes by suggesting that the human aspects and implications of BPR have been woefully neglected, and that these should provide a...
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