“If in doubt, reorganise!”

Dateline: April 3rd, 2008. The then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith (Labour) announced a new Border Agency, which was the result of a reorganisation of a number of agencies merging together. The Conservative opposition said a Tory Government would create a fully merged border force, including police to improve security.

Fast forward to February 20th, 2012. Theresa May (Conservative), now Home Secretary, reacted to a highly-critical report by announcing a decision to split the UK border force from the UK border agency from next month. She said it needed a new management culture and to become a “disciplined law enforcement organisation,” led by a director general reporting¬†directly to ministers.

Consultants like me (but not me) are often the cause of such nonsense. At a point in time an organisation can be advised to centralise with all the benefits trotted out. A few years later another (or indeed the same) consultant will expound the theory of decentralisation and will wax lyrical of the benefits to be achieved. In my opinion there will always be argument and counter-argument about any organisational structure. However, the important issue is not what shape or form the organisation is but whether it performs. So what is needed is a management system that measures and acts upon the data it has. I’ve not read the report personally but it has been suggested that passport checks were downgraded on over 2000 occasions and that controls were downgraded more in 2011 than ever before. So this information was obviously available but where was the continuous data review so that trends could be discerned and actions taken as quickly as possible?

In process plants the DCS (distributed control system) will be programmed to use the rules of SPC (statistical process control) to react to the trends and flag up with alarms when the process is going out of control. In good plants the operators and engineers will be watching plant and equipment for trends; to be able to avoid flaring, to run a particular motor for longer after each maintenance, etc. Do they reorganise each time a problem occurs? No they investigate, the reasons why, put actions in place to fix the problem and monitor for a while to ensure the root cause has been addressed. They may even instigate a regular longer term review just to make sure that the problem hasn’t resurfaced.

Reorganising can be the answer sometimes but reorganisation has it’s own detrimental effects. Almost any change results in a downturn as people need time to acclimatise to the new structure, they follow the “S-Curve” of change and the four stages of team development. With good change management this period will be minimised. Without change management the likelihood is a reversal of the reorganisation by another manager or consultant who doesn’t really know the history of the earlier reorganisation.

It is interesting that Theresa May feels that by reorganising that the culture will change. This is probably true but won’t necessarily bring about the desired culture. Our favourite definition of culture is “the way we do things around here” and that, for me, talks of behaviours not structures. I wonder what the Home Secretary is doing to change the behaviours of those people left behind – the very same people bar one who were there before the split.

I could write reams of thoughts over this, e.g. that a cut of 600 staff is blamed by some for the problems that exist today, but I’ll leave those soapbox rants for another blog. For now let’s reflect on whether a reorganisation can be effective in changing both culture and performance. Your thoughts?

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About the author

Dave Dyer

Dave Dyer is a principal consultant within the Operations Improvement team in ABB Consulting. His speciality is in bringing sustainable change and operational benefits to an organisation through the engagement of its people. He hopes to share good ideas and good practice, to inform and to learn.
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