HR’s Role in the Reengineering Process

By Samuel Greengard

Dec. 1, 1993

Because reengineering involves a myriad of HR challenges, it provides HR with a golden opportunity to put its stamp on a firm. “It’s up to HR to take the initiative and define its role,” says Janet Caldow, a senior consultant at IBM Consulting Group in White Plains, New York. “In most cases, things aren’t clearly defined during a reengineering project. Those who step forward gain the opportunity to blaze the trail.”

Experts say HR can provide valuable guidance and direction as a project unfolds. HR’s expertise can encompass a wide range of areas. They include:

  1. Shaping the process:
    Although senior management may lay down the general guidelines and direction the reengineering effort will take, HR often can play a major role in determining whether it will succeed. At many companies—including Minneapolis-based IDS Financial Services, Monterey, California-based CTB and Palo Alto, California-based Syntex—HR helped create the selection criteria for members of the steering committee. HR also can interview and evaluate candidates. Even as the process filters down through the organization, HR can play a key role in determining how team leaders and team members are selected.
  2. Creating job statements and role descriptions that reflect the new corporate order:
    It isn’t enough to plug existing job descriptions into new positions created from reengineering. It isn’t enough to use existing methodology to create new positions. Reengineering requires serious introspection about what the company is trying to achieve and what job and role responsibilities will help realize the goals. “It’s a whole new way of thinking. The idea is to write job statements instead of descriptions, to outline roles vs. tasks, and to structure work around the customer rather than a specific function or department,” says Mary Layman, vice president of HR for CTB.
  3. Working out compensation issues:
    Pay scales and rewards must be structured to create the desired results. For example, a company that wants to focus on customer service must measure and compensate the work force based on that criteria. Likewise, HR must think about whether it should pay employees for specific tasks they should perform from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or offer skill-based or knowledge-based pay. “Too often, there’s a disconnect between the basic strategy and what HR actually does,” says Caldow.
  4. Training the new work force:
    “A company may have award-winning training programs, but they probably aren’t going to have a lot to do with the overall reengineering strategy,” says William A. Wheeler, a partner at the consulting firm of Coopers and Lybrand in New York City and co-author of Business Process Reengineering: Breakpoint Strategies for Market Dominance. Experts agree that it’s important to provide plenty of training on specific skills employees will need in the newly reengineered company, but that teamwork, decision making and trust building must also be heavily emphasized over a period of time.
  5. Molding the new corporate culture:
    Stories, ceremonies, awards and rituals all have a major impact on how people behave. Caldow insists that human resources can alter thinking by helping form a new ethnography. It must be consistent throughout the organization, and it should be backed by plenty of symbolism. Yet, the change won’t occur overnight. It may take weeks or months before a real breakthrough in thinking takes place.
  6. Facilitate communication in the work force:
    Nothing is as frightening to a work force as change, and nothing changes a work force as much as reengineering. Newsletters, videos, letters, E-mail messages, and companywide and departmental meetings are all useful tools in quelling anxiety. Moreover, good communication can help a work force understand how reengineering may benefit it in the future.

Personnel Journal, December 1993, Vol. 72, No.12 p. 48H.

Samuel Greengard is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.


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