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Heroism in the new world market.

Canadian business knows the challenge of the '90s -- to be competitive in a global marketplace. Meeting the challenge demands revolutionary change in the way business works. "As where and with whom we do business shifts, how we do business today will become obsolete in the future," warns Marti Smye, PhD., president of People Tech Consulting Inc., one of North America's leading change management firms. "We need to find a heroic, new business style in order to be more effective -- creating higher quality products and services -- and more efficient, with lower costs and fewer people."

"Many Canadian businesses have tried to respond to the challenge by introducing new technology, but only a few innovative Canadian businesses have realized that there also have to be changes on the human level. We must develop a braver form of business behaviour -- that emphasizes initiative, risks and drive," says Dr. Smye. "We must focus on human achievement and recognize and reward the cooperative effort of people working together. Companies that create this type of environment will be competitive and, ultimately, successful in the brave, new business world of the '90s.

Brewing Up Solutions

People Tech Consulting Inc., founded in 1964, is a unique and highly specialized firm that brings together a variety of disdplines -- such as organizational behaviour, behavioural psychology, training and assessment expertise -- to help organizations launch and accelerate changes such as mergers, downsizing, reorganizations or expansion. "The one constant in business is change," says Dr. Smye. "People Tech specializes in bringing people and strategies together to make a change work."

Over the last year, People Tech has worked with Labatt Breweries of Canada to develop brave new business behaviour. '"We recognized that we were facing new pressures from the United States and Europe," explains Tim Vauthier, Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Labatt. "Becoming more competitive internationally required a more effective and responsive internal organization that would inspire innovative and heroic action."

"Labatt initiated an extensive internal reorganization that would not only alter what people did dayto-day, but how they thought about their work," says Dr. Smye who, together with a special People Tech team, spearheaded the management strategy. "Now, there is a new emphasis on teams, a new focus on responsibility for success throughout the organization, and a greater empowerment of individuals to do what needs to be done."

Empowerment: Most Overused Word and Underused Concept

"Empowerment is an essential element in improving how we work, but, unfortunately, it is the most overused word and underused concept in Canadian business," says Dr. Smye. "As a result, it has become a great management buzzword -- promising a lot and delivering very little."

"Empowerment simply means allowing and encouraging all your staff to become heroes," she explains. "This type of atmosphere was originally defined by author Rob Lebow as heroic in A Journey into The Heroic Environment. Heroes are innovative. They recognize opportunities. They offer input without having to be asked. They take initiative. They take risks. They take control. The clerk in distribution who changes the standard requisition form to be shorter and less complicated is a hero. The account manager who pursues a new business opportunity on his or her own initiative is a hero. The sales division that takes responsibility for setting and managing its own budget are heroes."

The End of the Star System

"Heroes are different from stars," Dr. Smye continues. "Stars exemplify the '80s approach to business. Although they are great achievers, they are focused on themselves and their own careers and ambitions -- always looking for the next step up on the corporate ladder. Stars offered outstanding individual effort. In the '90s, business has dismantled the ladder by removing layers and layers of middle managers. The star system has lost its sparkle. Now, teams of people drive the company through outstanding collective el - Environmental Management

"As appealing as the concept of heroes seems, people just don't change the way they behave overnight. Senior management has to take the first step and create a new working environment," she explains. "Internal systems that emphasize strict approval procedures or reinedin scopes of responsibility have to be changed."

For Labatt it meant a complete rebuilding of the corporate structure in which literally hundreds of people changed job descriptions. "We reconsidered everything from top to bottom," says Mr. Vauthier. "There was even a time in which my job was under review -- and I was part of the senior team launching the initiative!"

Learning a Lesson from the Factory Floor

"One of the most effective ways to encourage business heroism is through the creation of self-managed teams -- self-regulating groups that share responsibility for a whole project or portion of a company's business," advises Dr. Smye. "The application of the team approach on the factory floor has proven enormously effective."

"When a worker's role changes from rivetting the door panel to being part of a team responsible for building the whole car, his or her work becomes more interesting and enjoyable," says Dr. Smye. '"The worker can offer advice and make decisions in many more areas. He or she has a greater sense of involvement in the company's business, and can take greater credit for it's success -- and have greater concern about its failures. In fact, the establishment of self-managed teams has been found to increase productivity by 3 to 5 percent. "Empowerment also means giving the responsibility for a problem to the people it affects," she continues. At Labatt, the maintenance staff researched, priced and recommended the purchase of new equipment for its own department.

Bringing the Change Upstairs

Heroism at the management level is much more difficult to develop. An assembly line worker has everything to gain from empowerment. A middle manager sees it as a threat -- a loss of power and position -- while senior management worries about the risk of unleashing loose cannons.

"There is greater risk with heroism in the workplace -- people take more chances. But it is only from risk that we can make gains. Maintaining the status quo will be a death knell for Canadian business," says Dr. Smye. "We have to move ahead to stay competitive."

Managing Becomes a Much Finer Art

In this new working environment, the role of the manager remains important -- especially since the number of managers is being drastically reduced. However, the manager's role is changing significantly.

"The new manager will be a facilitator -- providing his team with resources, opportunitiesand advice, but not strict orders and control," explains Dr. Smye. "Good management will evolve into a finer, more subtle art of giving support and setting broad direction ."

"Obviously, this change in style of business can't happen over-night," she says. "It's rather like trying to turn an ocean liner around in the opposite direction -- it takes time to make the change. In fact, large companies should anticipate a three- to five-year transition."

Labatt is approaching the first anniversary of the launch of its initiative and is still in the midst of a long-term rebuilding process with People Tech that includes workshops, focus groups and continuous assessment.

A New Vision and Goals

"In essence, most Canadian companies will have to change their vision and goals, find new ways of gauging success and new performance assessment techniques, write whole new job descriptions and more," says Dr. Smye.

And there will be resistance. "I believe that we are naturally heroic," says Dr. Smye, "but we spend our lives being reined in -- don't do this, don't do that, becareful -- and most business environments perpetuate that pattern -- that's not my job, that's not our department's responsibility, it's not my fault. We have become too cautious and authorityoriented. It's a difficult process to erase all that training, but it is essential for Canadian business to begin the process now or it will fail to meet the challenges of the new world economy in the future."

Dr. Marti Smye is President of People Tech Consulting Inc., one of Canada s largest change management consulting firms. Dr. Smye offers fourteen years experience in the financial, manufacturing, high tech and government sectors and is a frequent speaker to professional and business audiences.
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Title Annotation:employing innovative business strategies in the global market
Author:Smye, Marti
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 22, 1992
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