Strengths And Weaknesses Of Bureaucracy Information Technology Essay

Change is a constant variable in today’s world. As stated by Anand (2004, p.10) “change is the process of altering, reshaping or transforming a business to improve the way it works or interacts with its environment”. Any organization needs to embrace change in order to sustain its competitive advantage.

The organization I will study for the purpose of this assignment is John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which owns leading UK retail business. JLP has 29 John Lewis shops, 223 Waitrose supermarkets, an online catalogue business johnlewis.com, and Greenbee a direct services company. The partnership governance system “is both commercial allowing us to move quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry, and democratic giving every partner a voice in the business they co-own” (JLP handbook 2009, p.5). This shows that change has been at the core of the Partnership from the beginning.

In this assignment I will discuss the background to change that exists in today’s economy which influences JLP, also I will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of bureaucracy in relation to the Partnership, and study some alternative forms of organizational development present in it. In addition, I will develop systems to involve appropriate stakeholders in the introduction of a specific change in JLP, and analyze and evaluate these systems. Finally, I will develop and adapt appropriate models for change in the Partnership, and indicate their implementation process and outcomes.

1. Background to change that affects JLP

1.1Background of change that exists in today’s economy

In the words of Sims (2002, p.2) “The forces of change are so great that the future success, indeed the very survival, of thousand of organizations depends on how well they respond to change”. These forces or factors can be classified as external or internal; in JLP case some of those factors are:

External factors

Globalization

Nowadays, thanks to technological advances there are fewer barriers to do business around the world. Organizations in order to maintain a competitive edge need to keep up with global demand; in JLP case this works in two ways: on one hand the Partnership imports several products around the world (i.e. fruit, vegetables, textiles) to cope with the demand of the UK’s cosmopolitan society, and on the other hand delivers UK manufactured products to the world through its export service.

Economy

Any business has to accommodate its needs to its economic environment in order to survive. A growing economy, as well as a down turn, can have a significant effect in an organization. By late 2007 the Partnership had planned opening 25 John Lewis stores, and 40 Waitrose in the lapse of 12 years, but due to the global economic recession in mid 2008, these plans had to be postponed, and stores are opening at a lower rate.

Technology

The continue advances in technology help organizations to improved efficiency and save cost. In order to maintain a competitive advantage the Partnership has made several technological changes such as new till system trough out John Lewis in 2005 and Waitrose in 2007 making transaction quicker, and giving more autonomy to the cashier, improving customer service; also in 2007 a new pay roll system was introduce all over the business, saving time and decentralizing the responsibility from the human resource department, to every section within every branch.

Internal Factors

Diversification

A business diversifies in order to penetrate new markets that will help it grow and consolidate. Based on the fact that customers were expending considerable amounts on travel, leisure and financial services, in 2006 JLP taking advantage of its credibility, launched Greenbee, which offers a distinctive range of those services. Currently, although still a small part of the Partnership, its sales adds up to £25m, and had an income increase of 50% year on year (JLP website); this shows great possibilities for growth.

Rightsizing

In order to be cost effective and improve performance, organizations have to have the right staff, in the right place. In 2008 the Partnership launched Branch of the Future (BoF), which is an initiative to review all selling support departments over three years, improving operation within, which potentially will mean to reduce staff on these departments, who will be moved to selling operations where there is a lack of human resources.

Social responsibility

Although social responsibility can be seen as an external factor, I am identifying it as internal factor because corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been part of the Partnership since it was founded by John Spedan Lewis, and it is part of JLP core values and principles (JLP website). In order to implement a more effective way to give something back to the community, the John Lewis division introduced in 2007 the Charity of the Year scheme, in which every year partners from the division decide which charity to support during the coming year, and suggest events to collect funds for that charity; also in 2008 the Waitrose division introduced the Community Maters initiative where partners and customers alike propose three charities to support every month, and through a token system they decide how the amount of money (£1000) will be distributed among the chosen charities. (JLP website).

Strengths and weaknesses of Bureaucracy

According to Olsen (2006) Weber’s bureaucracy is “a distinct organizational setting, the bureau or office: formalized, hierarchical, specialized with a clear functional division of labour and demarcation of jurisdiction, standardized, rule based and impersonal… full-time administrative staff with lifelong employment, appointed to office and rewarded on the basis of merit”. As many big organization, JLP has a bureaucratic structure to certain extent, which brings some advantages as well as disadvantages, some of those present in the Partnership are:

Strengths of bureaucracy in JLP

Bureaucratic organizations avoid actions based on personal likes and dislikes. Although the Partnership encourages socialization outside work, work related issues should always be acted upon concrete facts, and impartial judgment, no biased by personal matters; failure to do so can end in disciplinary action.

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Clear functional division. At top management level, the Partnership Board has specific functions and objectives, allowing every division to focus on its particular function in order to accomplish its objectives in an efficient manner.

Human resources (HR) are hired and promoted based on a personal assessment and performance within the organization. HR at the Partnership is hired based on group and personal assessments, and under no kind of discrimination; also HR get salary increment and promotions based purely on their performance, and achievement of self set objectives.

Weaknesses of bureaucracy in JLP

Long time employment in the same post. In some sections of the Partnership, HR remain in the same post for several years, and not always are motivated to acquire more skills, becoming systematic and lethargic when they are needed to cover other areas of the business.

Excessive and ineffective rules and regulations. At certain management level in JLP you are required to talk formally to your line manager first, and go up the ladder until you find the answer to a particular enquiry, instead of being sent directly to a higher manager who can resolve the issue at hand, avoiding unnecessary steps.

Excessive paperwork. In some departments of the Partnership to order in house stationary is necessary to send and email, as well as print it, and take it to the branch stationary office to get the items your section requires, these unnecessary paperwork could be avoided by going directly to the office and sign for the items your taking.

Standardized and inflexible methods. In JLP the annual review of performance (ARP) which is the base to assess partners’ performance, and indeed their pay, is standard to all non-management partners, similar patterns are used to assess every layer of management. This kind of standardization has no room for modification according to the characteristics of the different sections and divisions within the Partnership.

Alternative forms of Organizational Development (OD) present in JLP

As stated by Hannagan (1998, p.162) “OD is the skilled application of behavioural science to bring about organizational change through people”. Some forms of OD present in the Partnership are:

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a form of OD that uses statistical techniques to improve productivity and profitability through the elimination of defects in processes (Anthony et al, 2006). In JLP Six Sigma was applied when the John Lewis division restructure the call centres. In order to deal more effectively with customer calls and requirements, a new system was implemented, which measures the amount of calls taken during the day, the abandon calls, the time that takes to answer a call, and among other factors; using this information each call centre has been able to identify the busiest period, and manage HR effectively during the day.

Kaizen

Kaizen means continues improvement. It is a form of OD which “approach is to increase a firm’s competitiveness on an ongoing basis through a series of small improvements” (Harrison et al, 2000, p.76). In some branches of the Partnership, in order to improve trade, there have been adjustments in the opening hours through a period of time, which has made these branches more competitive. These changes came from within the Branch Forum, a group of partners from every department in the branch, elected by their colleagues, who meet regularly to discuss ways in which partners can improve their branch, its trade, as well as partner’s welfare.

Business process re-engineering (BPR)

BPR is a form of OD that in the words Champy (1993) is defined as a “fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical measures of performance such as cost, quality, service and speed” (cited by Hindle, 2008, p.25). In 2009 as part of Branch of the Future initiative, the John Lewis division decided to move all in branch call centres to two mega call centres in the north of the UK, this move was partially based on the fact that it will be more cost effective to have all telephone operation concentrate in a couple of locations, which based in the north of the country, will reduce the operating cost; and also, having all call handling operation within the same roof, there can be a standardization of practices, and indeed of customer service.

Other forms of OD are total quality management (TQM) and learning organization, which will be discuss later in this assignment.

2. Systems for understanding and involving stakeholders in the process of change in JLP

2.1 Systems to involve appropriate stakeholders in the introduction of change in JLP

The change I want to implement in the Partnership, more specifically in the John Lewis division, is a modification of the current Gift List packing/delivery system, which will enable users to locate items within the specific box they have been packed. This change will affect some individuals to which I will refer as stakeholders.

Stakeholder is a group or individual who have an interest, and have influence or are influenced by an organization (Kanji, 2002). The stakeholders affected by the change described above will be: partners and customers. In order to involve these stakeholders in the introduction of change I am developing some systems. A system is a group of individual components that are inter-related to one another in such a way that the actions of one of these components will affect the group as a whole (Panton and McMalman, 2002). The systems I am developing are training, which will be directed to partners; and online communication that will be directed to customers.

Training

Training needs

There will be an evaluation of the knowledge each trainee has of the current Gift List packing/delivery system, so first we will fill up any gap to make sure all trainees have the same knowledge to start with, second we will introduce how to operate the modified system.

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Training objectives

The training objectives are: a) trainees will be able to understand and operate the modified Gift List packing/delivery service system; b) trainees will be able to give accurate information using the system, when required.

Training methods

The methods that we will use are: a) leaflets highlighting the modifications of the current Gift List packing/delivery system and the benefits; b) multimedia training to familiarize employees with the modifications; c) off the job training to show employees how the new modifications work.

Training location

Training will be held on each branch’s training room, and also in the Distribution Centre (DC), with visits from branch’s employees to the DC, and vice versa.

Trainees

The trainees will be: a) in branch Gift List partners, b) DC partners which do the packing; c) warehouse partners who handles boxes to be delivered; d) delivery drivers.

Trainers

The training will be delivered by selected Gift List partners, who have a better understanding of the Gift List system, and who would previously been trained by each branch systems team.

Training evaluation

After each session partners will be asked for feedback, and will be asked to use the system on their own, in order to identify any further training needs.

Online communication

Selection of relevant information

Costumers are not concerned with the technical modifications made on the Gift List packing/delivery system, so we will inform them on how they will be affected, and about any physical change that they may come across.

Identified online medium

The relevant information will be: a) posted on the Gift List registration website available for new customers; b) existing customers will be emailed informing about the change.

Customer feedback

Once customers are informed, we will ask for their feedback, in order to review the information sent, and modify it if necessary.

2.2 Analysis and evaluation of systems used in the introduction of change in JLP

As any system, training and online communication have some advantages and disadvantages, some of those being:

Training

Advantages

Ensures that partners have the right skills to perform their job effectively.

Gives partners confidence and motivation to continue develop.

Improves flexibility within the business.

Provides higher levels of customer service.

Disadvantages

There is not always the staff necessary to allow the training to take place, putting pressure on the partners doing the daily tasks.

Not all partners are motivated by a training experience.

It is time consuming.

Online communication

Advantages

Information can be sent simultaneously to unlimited number of customers.

Customers are able to access the information anytime they want.

Information is available worldwide.

Disadvantages

If the sender’s email address is not known or recognized by the customer, emails can be deleted by mistake.

A particular customer may not have access to internet.

It is impersonal; some customers prefer talking directly to a person.

There may not be an immediate response to customer enquiries.

3. Implementation of models for ensuring ongoing change in JLP

3.1 Appropriate models for change in JLP

The models that I am going to implement in order to bring forward the modifications made on the Gift List packing/delivery system are total quality management, and learning organization.

Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total quality management is a form of OD that aims to transform an organization trough continues improvement involving all employees in order to achieve high standards in processes and customer satisfaction (Mondy et al, 1998; Hannagan, 1998).

According to Slacks et al (2007) some of the aspects of TQM are: a) meeting the needs and expectation of customer. This will be achieved through the training giving as there will be exercises where partners can identify the consequences when the packing and delivery operations go wrong, what this means from a customer point of view, also analysing previous customers complaints and identifying where things went wrong, based on which partners can reflect on how their actions affect the customer; b) including every person in the organization. This will be done by encourage partners to take responsibility of their actions, and through understanding the modified system and its benefits, empower them to put suggestions forward for future improvements.

As part of a co-owned business partners are concerned with c) the cost related to quality, specifically the cost due to the lack of it. Partners will be shown the cost involved when things do not go as expected by studying real life cases that will show them not just the cost of rectifying a delivery for a customers, or the economical compensation given when things do not reach customer’s expectations, but the potential loss of that customer, and the negative opinion that he/she will spread among potential or existing customers such as family and friends.

Learning organization

Learning organization is a kind of OD which is based on the fact that “trough learning, an organization is able to adapt, develop, transform and change to meet the needs of itself, its people and society…[so] learning becomes key to transformation” (Mcmillan, 2004, p.72).

To develop a learning organization, Senge (1990), as cited by Hill (2005), enounces that a business needs to: a) implement systems thinking. As part of training all partners involve in Gift List packing and delivery (branch partners, packers, warehouse partners, delivery drivers), will be shown how the process function as a whole and how their own performance affects one another, and the final result, b) promote personal mastery. From the moment an individual joins the Partnership is encourage to take responsibility for its own development. In the particular case of the Gift List system’s change implementation, on top of the training provided, resources such as job cards, and “how to” guides will be available for use at any time.

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In addition a learning organization has to: c) abolish mental models. We will persuade partners to keep an open mind in relation to the Gift List system change, and show, through examples, the advantages of distance themselves from previous practices, d) build shared vision. As co-owners of the Partnership, partners are always persuading to enjoy the benefits, but also take responsibility for the success or failure of the business. As this is already part of the organizational culture, we will re-enforce this during training, e) encourage team learning. Most of the training will be given in groups so partners will be able to share knowledge and previous experience related to the Gift list system change, also this will motivate partners to pursue further discussions with the team in relation to the system and future modifications.

3.2 Implementation process and outcomes

The propose change in the Gift List packing/delivery system will be implemented using Kurt Lewin’s (1951) three step model (cited by Sims, 2002) which consist in:

Unfreezing

In this phase after identifying the problem, that in this case is the fact that if one of more items were missing in a Gift List delivery, neither the partner receiving a complaint, or the customer were able to find out if the items were in different boxes or at which stage they went lost. Then we will announce when the change will take place and who will be affected by it (as stated in point 2.1), that will follow by highlighting the disadvantages of the current Gift List system which is that when items go missing we are not able to identify where exactly things went wrong along the process to correct them; also we will highlight the advantages, which will be the proper identification and correction of the failure, in the change of the Gift List system this could be that if several items are missing from several boxes it could mean a possible issue with the partners packing the delivery, or if all items missing were packed in one box would mean that the issue lies when the boxes are handle by the warehouse staff and the delivery drivers.

We will continue this phase by setting a time line for the different activities that need to take place before the change in the Gift List system is introduce, then training of the partners involve in the process will take place, and we will advise new and existing customers when and how the change in the Gift List system will affect them.

Moving

In this phase the actual change takes place, in our particular case the modification in the Gift List packing /delivery system will go live on a date previously set. Partners and customers alike will benefit from the introduction of this change.

Refreezing

In this last phase the use of the modified Gift List packing/delivery system becomes the norm, partners will be more confident using the system, and will see in real life the benefits that this bring to all the parties involve. Partners will be encouraged to have an open mind for future changes that can benefit the Partnership.

Outcomes

The outcomes of the implementation of the modified Gift List packing/delivery system will be:

Partners will be more confident when replying enquiries as they will be able to give a proper explanation to the customer there and then.

There will be easier for customers to check the content of their delivery.

The part of the process where an error occurs can be identified and correct for future deliveries.

If boxes are missing will be easier to locate, and have them deliver to the customer as soon as possible.

There will be a considerable reduction in wastage as it will be easier to locate missing items, so there will be no need to replace them.

As wastage decreases the percentage of profits, and indeed of our annual bonus will increase.

As partners gain confidence and see the improve results, they will be encouraged to develop higher standards to generate an error free process.

Conclusion

In the present environment where organizations deal with change on a daily basis, businesses need to be flexible in order to adapt to those changes and in this way maintain a competitive advantage. If an organization is rigid it cannot sustain its position and inevitable will fail. Managers and employees have to be open minded if they want to succeed in the introduction of change, for this purpose they should keep in mind the benefits that change will bring to everyone.

In an organization like John Lewis Partnership, change is part of its roots and indeed of its culture. Nevertheless, partners, as any human being, have some resistance to change specially went they have been performing an activity for long time; taking this on board flexibility is at the top of the agenda, with partners encouraging one another to improve their skills, taking advantage of the broad training and development alternatives offer by the partnership, and experiencing the work done on another sections or divisions, which will help to manage the Partnership more effectively in future.

Change in organizations is such an extensive topic that in this assignment is possible to discuss a minute part of it. Here I have discussed the background to change that exists in today’s economy which influences JLP; also I evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of bureaucracy in relation to the Partnership, and studied some alternative forms of organizational development present in it. In addition, I developed systems to involve appropriate stakeholders in the introduction of the modified Gift List packing/delivery system in the John Lewis division, and analyzed and evaluated these systems. Finally, I developed and adapted appropriate models for change in the Partnership, and indicated their implementation process and outcomes.

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