'Wake up to the new economy.
Embrace it, for it will transform our lives
and the way we work
more profoundly than we can imagine.
And nothing is going to stop it.'

John Huey
in Fortune (June 27, 1994).


If you're comfortably ensconced in a box
somewhere on your company's organisation chart,
you could soon find yourself downsized, re-engineered,
restructured, retrenched
and out of business.

f you've structured your company vertically or like a pyramid, with the chiefs at the top and the serfs at the bottom, you're heading for trouble.

Big trouble.

The sort of trouble that could drive you out of business.

Let's examine the traditional pyramidal corporate structure. The broad base interfaces with your customers. It's topped by several intermediate tiers. And at the pointed top, far from the madding crowd, sits the chairman or chief executive officer.

Decisions flow downwards to a layer of middle managers. They translate orders from above into instructions, directives, rules and policies. These then continue their downward plunge until they hit the base of the pyramid where workers meet customers face-to-face.

It's a slow, cumbersome process. In an age of instant everything, its adherents will wither and die.

So what do you do to survive?

Rip your pyramidal corporate structure apart. And when you get down to the foundations, reconstruct it so that it's flat and efficient. Then hone it to keep pace with the fluid, mobile business environment.


Take a hard, cold look at the way your company's organisational architecture. If it's like most South African businesses, it probably takes the shape of a pyramid.

And pyramids were never renowned for their aerodynamic properties.

This type of company architecture gives it such a high profile that it suffers from what aeronautical engineers call 'drag'. The shape makes forward movement difficult because it offers resistance to the winds of change now howling through international businessland.

Aerodynamically 'clean' corporate structures, on the other hand, are low and streamlined, slicing through the atmosphere, causing little speed-inhibiting resistance.


However, before we go into what you need to do to construct a 'new look' corporate structure from the ruins of the old one, let's check out an old-time structure that slid into oblivion and a couple that structured themselves for survival and bigger profits.

During the Second World War, industrialists, faced by the need to produce military hardware quickly at the lowest possible cost, developed mass-production techniques into an art form. Organisational charts, littered with directional arrows and function boxes, flourished. Accountants and efficiency experts had a field day advising manufacturers to demarcate job functions down to the nth degree. Executives, suitably indoctrinated, assigned each man and woman on company payrolls to a specific, unvarying task on long production lines.

More top-down controls

The change to peace-time production and more competition as world markets normalised led to even more top-down controls. As the bean counters calculated their way into executive suites to usurp entrepreneurs and justify their existence, distances between boardrooms and factory floors increased.

A new army of middle managers moved
in to act as buffers between those
who made the decisions and those who did the work.

An early an prominent casualty of the boardroom take-over by accountants and efficiency experts was the J Arthur Rank Organisation.

The biggest film producer in Britain rose to exalted heights with entrepreneur movie-maker Rank in the driving seat navigating 'by guess and by God'. Then accountants waving balance sheets, profit and loss accounts and trailed by hordes of neatly pigeon-holed corporate 'yes men', trooped into the boardroom. Displaying an abysmal ignorance of the entertainment industry and the way it worked, they quickly converted cinemas into bowling alleys and bingo clubs.

Down the tubes

Predictably, J Arthur Rank, as a film producer, became history. And the British film industry went down the tubes with it.

However, not all companies in post-war Britain followed the corporate lemming route to disaster. One of those that didn't was a small London-based operation called Dualit. Max Gort-Borten launched it in 1946 to manufacture cocktail shakers, electric heaters and domestic toasters.

Bucking established management trends, he side-stepped the obsession for organisational charts as well as pyramidal corporate structures. He also ditched the then in-vogue mass-production concept.

Gort-Borten made each employee responsible for
the assembly of an entire product.

They didn't just work for Dualit. They owned their jobs and the way they did them. Any faulty products found their way back to the person who made them.

Workplace democracy

Despite intense competition from vertically structured multinationals, Dualit stuck to its policy of the less management the better.

Managing director Leslie Gort-Borten, son of the founder, firmly believes in workplace democracy. He describes his method of leadership as 'management by wandering around' ... of getting his hands dirty on the factory floor.

Gort-Borten Junior must be one of the few managing directors anywhere who begins his day by readying the power presses for the manufacturing process. And while he powers up the plant, his 80-year-old father, now Dualit's chairman, works on product development in the toolroom.

The company's
structure is so
horizontal it's
almost invisible.

Bottom line

Management gurus are impressed. But what impresses them more are the bottom line results.

In 1994, growing demand by Europe's moneyed elite for Dualit toasters, which sell for up to R1 200,00 each, forced the company to double its floor space and increase its staff complement. At the same time, turnover climbed to around R30-million a year.

There's another smallish British company that has made it big internationally by shunning conventional management wisdom.

If you appreciate the seductive lines of classic sports cars and follow the volatile fortunes of the automotive industry, you've surely heard of Morgan cars. They're manufactured by a typically English operation, Morgan Motor Company. It's located deep in the heart of Worcestershire.

Reputedly the world's oldest car manufacturer still in business, it was established in 1909 to produce rakish, open-topped sports cars for motoring enthusiasts.

The car really came into its own during the 1930s and was the preferred mode of transport for Simon Templar, the roguish, Robin Hood hero of Leslie Charteris' series of Saint books.

Plus Eight, the company's current top-of-the-range model, retains the distinctive 1930s look -  big headlights and a low-slung chassis. And master craftsmen still handcraft its frames from century-old ash wood. Yet sports car enthusiasts claim that the car can still accelerate as quickly as the more pricey, more aerodynamic, Italian-built Ferrari.

Full responsibility

Production manager Charles Morgan, the founder's grandson, says each worker assumes full responsibility for assembling and installing key components in each vehicle. For example, one man assembles the chassis. Another takes charge of body panelling and yet another is responsible for the upholstery.

And the corporate structure?


Like executives at Dualit, those at Morgan work side by side with their employees.

That bottom line again

The proof of
horizontal structure
is in the bottom line.

During 1994, Morgan's 130 workers built 480 cars. Half of them were exported. Demand for the vehicles, each of which takes seven weeks to build, continues to outstrip supply. A six-year waiting list ensures that the company remains consistently profitable and almost recession-proof. The long waiting list serves to iron out the yo-yoing consumer demand experienced by manufacturers who mass-produce cars.

In 1992, Morgan Motor Company made a gross profit of almost R6-million on a turnover of about R48-million. That's a gross per-vehicle profit of about R12 000,00 -  nothing to be sneezed at when compared to Toyota's per-vehicle profit of R1 000,00 in the UK in the same year.


Tear down your existing company structure and ...


Go horizontal. Flatten your corporate structure. Use aerodynamic principles to streamline operations.

The multinational Du Pont Corporation has embraced the 'new look' concept. Says spokesperson Terry Ennis: 'Our goal is to get everyone focused on the business as a system in which the functions are seamless'.

It sounds easy. But it isn't.

Downsizing alone isn't the answer.

Experience overseas and widespread head chopping in South Africa shows that it doesn't enhance productivity. In many cases, it has the opposite effect. And restructuring and re-engineering simply because everyone else is doing it doesn't work either - unless you adopt a new organisational model designed to improve performance.

So, if you're going to re-engineer ...


Here's my 10-point plan to rebuild your company from scratch.

  1. Eliminate artificial, inter-departmental barriers that isolate people and functions. Organise teams to work on a limited number of core projects or processes.
  2. Encourage team members to develop multiple skills rather than concentrating solely on specialised know-how.
  3. Fully train and fully inform all team members. Don't sanitise information and let it trickle downwards on a need-to-know basis. Give team members all the data and train them how to use it. Allow them to analyse it and make their own decisions.
  4. Empower each team to complete the project or process. Give them everything they need and let them get on with the job.
  5. Set specific, measurable performance goals for each project.
  6. Make each team fully accountable for achieving its performance goals.
  7. Reward team performance. If necessary, change your method of remuneration to acknowledge team results as well as outstanding individual performances.
  8. Encourage partnerships between team players  -  your employees, your suppliers and your customers. Invite suppliers and customers to become full  working members of your in-house team.
  9. Make 'customer delight' drive performance. Focus on what your customers want and need rather than on profits and the build-up of stock inventories.
  10. Reduce top-down supervision. Eliminate tasks that don't add value to your product or service.
  11. Because red tape, which hold vertical structures together, inhibits creativity and innovation ...


Does it work?

The film industry, led by Hollywood, has been doing it for years. Massive, vertically structured studios that  characterised Tinseltown during the golden era of movie-making, which drew to a close during the 1960s, no longer produce films. The names you may remember and still see on the screen  -  MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal  - now only distribute films produced by small, independent companies.

The producer handles the business and financial side of production. He or she then hires a director to take responsibility for the creative side.

The director, working in conjunction with the producer, hires scriptwriters, the camera crew, film editors and other technical specialists. He also supervises casting, costumes, location research and set design.

The film
industry has
imploded outmoded
and unwieldy pyramid
structures in the interests
of greater efficiency
and more creative

Each film is considered a separate project. When the project is completed, the team disbands. It maybe constituted later to work on another project.

Other corporate giants  -  IBM, Xerox and General Electric, to name a few  -  are following suit to meet the challenges of the new century head-on.


And after the dust settles, re-engineer a flat, streamlined 'new look' from the rubble by:

  • identifying and setting your company's strategic objectives;
  • analysing your company's key competitive advantages  - a 'must' if you're going to achieve your objectives;
  • defining your company's core processes by focusing only on the essentials needed to help you realise your goals;
  • organising your teams around processes, each of which  should link related tasks that provide customers with a product or a service.
  • ignoring activities that don't add value to the process or contribute to the realisation of team objectives, and
  • paring departments and functions to the barest minimum without losing essential expertise or talent.

producers assemble
self-managed teams
to work on

Going horizontal and staying afloat can be tricky, particularly if you've cut your executive teeth in a traditional corporate environment. It means ...

embracing an alien entrepreneurial spirit.

Previous   Next

  Authors Note
    Introduction: Prepare Yourself for the New Business Order
1. The Evolution of Change
2. Give your Company a 'New Look' Profile
3. Run Your Own Show
4. Lead, Don't Manage
5. Cross Train Yourself
6. Become a Self-Contained Profit Centre
7. Think Network
8. Benchmark Yourself
9._ Have Heart
  Return to FunZone!