The Unchanging Essentials of Business
Work is about making and honouring commitments. Computers can’t. People can.
The purpose of all economic activity is to meet the needs of a particular group of people. They may be newspaper readers, shoppers, patients in hospital, airline passengers, members of the armed forces or schoolchildren. Whoever, and in whatever numbers, people are seeking services and products to improve their life. Those same people are also involved in the economic activity that delivers the products and services.
Matching the opposing interests of customers and suppliers is the aim of the management function of any well ordered organisation. The days when the village craftsman or farmer was well known to his 'customers' (actually neighbours) and took pride in his local reputation have effectively long since passed and commercial transactions tend now to be overwhelmingly between people unknown to each other. Accordingly concepts of individual reputation and pride have been replaced by branding and advertising. Thus the challenge of seamless customer service that is rarely met by today's faceless call centres.
While relative values may have changed over the last century the way work gets done has not. The forge master’s process of making and fitting horseshoes successfully was every bit as rigorous in its day as the processes by which cars are built today. The process of preparing accounts in the 19th century for return to London by the managers and writers of the East India Company in Calcutta were every bit as thorough as the processes used today to assemble the accounts of a modern day corporation or PLC.
Just as people have not fundamentally changed over the past centuries so the concept of process has also remained essentially unchanged. People arguably may have become – in their own estimation at least – more sophisticated, more imaginative, more erudite, better informed and even better educated, but they still draw upon the resources of the same Mk 1 brain as issued to countless past generations.
People and processes are, and always have been, equally important to economic activity. From horseshoes to microprocessors, the story has been the same. Understand fully what is needed, by what means it can be economically produced in quantity and delivered on time and then how it can be improved upon to take account of changing conditions. Likewise the relationship between the producers and users has also stayed unchanged. The producer has to make an offering which gives more value to the users than it has cost to produce.
The principles of what we call the 'first metre' were established over a thousand years ago, and they were all to do with 'connexion'. Hence the leitmotif of the new style of management is clear: The essence of business excellence : Only connect . . . the people with the purpose!