pre-publication draft

David M. Boje
Grace Ann Rosile
Robert Dennehy
Deborah Summers*
Published 1997 in Communication Research (journal) Volume 24(6): 631-668.

*Note: We dedicate this paper to Deb Summers, our writing partner, who died in a car accident in January 1997. Her dancing spirit deplored violence in any form.


In this paper, we deconstruct "reengineering" not as a specific practice in organizational change, but as an ideology inscribed in discourse of storytelling and metaphor used to justify the displacement of workers. Our deconstruction efforts unmask reengineering as a false duality with bureaucracy, and in the end, just another reinvention of Adam Smith's division of labor. It is yet another chapter in the story of the displacement of labor by machines, especially computers, in the continuing industrial, now information, revolution. Reengineering's creator and principal salesperson, Michael Hammer, uses stories and metaphors of medicine, warfare and revolution, which script the fate of disposable workers. Through Hammer's books and speeches, downsizing is storied as a "managerial revolution" which justifies "leg-breaking," "putting hands on the blasters," "trimming the fat," and other metaphors allowing senior executives to "not feel any guilt about what they do." Our objective is to better understand how the displacement of workers is embedded in the reengineering storytelling and then restoried and marketed as a revolutionary and radical way for American business to achieve profit, quality, and global competitiveness. We end by offering some postmodern alternatives.


It's all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story (Berry, 1988: 123).

Storytelling is a powerful way for executives and their consultants to challenge the old story of their organization with a new story. It is the intent of this paper to critically examine organizations as "storytelling organizations" constructed and restoried with storytelling moves (Boje, 1991a, 1991b; 1995a; Browning, 1991; Gephart, 1991; Hatch, 1996; Kaye, 1996; Wilkins & Thompson, 1991). Boje (1991a: 106) defines the "storytelling organization" as "a collective storytelling system in which the performance of stories is a key part of members' sense making and a means to allow them to supplement individual memories with institutional memory."

Storytelling points out how texts are more than just written representations (Brown 1991: 190). The speeches and videos of organizational CEOs, consultants and professors are also texts. And, the organization itself can be viewed discursively as a text (Thatchenkery, 1992), conversation (Lyotard, 1984), or a play (Boje, 1995a). Organization, environment and the world are being theorized as "stories" constructed by acts of rhetoric (Boje 1991a, 1995a). Rhetoric is the art of discourse, in both written and oral texts, undertaken to please or persuade. The rhetorical practices, according to Foucault (1979) categorize deviant and normal and realize forms of domination, social control and exploitation. Our objective is to trace how organizations are "storytelling systems" which have become part of our society (another storied text), woven into our linguistic heritage, thereby framing and shaping how we conceptualize and respond to the world (yet another story). These stories are in dialogical relation with each other and to other stories and metanarratives. This "intertextual network" (Brown 1991: 191) allows us to look at how organization and societal-stories work on one another: the rhetorical strategies employed, including the critical choice of words, categories, and stories. How do organizations as stories live in historical communities of discourse with worldviews influenced by larger political contexts of production that rationalize the disposable worker (Brown 1991: 188-191; Boje, 1991a: 108)?

Postmodernism is sympathetic to rhetoric, while modernism rejects rhetoric in favor of its objective, rational, and empirical science constructions (Best & Kellner, 1991; Baker 1991: 233; Clegg, 1993). Lyotard (1984), for example, has pointed out how science employs story and metaphor as rhetorical strategies to construct their narratives and to persuade their audiences. Modernism does not take self-reflexive, responsibility for the realities it constructs through its storytelling. For example, the discourse of technological progress and enlightenment through empirical evidence identify only the most affirmative aspects of the modernist project. "For all intents and purposes, then postmodernism reverses the modernist conception of 'mere rhetoric' and places rhetoric at the heart of knowledge production" (Baker 1991: 234).

General goals, stories, and tenets of reengineering. The discursive turn in social science merits an analysis of the rhetorical construction of organizations, including the "intertextual" role of organizational consulting. We propose to study reengineering as a program of stories designed to assist managers in making companies profitable. The goal of reengineering is to lay out a radical and new change program that allows the organization, adapted to yesterday's world, to reinvent or restory (Barry 1997; White & Epston, 1990) itself in today's new and more competitive world. Reengineering was popular in the way Taylorism, Quality Circles, MBO, and TQM were popular (Boje, 1995b). Each had its day. Yet, reengineering is not just a another passing fad. It, like Taylorism, has left a residue about the nature of organizations and the role of change in organizational survival that extends beyond its roots. Hence, this analysis centers on how and why this residue, this storied plot, is detrimental to humans in organizations as they cope with their storied complexities of competition and globalization (Calas & Smircich, 1993).

We begin with two stories of a displaced worker as she tells the other's side of the popularized reengineering accounts.

First 10 Minute Interview Story.

Alice: I went to school to be an Engineer and landed a good job at a major oil company in Texas. I had been on the job about five years and worked real hard to get where I was in the company. They began to reengineer. I went to one general meeting and met the chief consultant. Then, the junior consultants came and interviewed employees and managers in small groups. "How do you do this job?" "Who do you think is the best employee you know?" They put up lots of flow charts and under each box was a place to list people's names. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on these consultants. Within a year, we all got a letter: "Report to the HRM director's office on Friday for your 10 minute interview."

Director: Alice, thank you for coming. Your manager will hand you an envelop with your name on it. It will either say you have a new job with us or your job has been terminated. If you are offered a new job, you will be asked if you want to take this job. If you do not, then you will leave today. If the envelope says you no longer have a job, then you will be escorted by security with a cardboard box to collect your things. You are not to touch your computer or any company records. Do you understand these ground rules?

Alice: (nods that she does).

Manager: Alice, here is your envelop. Please open it now.

Alice: (Opens the envelop and begins to weep). I liked working here.

Security: I am sorry, but I must escort you from the building. You are not to talk to anyone on your way out.

Alice: I did not get to say good bye to the people I worked with. It was awful.

Second 10 Minute Interview Story

Alice: I moved from Texas to California and eventually got a job with a good electronics company as an engineer. I decided that what had happened to me would not happen again. I decided that in Texas, what I did wrong was that I was like many engineers: more concerned with my science than with getting to know people. I decided that if there was another reengineering, I would know the right people and make the lists. After a couple of years, reengineering happened at my company. But this time I had volunteered on a number of committees and made sure I got to know people at lunch and other events. The day of the 10 Minute interview came. We called it Black Friday. It was pretty much the same routine. Except this time you were just sent home and you made an appointment with security to come back and get your box. Again, there was a meeting scheduled with each employee, their manager, and the Director of HR.

Director: Here is your envelop (and he repeats pretty much the same instructions).

Alice: I have a new job. What a relief.

Manager: Do you accept this new job? You can take a couple minutes to think about it.

Alice: I'll take it. I am not sure what it is, but I'll take it.

Director: Congratulations.

Alice: On Monday, those of us left, reported to our new jobs. They called it "realignment." I showed up and I hardly knew anyone there. The theory was that the company was designed a new and realigned. It was crazy. No one knew their job. The manager had never managed anything similar to this office. No one knew what they were doing. After a few months management promised us they would not change anything else, so we could learn our new jobs.

Reengineering messages directed to management and employee alike face tremendous competition. Not only do employees like Alice resist the messages, but having so many competing strategies or movements from which to choose is problematic. As it was for the barkers of yesteryear on a midway vying for the nickels of those strolling by, or is for the home shopping network sales people pushing their products, the rhetoric is critical. Failure to stick with one management or organizational change plan, and a record of jumping from strategy to strategy in search of the quick-fix, compounds problems and increases the likelihood of failure as each new approach is met with greater and greater resistance. "We tried TQM and now we are into reengineering." Lingering supporters of yesterday's management fad may resist the new approach in several ways. They may want to delay adoption of the new approach, arguing that the old approach was not given enough time to produce desired results. Wanting recognition and validation for their work, those supporting previous programs may insist that aspects of the old ways be incorporated into any new approach, potentially limiting effectiveness of new approaches. Supporters of the outgoing "fad" may attempt to associate incoming new programs with earlier failed efforts. Since new programs often are introduced at points of crisis attributed to failure of the old programs, proponents of the new approach may vehemently oppose anything associated with the old ways, especially the old terminology and jargon. As the cycles of management fads quicken, the number and variety of political factions in the workforce may increase dramatically, severely limiting the organization's ability to engage in any coordinated efforts. Skepticism toward all new approaches and apathy results when one feels "chronically trend-battered" (Fisher, 1995).

A central tenet, or storyline, of reengineering doctrine is that the old model of Adam Smith's division of labor needs to be "abandoned" in favor of a number of new, postindustrial, business principles and processes (Hammer & Champy, 1993: 2, 11-13, 17). "Don't fix it, just start over." Hammer and Champy characterize themselves as the new radical thinkers, who like Adam Smith, derive principles suited to the progress of the industrial revolution. Employees like Alice are characterized as the "fat" that must be trimmed. They view reengineering as "reversing the industrial revolution" exemplified in Adam Smith's industrial paradigm where people had specialized jobs, rules, seniority, and long term employment (1991: 49). What are the new postindustrial, revolutionary principles of reengineering?:

1. Discontinuous Thinking --- identifying and abandoning outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie current business operations (p. 3).

2. Dramatic Change --- in the shape and character of the parts of the organization, instead of "less painful" programs of incremental improvements and changes (p. 4, 33).

3. Radical Redesign --- yesterday's command-and-control systems disregarding existing structures and procedures and inventing completely new ways of accomplishing work (p. 33) .

4. Shift to Process Oriented Thinking --- from the task-based thinking of Adam Smith's division of labor principle (breaking work into simple tasks assigned to specialists) to this new principle which focuses upon how the overall process does or does not deliver value to the customer (p. 35).

5. Use of Information Technology --- as an "enabler" to allow organizations to do work in radically different ways (p. 47).

These five principles are not new. Technical processes engineering methods are well established Taylor's Scientific Management, in Emery and Trist's classic Sociotechnical Systems (STS) approaches of the 1950s, as well as the more recent Total Quality Management (TQM) movement which peaked in popularity in the 1980s. Both STS and TQM redesign the social process around a carefully elaborated technical system. But, reengineering, like Taylorism, abandons the social system altogether in favor of maximizing or rewiring the technical system (Boje & Winsor, 1993; Steingard & Fitzgibbons, 1993; Boje 1995b). In the redesign, customers, executives, and systems matter, employees and managers do not.

Hammer and Champy (1991) say they are going beyond stories "taken more or less at random" from their experience of successful and unsuccessful change efforts at IBM Credit, Ford and Kodak to a statement of general principles that will reinvent companies in the postindustrial age (Bell, 1973). To them, "traditions count for nothing." As Alice's stories illustrate, the reengineered company has no sense of its own history. The people who knew the history are either shuffled into new slots or tossed out the door. Reengineering is anti-history. Yet, they invoke traditions and stories of their own design at every turn, and in the end, their text is just another story.

But this reengineering story has become very popular, with performances to packed houses. Hammer is among the highest priced and most sought after of the management gurus (Clark & Salaman, 1996; Huczynski, 1993). "Guru's work is . aimed at hearts and minds, not structures and systems" (Clark & Salaman, 1996: 86). Hammer's guru performances include keynote addresses at large national conferences, such as the 1994 Academy of Management. They are animated, loud, full of energy, and spiked with humor and storytelling. The introduction of a recent address of Hammer's, which we are including for our analysis, formally titled "The Reengineering Transition & Changing Workforce Competencies" and informally titled "In The Footsteps of Leonid Kravchuk," is one example of this storytelling. Hammer, as he tells the story, was on a trip shortly after the collapse of the former Soviet Union when he came across a parliamentary address of Leonid Kravchuk, President of the Ukraine. Kravchuk began: "Yesterday the Ukraine stood poised on the verge of a great abyss. Today we have taken a great step forward." Clark & Salaman (1996: 93) assert that in this theatrical performance, the guru makes the script, or the words in their tapes or books, real for the audience (Caeldries, 1994). Hammer is selling the story of how America can compete in the global marketplace. We assume that each management era has its favored storytellers who restory the world and script the organization's strategy to fit that world. With TQM, there was incremental change and long term employment. With reengineering the world is a global marketplace and a global labor force, and change is instant and all pervasive.

What is the history of the reengineering movement? As Thomas Berry (1988: 123) tells it: "we are now in between stories." Reengineering was "hot," in the early 80s, but is fading out of fashion in the late 1990s. In the early 1980s, Hammer and Champy held out the new story. They began to help companies to abandon their outdated business models (the old stories), not only TQM and Taylorism as old stories, but in particular, the division of labor principle of Adam Smith was a relic of history and had to be abandoned. They observed that major companies that had made successful change were engaged in discontinuous thinking, making radical instead of incremental change (as in TQM) by substituting information technology for outdated managerial, command and control --- and were just ignoring the lessons of the pin factory story. Michael Hammer was an information systems professor at MIT before turning his full time attention to consulting. For a decade or so, it was at the top of organizational change strategies, but according to current market and sales figures it is going down. Management fads like TQM, managing for results, quality circles, MBO, and now reengineering are picked up and abandoned like items on a menu.

Reengineering was used mostly to justify downsizing. According to Cole (1995: 95), as firms like IBM, Sears, Xerox, US West, McDonnell Douglas, RJR Nabisco, and DuPont each cut from 4,500 to 60,000 workers, there was a commensurate first day stock increase of 3.4% to as high as 7.7%. Each stocked-invested CEO is quite motivated by their stock package to hire the best consultant to do a one-day seminar that will make downsizing seem like the only way to go. Consulting firms earn a million or more dollars for each reengineering program, since armies of junior consultants must be dispatched to flow chart the work patterns, rewire the organization diagram, sell the new story that justifies massive downsizings, and teach the HRM managers how to conduct their 10 minute interview routines. Hammer and Champy's (1993) book Reengineering the Corporation: a Manifesto for Business Revolution was a best-seller for this reason. While everyone knew that the majority of the reengineering efforts did not do anything positive to the bottom line, quality, or customer service, the trend continues. The trend continues even though everyone is partially aware that when you downsize, the older workers who are paid more get selected out and that those left often lack the institutional memory (as in the Alice stories) to operate the firm efficiently. We believe the trend also continued because they had a popular storyline: do not copy the Japanese system of TQM and Kaizen, be American and reinvent the corporation, stress individuality, cut the fat, and get rid of bureaucracy.

Reengineering isn't another idea imported from Japan ... Reengineering capitalizes on the same characteristics that have traditionally made Americans such great business innovators: individualism, self-reliance, a willingness to accept risk, and a propensity for change ... unlike management philosophies that would have "us" become like "them," ... takes advantage of American talents and unleashes American ingenuity (Hammer & Champy, 1993: 2-3).

The Storyline Fails to Explain. But, in 1996, people started to jump off the band wagon. Morgan Stanley & Company's downsizing architect, Stephen Roach, had argued that the downsizing, while eliminating millions of jobs, would eventually lead to greater productivity, which would boost our national economy, lift employment for everyone and lead to prosperity for all (Bleakley, 1996). As the story is told, Mr. Roach woke up on May 9th, and just "changed his mind." "It's highly debatable whether plant closings, layoffs and other 'tactics for improving efficiency' would result in long-run improvements for the economy and workers in general." British Broadcasting Co. tried to interview Mr. Roach to determine why the cult leader of downsizing, was now saying it was over. Imitating Dan Rather, the BBC interviewer asked Mr Roach if he "wanted to apologize" for all the "pain and suffering he caused workers by his incorrect assessment of the merits of downsizing" (Bleakley, 1996). Now organizations worldwide, including top consulting firms are seeking a new fashion. Major consulting firms such as Boston Consulting Group, CSC Index, Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Andersen, and Gemini are dropping the "reengineering" word from their lexicon and are on the prowl for a replacement: "knowledge management," "enterprise software," "Internet technology," "organizational agility," "value engineering," and "growth strategy." Reengineering has been very valuable to these firms for some reasons we will explore in our analysis. It is ironic that consulting firms like Gemini have cut twenty five senior consultants, and others are reengineering themselves due to declining reengineering sales. A very expensive program, reengineering revenues sustained a billion dollar consulting industry despite the fact that 65% or more of the reengineering efforts were not successful. Industry is in search of a new characterization, and a new storyline. Hammer is still in demand. Hammer's tour is described in a recent Fortune article (Fisher, 1995:122) as three-hour lectures to standing-room only crowds with the message: empower people, listen to their ideas, constantly communicate the company's goals and how the "brass" expects to achieve them, lead by example, and be consistent. He is after all, a popular storyteller.

If this fad is going out of vogue, then why conduct this critical analysis of this fad? We think that the residue of Taylorism was reinvented in TQM and STS, as well as in the most recent manifestation: Reengineering. What appears to be a "revolution," "change" or "revision" is actually more of the same, a storyteller's fictive revisioning of the American dream. We predict that as reengineering goes out of vogue, it will re-rhetoricize and restory, and still be successful at attracting new customers and keeping them. But, the "reengineering" word will have to go. Specific terms like "manifesto," "revolution" and "reengineering czar" will fall from the consultant's vocabulary, but the residue of making systems more important than people will persist.

With Wall Street Journal reports of the declining popularity of reengineering and the backlash against "disposable people," Dr Hammer has begun to change his pitch: "I wasn't smart enough about that I was reflecting my engineering background and was insufficiently appreciative of the human dimension. I've learned that's critical" (White, 1996: 1). Just what has the reengineering sales pitch been that has helped it to generate such growth and now such decline? By deconstructing the rhetoric of reengineering's creator and principal salesperson, Michael Hammer, we aim to reveal the anti-human tropes and metaphors. In sum, we think this is an important analysis because though the fad may die, the script will reengineer itself as some new word and be restoried as America's next answer to how to do business in the global economy.

Rereading Reengineering

What we seek to show in our deconstructive rereading of reengineering as an elaborate storytelling, is that this fad is an extension of managerialist practices. Managerialism is telling the stories of organization, environment, and the world from just the manager's viewpoint. Deconstruction opens texts to new readings and interpretations that are textually self-reflective. It exposes the author's voice and will-to-power in the choice of included words, voices, and stories over the excluded words, voices and stories in their storytellings (Boje 1995a; Boje & Dennehy 1994: 340; Flax 1990: 195). Deconstructing process models in reengineering texts reveals the arbitrary hierarchies and exclusions in the textual construction. To us, process is just another text, subject to a multiplicity of interpretative readings. The reengineer selects some features at the expense of other details which just as well could be considered part of a scenario of steps and labeled a process (Norris 1988: 129). A deconstruction approach would examine what is left out of the process depiction. Deconstruction reveals processes to be enmeshed in a network of political, economic, and social texts (forces and events). This construction may be exposed in the following two ways: The first method is to identify, reverse, and resituate the hierarchy (which is implicitly or explicitly contained in the opposed terms) in order to expose how the lesser, marginalized term defines the dominant term (Culler 1982: 85-88). A second, and less imitated analysis, is what Derrida (1967b: 226/157) terms "the logic of supplementarity." Specifically, we will trace supplements, exclusions, and reversals.

We begin with an analysis of the opposition of bureaucracy and reengineering. We then look at division of labor, and a number of marginal and omitted tales. What appears to be opposed categories of bureaucracy and reengineering, arise from the same root, the same story. We end with a reading of the war and fear aspects of the reengineering discourse. In short, our thesis is that reengineering is really just one more version of the story of bureaucracy. It really in not a revolutionary, or even different modus operandi. It is just the learning of a new story, in which the same old characters, play out the same old plot.

Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy and reengineering are "texts" of organization (See Derrida Positions, pp. 37-38/26). We are told that the reengineering text is produced by acts of transformation on the bureaucracy text. Bureaucracy and reengineering are inter-related texts of organization (see Derrida Positions, pp.37-38/26). The accounts offered by advocates depict reengineering as a transformation of the bureaucratic text. Reengineering not only defines itself in opposition to bureaucracy (H&C: 48), it resists the idea that reengineering is a type of bureaucracy, a division of labor. Hammer and Champy say that after reengineering, "... the company can manage nicely without its bureaucracy" (H&C: 48). Ironically, reengineering depends upon the bureaucracy it seeks to destroy. You are what you eat. Reengineering is already a product of the qualities generally associated with bureaucracy: centrality of authority in senior executives, the division of labor between engineers and those being re-engineered, rules governing action, and the formalization of processes into written documentation. Bureaucracy, as defined in Hammer and Champy, is a fictional discourse, a rhetorical construct. They appear to say that Weber's bureaucracy is not being challenged in reengineering.

"... bureaucracy is not the problem. On the contrary, bureaucracy has been the solution for the last two hundred years. If you dislike bureaucracy in your company, try getting by without it. Chaos will result. Bureaucracy is the glue that holds traditional corporations together. The underlying problem to which bureaucracy has been and remains a solution, is that of fragmented processes" (p. 48).

Their solution to chaos is created by eliminating and casting out fragmented processes, and then bureaucracy is no longer necessary. But it is our thesis that reengineering is a re-enactment of the bureaucracy being protested.

Using Derrida's word, the relationship between writing and reengineering and bureaucracy is one of "supplementarity." Reengineering can be understood as a form of bureaucratic writing. As in Alice's stories of the 10 minute interviews, reengineers write out their bureaucracy onto reams of paper registering and mapping (p. 122) each person, task, and process as markings. Acts can be processes only if their steps are repeatable, insriptable, and reducible to graphic flow charts, accounts depicted on newsprint. Hammer and Champy pretend to reverse the industrial revolution, division of labor and bureaucracy only to bring them back again and again. If we examine the procedures, gimmicks, and language moves that reengineering brings to the table, they are industrial, bureaucratic, and divisive of labor.

The restorying of bureaucracy. According to Hammer and Champy, "Programming people to conform to established procedures remains the essence of bureaucracy even now " (p. 13). Bureaucratic rules for every contingency imaginable, and clear lines of authority and reporting, are added as defining characteristics of division of labor. Hammer and Champy's his-story of bureaucracy continues with Ford, who improved upon division of labor by dividing working into tiny repeatable tasks in the assembly line. Alfred Sloan, another storied character, completed Ford's system by creating decentralized divisions tied to the monitoring of production and finances at corporate headquarters. Finally, as Hammer and Champy reauthor bureaucracy, there was Robert McNamara at Ford with his elaborate planning models operated with large staffs of those corporate types. The result was the standard, pyramidal organizational structure. "These, then, are the roots of today's corporation" (p. 17). In short, in their tellings, bureaucracy is presented as the oppositional term to reengineering, but reengineering uses the same devices of monitoring, centralizing information systems, and a re-division of the labor.

In the reengineering versus bureaucracy opposition (or dualism), bureaucracy is clearly the lesser term. Contemporary organizations, universally labeled bureaucracies, "simply don't work anymore [because] the world is a different place [since] nothing is constant or predictable ...[and] it's ways of doing business are yesterday's paradigm" (p. 17). But, one might ask, who would seriously argue that bureaucracies do not change? Their change in layers, departmentation, succession, and training is constant. Hammer and Champy report that the mass market that was the raison d'etre for the idea of massive bureaucracy, was always a "fiction," and now customers expect choices and have more power over producers than ever before (p. 18-20). This leads to what Hammer and Champy consider to be the major limitations of bureaucracy. First, "no one in the company oversees the whole process and its result, no one person is responsible for it" (p. 27). Second, "the process is error prone. Errors are inevitable with so many people having to handle and act separately on the same order." Third, "complex processes involving a dozen people working across departmental lines can't be made flexible enough to deal with special requests to respond to inquiries" (p. 27). Bureaucracies with their functional silos and empire-building tendencies, fragment the processes which reengineering intends to reinvent (p. 28-9). "America's business problem is that it is entering the twenty-first century with companies designed during the nineteenth century to work well in the twentieth" (p. 30). "Under the influence of Adam Smith's notion of breaking work into its simplest tasks and assigning each of these to a specialist, modern companies and their managers focus on the individual tasks in the process - receiving the order form, picking the goods from the warehouse, and so forth - and tend to lose sight of the larger objective, which is to get the goods into the hands of the customer who ordered them" (p. 35).

Are these grafts of Hammer and Champy bureaucratic in the way we would read Weber on bureaucracy or Smith on division of labor? Derrida points out that "each text ... is a machine with multiple reading [that] heads for other texts" (Living On, p. 107). Why did Hammer and Champy set aside Weber and Smith? We think it is because the industrial revolution, division of labor, and bureaucracy oppositions define therefore undo that which reengineering seeks to displace. They are repeatedly cast out because they are fundamentally rooted in reengineering concepts, remedies, and practices. Reengineering reinstates and remains implicated in these three grafts. We can see this more clearly if we assemble the dualities in reengineering texts.

Dualism Analysis. In dualism analysis, we can examine how one term stands in hierarchical relationship as a supplement to the opposing term (Derate in Positions pp. 56-57/41). Reengineering is written as a series of hierarchical dualisms: reengineering/bureaucracy, reengineering/industrial revolution, reengineering/division of labor, process/structure, process/function, team/department, etc. In each case the second term is the lesser, less desirable, or lacking term and it is displaced by the first term. In each case deconstruction can reveal how the first term is a special case of the second term. Reengineering, for example, is a special case of bureaucracy, industrial revolution, and division of labor. "The core message of our book, then, is this: It is no longer necessary or desirable for companies to organize their work around Adam Smith's division of labor" (Hammer and Champy, 1993, p. 27). Division of labor is the fallen, marginal term: less efficient, more wasteful, more unpredictable, and more informal of the two. It is defined as the exception to the more efficient, formal, and rational reengineering strategy. On the other side of the duality stands reengineering. "Reengineering ... means 'starting over' ... tossing aside old systems and ... going back to the beginning and inventing a better way of doing work" (p. 31). It rejects Adam Smith's premise that workers have few skills and little time or capacity for training because they have only one easily understood task to perform (p. 51).

Table One: Deconstruction and Oppositional Forms(2)
Bureaucracy Reengineering



Specialized world 




Sequential tasks 

One specialty 


Flat structure --- wider spans of control to fewer bosses 

Decentralization --- made possible by information technology 

Worker-centered --- really customer centered-- market forces 

Multi-dimensional world --- each person does several jobs 

Productive --- worker stress --- work or be gone. 

Flexibility --- rewiring the firm to fit market fluctuations 

Simple --- everyone has their one job to do with many parts 

Simultaneous tasks --- several jobs to do instead of one. 

Many specialties --- each person learns many specialties 

Time-saving --- there are fewer people left to do more work


In Table One, we unpacked several of the oppositional or dualistic characteristics from the reengineering text. The reengineering elements, we believe, emanate from the same roots; they only appear in tension with each other, but actually the second column is an extension or outgrowth of the first column terms, assumptions, and values. What appears to be a "revolution" is actually just more of the same. In the right column we add our own redefinition of the reengineering solution to their list of bureaucratic terms. In sum, Table One represents our re-definition of the reengineering terms. We see that reengineering maintains the essential features of bureaucracy, with only minor modifications. And even the modifications are not really new, but rather echoes of past bureaucratic adaptations. For example, the charting and evaluating of process networks seems a direct outgrowth of Tayloristic time-motion studies. Thus, the second column becomes a restatement of the first column. This is only the first part of the deconstruction work.

Once we have identified the oppositional constructions, the second part of the deconstructive analysis is to reverse the polarity of the dualism, in order to uncover and undo the rhetorical operation responsible for the hierarchicalization (Culler 1982: 88). In this reversal, the valorized or favored "good" term becomes "bad." For example, the reengineering project labels typical bureaucratic organizations as tall hierarchical structures which are centralized, as opposed to the flat and decentralized reengineered organizations. Tall centralized organizations are depicted as top-heavy, inflexible, inhibiting creativity and limiting decision-making power. In reversing this polarity, we might argue that the reengineered decentralization which supposedly leads to empowerment, may also be interpreted as establishing tighter controls through information technology and computerized monitoring. Such a system could be more oppressive and controlling than the traditional centralized hierarchy. Barker (1993) reports this effect in his study of self-managed work teams; however, this reversal need not result in a "true" statement to serve our deconstructive purpose. The reversal process exposes the (in this case managerialist) forces which operate to maintain the original privileged terms in their privileged status. A careful deconstructive reading reveals that the reengineering construction excludes, represses, and conceals the constituting aspects of bureaucratic practices in the reengineering ideal form. Deconstructing the dualisms shows how reengineering is an extension of bureaucracy, by virtue of the very terms it uses to proclaim itself a revolution against bureaucracy.

There is a final step in the deconstruction process, that of resituating the duality. Reversal is not the final step, for it too reminds us how much more similar than dissimilar the opposed terms are to each other, as explained in the previous paragraphs. The reversal reminds us we have not yet escaped the dualism. Escape from the control of the dualism requires resituating. After deconstructing our duality to demonstrate that hell is really better than heaven, our ultimate aim is to break free of the false and arbitrarily constructed duality. To the heaven-or-hell argument, we say "Hawaii!". To the black-or-white argument, we avoid the shades-of-grey trap and respond "Round!". This resituating is undertaken later in this paper, in the portion titled A Postmodernist Alternative. For now, exposing the dualism is one way we seek to demonstrate that reengineering is not a revolution against bureaucracy, but simply more of the same.

There is an interesting rhetorical operation that produces the ground of this argument. Bureaucracy is not marginal, but central to the theory of reengineering. Hammer and Champy repeat and rescript the moves they critique, and reauthor themselves as new authors. We contend that reengineering undermines the core message it asserts; it reverses itself and becomes the other. The devils are cast out and exorcized only to return again to repossess reengineering discourse. We deny the dualism between bureaucracy and reengineering. Reengineering leads to more bureaucracy the moment reengineers reengineer a substitute. The substitute and the original are both logocentric texts, both weak imitations. Bureaucracy itself is a weak imitation, because these dimensions presented in Table 1 are distortions of Max Weber's dimensions. Weber's formulation of bureaucracy was in reaction to the excesses of sovereignty rule. It was a model to control the excesses of administrators who would over-apply coercion with workers, and act in ways that denigrated the organization and the individual (Gephart, Boje, & Rosile, 1997; Martin & Knopoff, 1995). Re-engineering is re-bureaucratization, but done to put the workers in the iron cage instead of Weber's administrators. The concepts of reengineering and bureaucracy are rooted in the industrial revolution it seeks to reverse.

Industrial Revolution. "Fundamentally, reengineering is about reversing the industrial revolution" (p. 49). "In reengineering, we stand the industrial model on its head." The cover of the book has a subtitle: "A Manifesto for Business Revolution." Industrial revolution has its assumptions:

Under the mass-production paradigm, the tacit assumption is that the people actually performing work have neither the time nor the inclination to monitor and control it and that they lack the depth and breadth of knowledge required to make decisions about it. The industrial practice of building hierarchical management structures follows from this assumption. Accountants, auditors and supervisors check, record, and monitor work. Managers supervise the worker bees and handle the exceptions. This assumption, and its consequences, needs to be discarded (p. 53).

Later in their book, Hammer and Champy note that "Part of the Industrial Revolution model is the notion of hierarchical decision-making" (p. 95). Workers work and managers think. But, maintaining hierarchy is too costly and too slow in a fast-paced market (p. 96). What makes hierarchy expendable is advances in database technology. Workers can have access to information that was previously only given to managers and the workers can make their decisions with modeling tools. "As an essential enabler in reengineering, modern information technology has an importance to the reengineering process that is difficult to overstate" (p. 101). In our view, it is information technology that makes it possible to have wider spans of control, and information-hierarchy replaces a person-hierarchy. As Alice reported in her reengineering story presented earlier in this paper, "On Monday, those of us left, reported to our new jobs. They called it "realignment." I showed up and I hardly knew anyone there. It was crazy....After a few months management promised us they would not change anything else, so we could learn our new jobs." And perhaps re-bureaucratize those jobs?

Reengineering is just one more use of technology as control. In the 1450s scribes working in Scriptoriums protested their displacement by Gutenberg's printing press. In 1811, workers in English textile mills, known as "The Luddites" destroyed textile machines that were displacing them. In the 1920's Frederick Taylor replaced gang bosses and supervisors with lesser-paid time and motion clerks. In the 1970s and 1980s, TQM consultants taught workers how to self-monitor and gaze their own time and motions (Boje & Winsor, 1993; Steingard & Fitzgibbons, 1993). In 1997, workers and middle managers protest the displacement of their jobs in reengineered, down-sized, information-managed, high-surveillance firms. Hammer and Champy (1993) list common themes in Chapters three and four that they derive from their stories of successful reengineering practices. These themes are listed in the left column in Table Two. The right column is our own rereading of these themes as bureaucratic maneuvers.

Table Two: Reversing the Reengineering Themes (1-9 Chapter 3; 10-19 Chapter 4)
Reengineering Themes Rereading Themes as Bureaucracy
1. Several jobs are combined into one. 

2. Workers make decisions. 

3. The steps in the process are performed in a natural [delinearized] order. 

4. Processes have multiple versions. 

5. Work is performed where it makes the most sense. 

6. Checks and controls are reduced. 

7. Reconciliation is minimized. 

8. A case manager provides a single point of contact. 

9. Hybrid centralized/decentralized operations are prevalent. 

10. Work units change - from functional department to process teams. 

11. People's roles change - from controlled to multi-dimensional work. 

12. People's roles change - from controlled to empowered. 

13. Job preparation changes - from training to education. 

14. Focus of performance measures and compensation shifts - from activity to results. 

15. Advancement criteria change - from performance to ability. 

16. Values change - from protective to productive. 

17. Managers change - from supervisors to coaches. 

18. Organizational structures change - from hierarchical to flat [fewer managers]. 

19. Executives change - from score keepers to leaders.

1. multi-dimensional job becomes specialized job (See Table 1). 

2. Decisions made with in process-job description and flow chart. 

3. Task are specialized in one place by one person. 

4. Each worker specializes in one version. 

5. Fewer workers employed since supply and customer do more of the work. 

6. Workers trained to gaze and monitor their own time and motions (supervisors and clerks can be let go). 

7. Suppliers do this work. 

8. The worker managers self for no more money. 

9. Information technology allows greater centralization with fewer managers. 

10. Process teams is another way to say functional department. 

11. Jobs are enlarged to have more skills and functions for same pay. 

12. Empowerment is not the same thing as worker ownership. 

13. Continuing education is another way to say training. 

14. Piece work. 

15. People are evaluated on both items in written reviews. 

16. From boss sovereignty to customer sovereignty. 

17. A coach is another word for supervisor. 

18. A hierarchy of processes is still a hierarchy. 

19. There are fewer managers, so leaders must now manage.


'Doublespeak', a term coined by William Lutz (1989), is a method of influencing thought through language. It is employed by proponents of the reengineering movement. Doublespeak is about associations. In Table Two, there a numerous examples of double speak: managers become coaches, executives become managers, departments become teams. Doublespeak is typically used to alter a perception, to secure support for a new, different, or radical position on a concept toward which an audience is unfavorably or negatively predisposed. We think the negative concept is the "disposable worker," and the task of reengineering is to retell the story in ways that lead the audience to conclude that, disposing of the workers is the only way to go. Doublespeak specifically refers to the using, creating, or attaching of words to a concept that have a more neutral or positive connotation than the word or words commonly employed, those traditionally linked to that concept. Empowerment, that over-used word, has a more positive connotation than self-gaze. Lutz makes clear his disdain for 'doublespeak'. Whether or not it is judged to lead one's thinking in a better direction or be misleading, to expand or conceal, to enhance understanding or confuse, to improve accuracy or distort, however, is debatable.

What are the words of reengineering? What are the terms used to define and describe it? What is the relentless rhetoric? Other doublespeak examples of "reengineered" terms used by Hammer and other proponents of reengineering include: information technology= "an essential enabler"; identifying and abandoning outdated rules and assumptions= "discontinuous thinking"; work processes= "cases"; reengineered position holders= "case workers," "case teams," or "case managers" [See Table Two]; doing tasks simultaneously rather than sequentially= "delinearizing processes"; downsizing= "rightsizing"; part-time external contractor= "outsource"; layoff= "redeployment."

Reengineering is a politicized and not a neutral framework. It is governed and made possible by the political-institutional discourse of the industrial revolution. Suppliers, customers, and employees each get to do more work, in order to place fewer people on the owner's payroll as people are shuffled onto the customers' and suppliers' payrolls. Meanwhile ever larger profit-sharing checks are issued to executives and consulting firms to sustain a billion dollar reengineering industry. The industrial revolution is a struggle of such political discourses. Reengineering is the latest maneuver or program for technology to mechanize and otherwise dominate the human condition. This time it is information technology that is displacing craftspeople as well as middle managers to control processes strung out around the globe. Kilduff's (1993) deconstruction of the March and Simon (1957) text: Organizations argues that the factory-machine metaphor was replaced by another machine metaphor, the computer. Hammer and Champy also set out the computer and information programming as the new metaphor of organizations to replace the factory-machine metaphor of an earlier industrial age. In Chapter 5 Hammer and Champy (1993) discuss the "Enabling Role of Information Technology" (p. 83-101). "The most basic and common feature of reengineered processes is the absence of an assembly line ..." (p. 51). And in its place, the reengineering teams use information technology to "search out and destroy assumptions" and "go looking for opportunities for creative applications of [information] technology" (p. 146). "The costs of hierarchical decision-making ... are now too high to bear ... modern database technology allows information previously accessible only to management to be made widely accessible" (p. 96). It also allows wider spans of control as senior executives gaze printouts for control. Reengineering is part of the myth of industrial progress which justifies abusive and even horrid practices and institutions as long as their are gains in cost, efficiency, and domination (Boje, Fedor & Rowland, 1982; Boyce, 1995; McWhinney & Battista, 1988).

Division of Labor. The foundations of reengineering discourse are grafted from the division of labor discourse of Adam Smith. "Reengineering rejects the assumptions inherent in Adam Smith's industrial paradigm - the division of labor, economies of scale, hierarchical control, and all the other appurtenances of an early-stage developing economy" (p. 49). In their text, Hammer and Champy (1993) begin with an account of Adam Smith's pin factory to point out how businesses in the past oriented themselves around the principle of division of labor (p. 12).

Division of labor for both Adam Smith and Hammer and Champy, does not escape the logocentrism of Western thought, from which their procedures, assumptions, categories, and institutions are derived. Adam Smith, just like Hammer and Champy, observed that with [reengineered] division of labor, fewer people are able to do more work, because of three reasons (major concepts below are summarized in Table One along with our redefinitions).

1. "First, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman." Dexterity increases the quantity of work by making one simple operation "the sole employment of his life" (Smith p. 6). This way an boy experienced in one simple operation can produce more than a skilled man who knows a craft. In reengineering, dexterity is replaced by "flexibility." Flexibility of the worker increases the quantity of work by making one simple process the sole employment of his life. Work is knit together by keeping the "processes" very simple: "We say that in order to meet the contemporary demands of quality, service, flexibility, and low cost, processes must be kept simple" (Hammer & Champy p. 51);

2. "Secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another" (p. 6). Locating work in the same workhouse saves time of passing work around. Also, a worker's need to change tools every half hour "renders him almost always slothful and lazy, and incapable of any vigorous application even on the most pressing occasions" (p. 7). In reengineering, time is saved by not passing a process between various workers across many work departments. In the conventional process there is linear sequencing: "person 1 must complete task 1 before passing the results to person 2 to do task 2" (p. 54). Delinearizing processes speeds them up by letting jobs be done simultaneously;

3. "Lastly, to the invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labor, and enable one man to do the work of many" (p. 6-7). People invent more machines when their total attention is on one object: "... those who are employed in each particular branch of labor should soon find out easier and readier methods of performing their own particular work" (Smith p. 7). Smith tells the story of a boy who tied a string to a valve on a machine so it would open and shut without his being there. The boy could then go and play with his play mates. Other improvements come from those who make machines and philosophers "whose trade it is not to do any thing, but to observe every thing" (p. 8). In reengineering, inventions comes from having people perform the same simple process repeatedly.

As Hammer puts in it a live performance: "the end of organization as we know it, the end of hierarchy, the end of titles, the end of tasks." Instead people will now spend twenty years in the same job, the span of control is "twenty to fifty to one after reengineering" and now "she is doing engineering ... [that is] real work." (tape).

In reengineering there is a subdivision into a number of different specialties that improves Adam Smith's dexterity, saves time, and with the assistance of information technology machines allows fewer people to reengineer the work of the many (refer to Table Two). In short, reengineering is division of labor reinvented. Each reengineer is trained by the reengineering experts to be an expert in the work being done upon the whole. The "deal maker" produces deals that once were the combination of a multitude of specialized workers. Now these are joined into one person.

"Division of labor" is part of the "modern business bureaucracy" (p. 1). The voices of women, children, and the Third World are silenced and marginal in reengineered division of labor frameworks. The voice of authority is the senior executive whose position of power is sustained by division of labor that reengineering denies, and then reinvents.

Paleonymics and Metaphors. Paleonymics means retaining old names while grafting new meaning upon them (Culler 1982: 140; Derate in Positions 96/71). The "re" in re-engineering is an example of paleonymic grafting. It marks a difference or a gap in the word "engineering" that is being supplemented. The "re" in re-engineering is a supplement, a little something extra added to complete engineering. The "re" also signifies adding a little something extra to bureaucracy. But, reengineering is a dangerous and perverse supplement. It becomes what Culler (1982: 104) terms an "essential condition of that which it supplements" (p. 104). Reengineering is a practice that instead of substituting for bureaucracy, gets added to bureaucracy. Consultants, flow charts, books, manuals, videos, and seminars get added to bureaucracy to produce and reinvent the post-reengineered bureaucracy.

When we concentrate on the metaphors repeated throughout the reengineering text, they are clues as to what is really important (Caller 1982: 146). As Derate puts it, "ce mot a de la chance" (Avoir 'oreille de la philosphie p. 309) "This word has good luck." Analyzing metaphors as a clue lets us diagnose the larger stakes. The "engineering" in "re-engineering" is itself a mechanistic metaphor. Metaphors are not marginal means of expressing concepts and prescriptions, they are rhetorical tactics that are fundamental to reengineering's appeal and conceptual center. Without the "re" prefix Hammer's word is familiar, even common. There is some immediate sense of knowing, which enhances its adoptability. Firmly established within certain work or occupational contexts, the linguistic connection of the word engineering to a business' mission is direct, as in the term "industrial engineering." Engineering n. 1. The art and science concerned with practical application of scientific knowledge, as in the design, construction, and operation of roads, bridges, harbors, buildings, machinery, lighting, communication systems, etc. 2. Painstaking management; maneuvering. -- Use of the word engineering strongly establishes conceptual links to both art and science, to a discipline or body of knowledge, and to infrastructure-related actions. Emphasis, however, is scientistic. Very subtle is the word's management connotation, stronger is its association with a profession. For engineers or those with engineering backgrounds, the term engenders an immediate sense of ownership and connection.

In adding the two-letter prefix "re" a new term is created or coined. Of particular note in the context of this paper is the English word for creating a new term. To 'coin' a term seems especially fitting in cases where, as in the case of the new term reengineering, there is purportedly the potential of monetary gain from the concept's application.

"Re-" effectively links the concept to thoughts of "doing again," "starting over," "beginning anew." The behavioral reaction to the former of these, "doing again" and "starting over," is not likely to be as inspirational, effective in achieving the desired behavior, adoption and application of the ideas, as "beginning anew." Recognizing this, the writers are quick to acknowledge and dispel certain potential associations readers may have and to direct thoughts toward intended meanings. On the front cover is a brief quote which begins "reengineering is new...". Readers are told in the introductory pages that reengineering is "entirely different." It is about "reinventing," "rethinking and radical redesign," about "reunifying tasks." It is not about "fixing" or "tinkering." There are other words fitted with new meanings in reengineering.

Words like "manifesto, "revolution," and "radical" mask the bureaucratic and mechanistic aspects of reengineering discourse. Manifesto n. A public and formal declaration or explanation of principles, intentions, etc., usually by a political faction or similar such group.-- It clarifies and strengthens the next term Revolution n. An extensive or drastic change in a condition, method, idea, etc.: a revolution in industry. -- The connotation is a sense of urgency, a "must do now."

These metaphors also serve the purpose of overcoming resistance to reengineering. The title's words have established a strong conceptual between reengineering and change. To enhance the likelihood of achieving change, immediate attention is directed in the book to a description of reengineering as a 'must do now' in spite of any fear the title may have initially provoked: "Most companies have no choice but to muster the courage to do it. For many, reengineering is the only hope for breaking away from the ineffective, antiquated ways of conducting business that will otherwise inevitably destroy them" (1993: 5). Since synonyms for revolution include rebellion and rebel, and the term manifesto may be associated with communism, how do the authors contend with the association of these words to political risk? How do they overcome any sense of reluctance or hesitation, if not fear? It appears, by cleverly capitalizing on or reinforcing the thoughts of those for whom "American" may have come to mind when reading the word "Revolution", or simply of patriotic appeal, "America" or "American" appears six times on the first half page of text.

Mixing Metaphors. Reengineering as a point of departure, treats "process" as a given. But the meaning of process varies from case to case in their text. And these meanings mingle, as a mixture of engineering, medical, military, and computer metaphors are intertwined in the texts. The several uses of "process" in reengineering does not get outside the framework of beliefs, assumptions, and practices of the industrial revolution, bureaucracy, and the division of labor. Process is still the machine metaphor, with the organization storied as a computer, restoried as a medical operation, with its many performance programs and flow charts being deciphered and rewritten by squads of junior reengineer consultants, reading them like x-rays. By process Hammer and Champy invite many different readings and they mix many metaphors:

(1.) "We defined a process as a series of activities that delivers value to a customer" (p. 39). "We define a business process as a collection of activities that takes one or more kinds of input and creates an output that is of value to the customer" (p. 35). They define another category of customer, the "internal" customer in the Ford Motor story. But, customer is code for "customer sovereignty." The customer is always right. The customer defines the value of the whole process from input to output. This becomes a code for saying that market forces define all transactions. When the market fluctuates, then valuing the customers, becomes code for disposing of workers to respond to short term fluctuations in market demand;

(2.) the traditional processes: "intended to provide mass production for a mass market" versus a "triage process" at IBM Credit. Triage is three versions of process: one for straight-forward cases, one for hard cases, and one for difficult cases (p. 55). Adam Smith, a traditionalist, focused on individual tasks in the process and lost sight of the customer (p. 35). There is also "traditional process analysis" versus "process understanding" (p. 129-130). The former analysis is more mechanical and lacks understanding. In the conventional process there is linear sequencing: "person 1 must complete task 1 before passing the results to person 2 to do task 2" (p. 54). Delinearizing processes speeds them up by letting jobs be done simultaneously. Yet, we would argue that delinearizing the processes into simultaneous processes, is still mechanical, brought about by data base management and scripting work like a computer routine;

(3.) a "process that is designed to operate quickly and accurately will not do so unless the people performing it believe speed and accuracy are important" (p. 81). Like the computer, a process is a design that does many tasks simultaneously and with greater speed and accuracy;

(4.) The medical metaphor is often invoked along with the computer-machine metaphor. Reengineers are "process doctors" diagnosing "symptoms," "signs" and "cases" to decide which processes are "healthy" and which are not (p. 127). There are "terminal diseases" (p. 123) "broken processes" which like broken bone fragments need to be put back together again, "system slack to cope with uncertainty" (p. 124), " inadequate feedback along chains" (p. 125-6), and "accretion onto a simple base" (p. 126). Executives, employees, suppliers, and customers do not know their own diseases. "Understanding customer needs doesn't mean asking customers what those needs are. They'll say only what they think they want" (p. 130). Only the reengineering doctors understand the disease and the cure. "Reengineering must feel disruptive, not comfortable" (p. 207). The patient can not operate on itself (p. 202).

(5.) "... most business people are not 'process-oriented'; they are focused on tasks, on jobs, on people, on structures, but not on processes" (p. 35). This, we believe, is an act of persuading people to textualize themselves as a computer-process;

(6.) "Processes are what companies do" (p. 117). Not what they say they do. They are "natural business activities" (p. 118). "Processes are invisible and unnamed because people think about the individual departments, not about the process with which all of them are involved" (p. 118). The reengineer makes "process maps" of how the work flows through the company ... hardly any company contains more than two or so principal processes (p. 118-121). Here, process maps is another way to say flow charts. Again the medical and computer metaphors are mixed. The image of doctors mapping major blood arteries or developing x-rays to map bone structures comes to mind here. Once the company processes have been mapped, then the reengineer chooses which ones are functional and dysfunctional, broken and non broken, important and unimportant, feasible and infeasible, and symptomatic versus causal (p. 122-8). People are just steps in computer programs for doctor-technicians to reprogram;

(7.) "Our term for ... an individual responsible for an end-to-end process is case worker" (p. 52). "A group of people who have among them all the skills that are needed to handle" a process are a "case team" (p. 52). A "process owner" is "a manager with responsibility for a specific process and the reengineering effort focused on it" (p. 102). A "reengineering team" is "a group of individuals dedicated to the reengineering of a particular process, who diagnose the existing process and oversee its redesign and implementation" (p. 102). More doublespeak.

In reiterating these seven definitions of "process," we can get a sense of how reengineering re-invents new language for bureaucracy. The rhetorical structure of these uses of process, places the reengineer as the expert programmer of the great computer, acting also as a doctor x-raying process maps (flow charts), diagnosing the patent (sub-routine), and assembling the reengineering team of surgeons to rebuild the unhealthy processes (software designers). Reengineering is a parasitic discourse, appropriating the doctor-patient, expert-maladroit of medical discourse and masquerading as an engineering discourse, while at its root it is constructed from a discourse of mechanics and computer programming. The use of the medical tropes mixed with computer metaphors may explain the popularity of reengineering and its lucrativeness and seductiveness as a consulting strategy. The reengineers' imitation and parody of medical discourse mixed with computer jargon may not be accidental. It could be a strategic part of the writing and consulting enterprise. In any event it is the continuation of the organization-as-machine text in organization theory writing.

Reengineering is a Form of Discursive Training. The Reengineering Story is a sequential-periodizing script of organizational transformation. It is a three act play. The reengineer consultants are paid handsomely to reauthor the organizational storyline and to script different performances. Reengineers are writers, and also directors. The play itself is discursive training in a machine-script. During their training senior executives learn a discursive script of "military maneuver" and "medical operation" and "re-programming" that is framed in such playscript "acts" of the reengineering "roadmap" as: "laboratory," "pilot," "rollout," and "campaign" scenes.

The senior managers are taught to become actors in the play. They are to sell the reengineering "campaign" using storytelling and play-writing methods. At the expensive Michael Hammer workshops, managers are taught to write "wedge and magnet stories." These are stories the managers write in Wall Street Journal format. Managers are instructed to: "say something about record profits due to a dramatically shortened cycle and include great things employees have to say about the changes." In the military play, the leader can tell the troops to "make the dream real." Reengineers are characterized as the heros of this play: "pioneers," "real people in real businesses" like the President of Hallmark "no wild-eyed radical" (p. 160); the CEO of Taco Bell, "was sick and getting sicker" then thanks to reengineering found an "increase in sales from $500 million to 3 billion in a declining industry" (p. 181); and a principal at Bell Atlantic tells of "making up 20% of the corporation's revenues and nearly half its profits" (p. 193). Third, there are missing stories that are left out of the play-writing. There are stories left in about executives, but not about what happens to employees after their 10 minute interviews. The intensified stress of the worker, the loss of corporate morale, the impact upon family life and upon the community, and the loss of valuable corporate talent that are re-hired as contract labor. Champy (1995) did report one story of an employee who was reengineered badly: "My managers says they're doing reengineering: all I know is I'm working twice as hard and twice as long, they've laid off half the people and we're having a profitable year. Our managers get the bonuses, but I'm paid the same." Champy places the blame is on the implementation strategy not upon reengineering. There are no stories of pioneers that failed. Failure is blamed on a lack of intestinal fortitude. After all, the play must go on.

The Discourse of Resistance to Change. According to Hammer (1995), "People reengineer because of their fear." Fear is the means to get Senior Managers to act with brute force and it is the means to get people to buy into the reengineering program. People resist change because of their "fear of change." Programs fail because senior managers lack the will to deal with resistance to reengineering. To overcome resistance, managers are therefore instructed by reengineering consultants in how to communicate the inevitability of the program: a feeling that reengineering efforts are not going to cease so quit resisting and join in. According to Hammer "they are afraid of losing their job ... the supervisor of credit checkers looks at this picture and says 'it will never work' .... The death zone of reengineering" (Excerpts are from a keynote address, Nov. 4, 1994 by Michael Hammer). Hammer also says: "Let them buck, let them speak up, then 'break the colt' down." Managers are taught to be relentless in responding to resistance.

And, if the audience is not senior executives, but the human resources manager, Hammer is quick to take blame for failure away from all but top management. Hammer argues that when it comes to what ultimately leads to the success or failure of reengineering, it is not resistance to change itself so much as the failure of management, especially top management, to deal with it. Calling the "guys at the top" of large organizations inept and scared must be considered "safe", if not tactically brilliant, when trying to enlist an audience of "implementers." Later in the same speech, when describing the need for a "radical new beginning" rather than an attempt to "fix" things, he commented: "Don't fix anything except a cat. When you fix an organization, you get the same result as when you fix a cat."

To overcome the resistance to change, Hammer also adopts the long-term, "in-it-for-the-duration" perspective. He calls it creating within each person a sense of "inevitability," a feeling that reegineering efforts aren't going to cease so one might as well quit resisting and join it. Let them buck, let them speak up, then "break the colts" down. The reengineering program is designed to be relentless in responding to resistance.

Hammer takes advantage of his well-attended speaking opportunities to endear his audience to senior executives heading reengineering efforts or considering it by pointing out the need to be tough, but not feel anything. Hammer is quoted as stating in question-and-answer sessions following his talks: "Executives often tell me that they just lack the intestinal fortitude to deal with people's complexities, with personalities, with feelings. CEOs and other senior people want to be liked, they don't want to be controversial. They see themselves as elder statesmen, not breaking legs, not going through this exhausting struggle." Reengineering may be about "breaking legs," then, but CEO's who "break legs" are sensitive people who want you to like them. Other tropes and metaphors that limit and channel discursive potentials in reengineering are "cutting the fat." "In large organizations the fat is not laying around on top, the fat is marbled in. The only way we get it out is by grinding it up and frying it out" (Tape).

War is also a prevalent trope and, as conceived above, a play-metaphor, used in his speeches and writings to lay out the reengineering approach. The phases of the reengineering story are discursively reinvented into a military campaign. Positioning the pilot, for example, is the first step in the roll out phase. In organizations in the midst of reengineering, he describes middle managers as fighting a "two-front war" between "the guy back in headquarters" and the "troops in the trenches" who are "ready to erupt into mutiny" (p.122). Reengineering efforts which fail are described as "crashing in flames, shot down" by the reluctance of people to go along, and by management ineptitude and fear (Fisher, 1995:122). The following words appear written with senior executives in mind: the persons with their "hands on the charge boxes". "Dramatic...improvements...quantum leaps in performance...demand blowing up the old and replacing it with the new... Reengineering should be brought in only when a need exists for heavy blasting..." (H&C, 1993:33). Senior managers are inscribed into these tropes of war. the senior executive is the commanding general issue orders to the troops and preparing them for battle. Like a good military strategist they must find the "quick hits." Then in the rolling out they can widen the war to many fronts. They must then sell the Manifesto for change to the employees. Hammer tells managers to act like generals on the battle field, that "successful companies sell reengineering to employees" with clear messages of "where we are ... why we can't stay here ...[how] reengineering is essential to company survival ... why the company must reengineering [and be] so persuasive that no one will think there is any alternative to reengineering" (p. 148-9).

Each of the phases in that program instructs managers in a discourse of tropes, stories, and vocabulary that they can use invoke fear in order to overcome resistance to change. Resistance is the enemy. At the same time the discourse of fear is packaged as a way to not needlessly brutalize the work force. "We're brutalizing the workforce during our transitional period ... the brutalization has got to stop" (From Tape).

Reengineering the Self. The discursive moves are an effort to "reengineering the mind." "The extent to which you succeed at reengineering is going to depend upon the extent to which you folks reengineer yourselves" (tape). Reengineer is new kills, "a new way of thing, new attitude [and] guess what you ain't you anymore ... a new person inhabits the old bodies ... you have to reinvent your people" (tape). The people who can not make the transition to a new self are casualties of war. We are told the casualties of the war: "Most organizations have 20% who will trample you trying to get these new jobs, 20% will never get it. The other 60% are a swing vote ... can go either way" (tape). Finally, there is the use of a monastic metaphor to sell a reinvention of the self. "Before the industrial revolution, people derived meaning from their work. There was spirituality in their work. Work was in fact a form of service of God... [e.g. Monastic orders]. You know what work is becoming ... service of our fellow human beings. Serving the customer has nobility.)"

Having deconstructed the dualities of reengineering with bureaucracy and the division of labor, and having differentiated the role of metaphors and stories in the scripting of reengineering programs to overcome the resistance to disposing of workers, we turn now to some postmodern alternatives to reengineering. Perhaps the search for a new strategy of change will yield to a more self-reflexive alternative.

A Postmodernist Alternative

What is the textual-rhetorical alternative postmodernism presents? It is to be self-reflexive about our rhetorical construction of knowledge and our critique of modernism. And, in particular, a critique of the progress-through-technology and enlightenment myths. But, can postmodernism be politically responsive as it deconstructs the enlightenment and progress myths in modernism? Barker (1991: 235) cautions we may be lead into a "house of mirrors, an insulating metalanguage of self-reflection that seems to isolate us from civic life." The dual agenda of self-reflection and organizational change may be incommensurable and therefore not be possible. However, we are willing to take the risk.

One of the common critiques of postmodernism is that it lacks a theory of praxis (Habermas, 1981). Although we cannot deal with this charge at length, there are several ways in which postmodernists (Boje and Dennehy, 1994; Boje and Rosile 1995; Boje, Summers, Dennehy, and Rosile 1995) have been advocates of provocative and political discourse to address organizational issues such as ecology, diversity, third world labor exploitation, and spirituality. These postmodernists advocate for political and social change actions in organizations, and do not think organizational activism has to be unreflective, nihilistic, and isolated from practical action to be considered "postmodern" (Schwartz 1994).

Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida transcended the incommensurability of self-reflection and activism. Foucault not only wrote about the history of the prison (1979), he was an activist for prison reform. In an discussion with Deleuze titled: "Intellectuals and Power" published in L'Arc (1972), Foucault remarks on the relationship between theory and action:

Foucault: An when the prisoners began to speak, they possessed an individual theory of prisons, the penal system, and justice. It is this form of discourse which ultimately matters, a discourse against power, the counter-discourse of prisoners and those we call delinquents - and not a theory about delinquency (Foucault 1977: 209).

Foucault is pointing out that it depends upon whose theory one is writing about, whether or not activism and theory can interact (Burrell, 1988). Deleuze remarks: "That is, all the current forms of repression (the racist repression of immigrant workers, repression in the factories, in the educational system, and the general repression of youth) are easily totalized from the point of view of power" (p. 211). Derrida (Caller 1982: 157) indicates there is no programmed way for postmodernists to be activists:"it must be established or identified for each act; it can always fail; in each case, it does to some extent fail" (from "Entre crochets"). Each of these writers transform philosophy into a political text.

Even with the advent of postmodern deconstruction that renders organizations as rhetorical texts, the reengineering movement has not even noticed the intervention. They merely seek a new label, to balance their workshop with modules about "people." Reengineers have not stepped to the microphone to contest their unreflexivity or their rhetorical tactics. While reengineers continue to write and rewrite, script and rescript, organizations, postmodernists have only commented on the reengineers textual web (see article in first issue of the journal, Organizations). There are several ways in which postmodernists and deconstructionists can address the relationship between reengineering and worker displacement.

1.Deconstruction and Participative Design. The intention of deconstruction, however, is not to improve, revise, or offer a better version. It stops short of judgment. Hammer and Champy are proponents of the "critical thinking" model (not to be confused with Frankfurt School, See Habermas, 1981) in many respects, including evaluating alternatives and deciding which is better. A major difference, however, is that reengineering allows no lengthy period of analysis or attention to detail. It is rapid-fire "invention and discovery, creativity and synthesis." We are in "need," says Hammer, of "speed." What gets left out is participation. The consultants are the experts. They and a small team of managers decide who goes and who stays. They decide what the whole, the parts, and the relationships will look like. In short, they write and script the new story of what the organization will become and how it will get there. Reengineering is 'Do!' and in so-doing "expect to make mistakes and to learn from them (H&C, 1993:112)." We recommend participative forms of design and redesign instead of reengineering.

A postmodern alternative would look at examples of cooperatives and worker-owned firms. Ownership is the only real form of empowerment. The rest is illusion. If there is no ownership or profit sharing, then participation is limited. But, participation can be more widely engaged than the elitist reengineering teams. We believe that one reason for the great speed with which reengineering has been embraced, is the ever-so-heroic role it provides for the top organizational leaders, the elite. In our own recent consulting efforts, we were dealing with the aftermath and fallout of a two year reengineering campaign, people described morale as "in the toilet," and said that "the workforce is stressed-out and burned-out." They had battle fatigue. The perception was that this high-tech organization had been reengineered and "re-wired" around the few people who became members of the reengineering team. Our initiative has sought to re-enlist the participation of the thousands of employees who were left out. A postmodern alternative would question the authority of exclusive reengineering team members. Who participates? Who decides? Who implements?

2. Postmodern Assumption Questioning. Perhaps questions about reengineering itself were not what Hammer and Champy had in mind when they recommend that we "question assumptions." And if they did intend for there to be such questioning, it is unlikely that they envisioned essay questions. Their writing that reengineering begins with no assumptions is clearly stated: "Fundamental questions... why do we do what we do? and why do we do it the away we do?... force people to look at the tacit rules and assumptions... often... obsolete, erroneous, or inappropriate... that underlie the way they conduct their businesses..." Question fundamental assumptions of the organization and then reengineer. Indeed, it seems that in so-doing, one can question them all away for "Reengineering begins with no assumptions and no givens..." (H&C, 1993:32-33). But what of reengineering itself? We have been questioning, in this article, the assumptions that are imported with metaphors of war, medicine, and the computer --- as the basic textual basis of the organization.

Indeed, Hammer and Champy's self-described "seminal work" makes many statements and proposes many changes, but on the surface, uncovers, articulates, or discusses few assumptions of their tropes and metaphors: old no longer works and we must throw it all away and reengineer. As Hammer and Champy hoped, others have indeed taken up the "seminal" charge, reflected in an abundance of articles, books, tapes, lectures, and workshops on reengineering and related concepts. Some of have chosen to identify and address some of reengineering's underlying assumptions.

There are however, several overriding assumptions, for example, reengineering is a 'must-do'. In Hammer and Champy's words: "reengineering is one of the tools organizations must possess" (1993:215). There are specific assumptions underlying specific principles. Reengineered positions, for example, are vertically loaded. They require that fewer individuals each accomplish an increased number of tasks in a shorter amount of time, including higher level and more complex tasks with greater decision-making responsibility and authority, less feedback from others, and more teamwork and at higher pay. DuBrin (1996) observes that reengineering elevates the competency level required of workers, the underlying assumption that given the right training/education and encouragement/leadership, any worker can accomplish more work, more complex work, and to a higher standard of quality ("error-free").

The raising of performance norms is fundamentally questioned by consultants Hall, Rosenthal, and Wade (1993) who point to reengineering efforts that have failed because "average" workers were assigned to them. DuBrin's work highlights the problems inherent in efforts to raise norms of performance; to move the bell curve of performance over on the performance axis. "Average worker" has long defied definition. DuBrin looks at assumptions and "facts" about "average worker performance" vis-a-vis reengineering.

Hammer claims that when it comes to reengineering, many members of organizations just "don't get it." DuBrin's statements suggest that reengineers concern themselves with whether or not individuals "have it." Hammer assumes that there are members of the workforce who already possess or will acquire that which is necessary to succeed in a reengineered workplace and that new challenges facing business will be met. As Hammer argues, either they'll get it or else. The revolution is about doing more with less. Reengineering's answer to "How much more?" is "Whatever it takes." One is left to wonder, if "what it takes" will ever be enough. A movement aimed at business organization survival and success is increasingly an issue of personal survival for workers.

3. Postmodern Responses to Resistance to Change. Resistance is a key characteristic of a postmodern society. Systematically engaging in all that either critical thinking or deconstruction entails may well require a conscious effort on the part of an individual. However, skepticism toward the new, and resistance to change, are well-recognized and accepted almost as inevitable, almost human nature. These evidences of resistance include feelings of mistrust toward those whose efforts to influence are perceived to include "smooth talk and jargon." It would be postmodern to treat such resistance as if it was a serious challenge to what is being proposed, which ought to be seriously considered and not dismissed as merely some barrier in the way of "unfreezing" and "refreezing" processes. Responding effectively to such resistance is the challenge of human organizations.

In a list of characteristics which Hammer and Champy claim "have made Americans such great business innovators," the claim that reengineering capitalizes upon "individualism, self-reliance, a willingness to accept risk, and a propensity for change (1993:3)." While Hammer and Champy later acknowledge that "(r)esistance is an inevitable reaction to major change," it is their response to such resistance which sets them apart: "The first step in managing resistance, however, is to expect it and not let it set the effort back (1993:212)."

In his latest book The Reengineering Revolution (1995), Hammer's sense of Americans' "propensity for change" seems to have faded. The "natural and inevitable resistance of human beings to change" is not quite so easily dismissed as initially presumed. He now claims that it is "the most perplexing, annoying, distressing, and confusing" part of reengineering.

A postmodern alternative would be to study resistance. There is much about organizations that needs resisting.

Each of the rules and principles of reengineering can be resisted. People resist the encroachment of information and other technologies into their personal space. Applying a rule-governed expression such as "reengineering" correctly is just applying it in accordance with the rules of its use. This means we need to concentrate not on what we understand by a rule, but on the correct understanding of the rule, or perhaps on cases where we evidently understand correctly. Hammer, and other proponents of reengineering do this by holding up for examination those organizations that have been successful, that have attributed positive outcomes to their reengineering efforts. Such organizations, thereby, are deemed "good rule-followers." Their members "get it". They have demonstrated an understanding of reengineering. But, people resist playing by a new set of bureaucratic rules.

Understanding of reengineering may be manifested in two ways, both emphasizing the connection between understanding the rules and recognizing correct application of them (see Baker and Hacker, 1984b:75). The first (see McFee, 1992:82-83) is through the giving and explaining of formulations of that rule. Describing the "process-oriented" rules or conventions of reengineering, Hammer and Champy (1993:35-47,122-147) tell you that it is wrong to break work into its simplest tasks and to assign each of these to a specialist, and why.

When an individual understands a rule, he or she typically knows what would count as satisfying it, just as when an individual intends something, he or she typically knows what would count as satisfying that intention. The word 'typically' in each case marks two difficulties: first, an individual may not be able to say what would do the satisfying or fulfilling, but would surely recognize it; and, second, there may be certain hard cases when it is beyond the individual's powers to determine whether or not the rule has been correctly applied. The possibility of hard cases, however, need not concern Hammer and Champy as they have plenty of straightforward examples where they do know what to do and say. Neither of these is a statistical matter. Rather, each is to be interpreted bearing in mind that the concept of a rule and the concept of what accords with it (what is a correct application) are internally related (Baker and Hacker, 1984b:72).

4. Postmodern Approaches to History. Although in their own words, "Tradition counts for nothing" (H&C, 1993:49), Hammer and Champy chose to begin their Manifesto with a focus on history, the introduction beginning almost as a fond farewell. Adam Smith's division of labor/work simplification principles are identified in legendary terms, described as a "brilliant discovery" belonging to "an earlier, glorious, but no longer relevant age (1993:2)." And Hammer and Champy have employed well-known strategies of cultural change in an effort to develop a sense of reengineering history (Gross & Shichman, 1987), each strategy a strategy of words: story tellings about extraordinary feats accomplished through reengineering efforts, words used to describe values and mission statements/visions on recruitment brochures, orientations and training sessions which include entertaining anecdotes, and heroes and heroines identified and requested to present their sense of history to other workers through newsletters, electronic mail, and videotapes. One postmodern alternative would be to tell the other side of the historical accounts and to tarnish the hero-stories. Boje (1995a), for example, challenges the "official" story of Walt Disney and the Magic Kingdom with a more Tayloristic and exploitive reading of the "smile factory" that fires people when the "robots don't smile." Martin (1990) does a deconstructive retelling of the story of an executive who wants to use technology to connect the pregnant executive back into the work place with a remote hook up, once she delivers her child. There are privacy and domination issues that get ignored by the managerialist tellings of these stories.

And the "manifesto for business revolution" is supported by the accounts of four successful reengineering experiences, while the thousands of stories of unsuccessful reengineering have, until recently, been ignored by academia and the popular press. The stories are told by "reengineering's pioneers"- "real people in real business"- (1993:159-160). They are told by individuals who might well be considered members of what was earlier termed the "Republic of Resumes" (President of Hallmark, CEO of Taco Bell, and others, as previously on p. 45). All the stories are told by chief or high level executives, in keeping perhaps with the "rule", the "necessary prerequisite for successful reengineering" that it is "top-down", that it come from "senior management leadership... who understands reengineering and is viscerally committed to it (p.208)."

There are no stories from employees, like our story of Alice, who are at other levels in reengineered workplaces and there are no stories of "pioneers" that didn't succeed, from the 50-70% of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort and do not achieve the dramatic results they intended. Are these people and/or their businesses somehow not "real?"


Reengineering privileges an underlying managerialist interpretation and storytelling of the organization and the world around it. Reengineering rhetoric has two clear targets. First and foremost, it is directed toward management, specifically senior level management with "clout" who want those lower-cost global labor pools. The Manifesto was written with management in mind. Management must "buy" reengineering and reengineering alone as the final and only solution. Once sold, management, must then "sell" it to employees. It is squarely up to management to make it work. In the words of Hammer and Champy (1993), "the companies that have the most success in selling change to their employees are those that have developed the clearest message for reengineering... the case for action... where we are... why we can't stay here... what we as a company need to become... that reengineering is essential to the company's survival... why the company must reengineer... The case for action must be so persuasive that no one in the organization will think that there is any alternative to reengineering (pp. 148-149)."

Reengineering presupposes an integrated system of processes while rejecting diversity and difference. Reengineering is the work of a central and elitist, planning team, within an hierarchical administrative body, combined with legions of junior consultants claiming expertise. Behind the masks of reason and rationality is a reengineering of power relationships according to yet another mechanistic metaphor (Cooper and Burrell 1988: 110).

In keeping with the metaphor of warfare, the story of reengineering is the story of the generals. The displaced (disposable) workers are the are incidental casualties of this revolution in business practice. And the revolution is the only hope for the salvation of American businesses, according to Hammer. In a recent Dilbert (Adams, 1996) cartoon, the manager asks: "I've been saying for years that 'employees are our most valuable asset." But as the manager continues, "It turns out that I was wrong. Money is our most valuable asset. Employees are ninth." An employee responds: "I'm afraid to ask what came in eighth." "Carbon paper," replies the manager (Adams, 1996). Reengineering is a rhetoric that has re-engineered the value of workers.

It may well be that in creating a new history, this new history of reengineering, we will create another "dark age." The "dark ages" refers to that period when recorded history focused on lives of nobility and revealed little about the everyday lives of citizens. As some have suggested happened in the absence of historical records of this earlier period, the everyday lives of workers in 1997 may well be romanticized. Unlike the new professionals and executives in reengineered workplaces that we will read about in the history books, workers who didn't "get it" or didn't have "it" will be described as having lived "simple, integrated lives."

Why study a fad that is fading. As it fades, in industry, keep in mind, that it is just beginning in the university. These late adopters of the fads will saddle us in academia with reengineering. The parents are demanding that universities do away with tenure. "Why should professors have tenure, when parents working in industry do not have job security." And the legislatures are listening, with widespread university credentialing institutions like North Central, stressing outcomes assessment. Monitor the processes, not just input measures, and throughput measures, but outcome measures. The next disposable worker is the professor. As university enrollments fluctuate, it is the professors who make up for the fluctuation in market demand. The student is, after all, the only, customer. And after Taylorizing and TQMing the university passed away as fads for administering the faculty body, we are heirs to the failed fad of reengineering, but being late adopters, we will endure it for perhaps only a decade more.

Reengineering by some new label will once again be on the billboards. It will sell tickets to seminars. It will be in the headlines and on the front covers. It will sell those books and magazines. And while there may be those of us who ponder "What's wrong with reengineering rhetoric?", there are certainly many others asking rhetorically "How can we find a new buzz word that will let us re-engineer reengineering?" How about "re-participating?" Defined as letting people doing the work decide how to change the work, with the consultants reporting to them as their "customers."


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1. 1 This paper is based on several earlier presentations: (1) 48. "The Big Story & Metaphor of Reengineering: Where do we go from here?" (with G.A. Rosile). Paper presentation to the Academy of Management Meetings in Vancouver, Canada, August, 1995; (2) Boje, D. "Deconstructing organizational theory." Paper to be presented to International Association of Pacific Rim meetings in Sydney Australia, 21 August, 1995; (3) IABD presentations for 1996. "Tom Peters is a CEO storyteller;" "Reengineering and deconstruction;" "Postmodern pedagogy" (with G. A. Rosile).


2 This breakdown was suggested by one of the reviewers of Communication Research. We acknowledge his contribution to our paper, but also take full responsibility for the listings and our own restatements of the items.