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Business process reengineering, empowerment and work monitoring: An empirical analysis through the Panopticon

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Purpose ‐ This paper aims to clarify the apparent confusion on the work impacts of business process re-engineering (BPR), specifically, the level of empowerment and work monitoring, through the conceptual lens of Panopticon. Design/methodology/approach ‐ An intensive case study at the Singapore Internal Revenue Services was conducted. Ninety-nine employees were also surveyed on their perceived empowerment and work-monitoring pre- and post-BPR. Findings ‐ The findings revealed intense work monitoring in the post-BPR environment. For the redesign of routine processes, tighter work monitoring is coupled with continuous efforts to formalize behaviors, leaving little need or scope for real empowerment. Greater empowerment is evident only in the redesign of non-routine processes, through a Panopticon-like combination of greater empowerment and higher work monitoring. Research limitations/implications ‐ The research suggests the applicability of Panopticon as a conceptual lens in understanding and reconciling the apparent contradictions greater empowerment and heightened work monitoring in reengineered workplace. It suggests the need for future research to begin bridging the disparate empowerment and control literature. Practical implications ‐ The study shows practitioners how they can leverage the discipline of visibility to orchestrate control creatively in a reengineered environment. The glimpses of post-BPR workplace also help managers to better anticipate change management issues. Originality/value ‐ The paper addresses an important issue of BPR work impacts. Its suggestion of Panopticon as a conceptual lens also provides a refreshing look at the traditional issues in BPR.
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Keywords: Business process re-engineering; Empowerment; Hierarchical control; Performance monitoring

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 12, 2008

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