Jo Geraghty


Unthinking culture

Date added: 13th Aug 2014
Category: Employee Engagement

I’d like to tell you a story.  It’s a true story about the unthinking and uncaring culture which has developed in one particular organisation but in truth it could happen to any organisation which pays lip service to employee engagement and care for others.  This particular organisation, like many before and since had undergone massive changes.  Partly because of this the HR department was under pressure so they reacted in what many would see as an innovative fashion by computerising many of their processes.

Nothing wrong so far, but when those processes were computerised the decision was taken to ‘return’ many of the functions to the employees themselves.  Again, on the face of it nothing wrong there; one important facet of employee engagement is to take steps to make employees feel valued and what better way than to trust them to keep their address, holiday and other records up straight?

But here the story goes awry.  Line managers and team leaders decided they needed a say in the record keeping process and HR themselves decided they didn’t really want to let go of an important element of their function.  What started as a simple idea grew into a complex programme with requests and sign-offs and many-layered controls.  Employees, who were themselves under pressure, had to find time for all of this extra input and with such a complex process it was sometimes hard to work through the maze of instructions and controls.  So much so that when one employee became ill whilst on annual leave they forfeited the holiday days which they were entitled to take as sick leave simply because neither they nor their line manager had the time to spare to work out how to input the change of details.

In effect what started out as a great time saving idea turned into a monster which benefitted no-one apart from the originators and which severely impacted on employee engagement.  Now before you jump in and declare that that could never happen in your organisation just take some time to think.  How many processes have been designed to help the originator rather than the end user?  Is the system for managing purchases or expenses designed to make life simple for accounts or to create a flexible and innovative budgeting solution?  Are online purchase processes there to tie in nicely to warehouse dispatch or to make ordering a pleasure for customers?  Are targets used to keep the pressure on beleaguered employees or to encourage the offering of new innovative solutions?

In short, is the company culture one of ‘me first regardless of what it does to others’ or one of putting the needs of others first?  Sadly in many organisations the former is true.  Even those organisations which pride themselves on their culture of care can slip up when it comes to process design.  All it takes is one person or one department which comes up with an idea to save time or to streamline processes and unless thought is given to the end user the culture is lost.  That’s why the leadership need to be constantly vigilant about the organisational culture and values.  That’s why departmental and team leaders play such an important role as the gatekeepers of the culture and that’s why employee engagement reviews should be undertaken on a far more regular basis than annually.

Our story is typical of a culture in which me first silos care all for one department and nothing for others.  In the end the organisation will lose out as disengaged employees, tired of taking personal time to fight their way through a complex system, depart in search of companies which truly value them.    Other organisations too are losing the goodwill of customers or of suppliers as overly-complex processes turn interactions into an unpleasant chore.   Could the same be happening in your organisation?  Are you sure?

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