A dislocated approach to organisational change

What brings you to this article?

  • Having to down size and make tough choices
  • Running lots of projects
  • Chasing impossible targets
  • Too many things to do
  • Working too many hours
  • Losing employees due to poor morale
  • Or is something else that’s bugging you

Here is a short article that Phil wrote based upon his own life experience that holds a mirror to organisational life as a senior leader. How much of it can you relate to?

Sitting in Urgent Care nursing a dislocated collarbone.

Don’t ask – boys will be boys!

I began to wonder after the pain had subsided how I would cope with one useful arm.

It’s amazing how much we take for granted in our everyday lives.shoulder sling

For most of us normal everyday functioning is achieved at the level of the subconscious. Automated routines are played out by our bodies every second of our lives without any major reference to the conscious mind.

We could not function without such programming.

All of a sudden I was faced by the reality that my left arm would be out of action for a while, and I would have to figure out how I could run my life.

Automated routines running in my subconscious would only cause me pain, and result in a failure to get even the most basic of activities completed.

I began to think about the parallels with modern organisational life: blame the strong painkillers the nursing team prescribed me at the hospital.

It dawned upon me that most organisations operate on autopilot to get things done.

Policies, procedures and practices are prescribed within the hierarchy to set up the organisations ‘subconscious behaviour’: it’s culture.

Of course in practice employees form the organisations sub conscious – they learn the routines, cues and responses until they too become automated in to everyday actions.

In truth anyone that has been in the same job for more that a few months will be performing mainly on autopilot, largely unaware of what they are doing, and how they are doing it.

I believe that the analogy also holds true for the approach to efficiency savings, and organisational change.

For years now we have been taking cost out of our organisations – slimming down, chopping back, reprioritising. Caught in the world of benchmarking, best practice, and inspection we see the same mistakes often repeated over and over again across business and commerce.

In my experience leaders often fail to see an organisation as a living entity.

It is the physical actions and responses of people employed on behalf of the organisation that bring it to life. A living system that runs on autopilot until something catastrophic happens to destablise the current situation.

Now dependent upon the size of the catastrophe we can fall back on coping strategies.

In the case of organisations we have a tendency to look back in to the past to see what we have done before, and if we can make it fit this time.

Someone scrambles to sort out a temporary fix; Just like the sling and the drugs that the nurse gave me in the treatment room to make me feel more comfortable, and to take away the pain.

In many organisations a series of temporary fixes have been put in place over time to make things work.

The problem is that the closer you get to the front line the more dislocated the functioning of the organisation becomes; the more ‘work arounds’ are put in place at a local level to enable the system to continue to work.

Unlike the human body the ‘corporate brain’ in an organisation tends to be isolated, away from the immediate functioning of the core operation.

The pain and discomfort of the impact of indiscriminate action e.g. salami slicing budgets over time upon the customer and the front line is not directly felt by the ‘corporate brain’ and so actions carry on regardless of the pain suffered at the front line.

So, organisational leaders genuinely have a tough job to do to continue to figure out how to make ends meet going forward.

It would be wise to spend more time understanding the real impact, and unintended consequences, of the decisions already taken; with the help of colleagues on the front line to figure out the damage that may already have been done.

The equivalent of a sling and a few painkillers is not a sustainable solution.

We help leaders to purposefully reflect upon their current challenges, and identify practical and pragmatic ways of getting balance back into the demands upon your life, and delivering positive results in life and work.

Our one to one support will help you to cut through to the nub of your personal challenges and help you to facilitate a way forward that will give you: –

  • Clarity around the key business issues that you are facing and a clear plan to tackle them
  • New capabilities, and capacity to meet future challenges 
  • Greater personal job satisfaction
  • Strategies to deal more effectively with difficult people or situations in your working life

To find out more about how we can help you move your business forward please follow this link. Helping leaders develop new habits

Scottish Power it goes on….

To my surprise I received a letter today from my utility company telling my how sorry they were that I had made a complaint.

The letter, computer generated obviously, gave me a complaint reference number a seven digit number, so they must get a few!

The letter outlines a three stage process to resolve my complaint. The letter tells me that If the complaint cannot be dealt with immediately it will be passed to the Customer Care Team, where a dedicated member of this specialist  team will resolve my query with 10 working days –  keeping me fully informed of progress throughout.

In the unlikely event that I am not satisfied the Customer Service Director will review it personally. Apparently I can also contact the Ombudsman if I am not happy.

Well those of you who read my last blog will know that I escalated the call to the Customer Care Team on the day and they intervened to sort out the cock up created by the system.

So now the computer has generated yet more waste by sending me a letter.

I have no doubt that the performance indicators for both the call hander and the customer care team log a positive outcome to my complaint which I have no doubt will be closed within the 10 days set as a target.

A bonus may even hang on this! All of this is costing Scottish Power to fix, but it’s not helping me the bill payer –  its all waste and pouring our money down the drain.

I cannot wait to see what the next letter says.

Money down the drain

You may recall that on the 3rd Sept I reported a fault through my local county council web site. The issue resulted from poor workmanship. A resurfacing job had been undertaken on a road close to my house which had resulted in surface dressing blocking a series of drains on the road.

Well  I recently noticed that a few of the drains had been cleared. Good news, I hear you cry! Guess what,  they missed the key drain on the entrance to a side road joining a main road. How could they miss it? After all the note from the council advised me that the referral would need to be inspected before any action would be taken. Well a few weeks passed before the drains were cleared. So, what did the inspector actually do on the site I wonder? Did he/she even get out of their car?

Remember that this is all additional cost. If the job had been done correctly in the first place then no follow up would have been necessary.  The inspection has clearly added no value, and the rework to return yet again to the site will add further cost. Believe me it will be necessary for the inspector to return to site and inspect the drain that he/she missed the last time. The rate we are going the road will need resurfacing before the drain gets unblocked. All we have to do is hope that in he meantime an accident does not arise as a result of the eater that will run on the main road. The season suggests that standing water will freeze leaving.

Functionalisation, and the separation of decision making from the work is costing the council a packet. Maybe even enough to fix the generally poor state of the roads in the county.

I feel duty bound to let them know that they have failed yet again to do the job properly. I bet nothing happen this side of the festive break.

A conversation this weekend stopped me in my tracks.

A conversation this weekend stopped me in my tracks. A friend of mine told me a story about something that happened to him at work this week.  He overheard a call to one of his team from their internal sales call centre. It transpired that a customer had requested a delivery, nothing special you might think? However, the sale had come from a business a couple of hundred yards from where he was currently located. The irony was that the sales assistant in the call centre two hundred miles away was explaining that the order could not be placed with the local depot. Instead she advised that it had to come from a depot 50 miles away!

The logic – the sales targets indicated that the product needed to be delivered from that depot 50 miles away, other wise they would not hit their sales target for the month. Fortunately, my friend who was the manager over both sites stepped in to over rule the decision. He said to me ‘I thought this is madness,  I was prepared to take the consequences, and so I overruled the decision. The decision was ridiculous. Sales were not happy’. This got us on to a conversation about the stupidity of targets and the effect that they have within businesses. For the sake of a sales target the business was prepared to spend more cash delivering tonnes of product by taking a 100 mile round trip. How can this be good for business?

Fortunately my friend has a systemic view of the world, and was able to allow common sense to prevail and take executive action. He could see how barmy this decision really was.

The worrying thing is that If he had not been in the right place at the right time the business would have lost money, but it would have hit it’s sale targets for the month. How barmy is that!

He was the first to recognise that the sales team will be making arbitrary decisions like this every day. The sad thing is that he feels powerless to impact the command and control style of management that operates within the business.

Boys from the black stuff the story goes on..

Well it’s now twelve days since the saga started. You will recall that the local county council had resurfaced a road. In the process local residents had fallen and injured themselves due to the delay in scrapping the top surface off and truing up to resurface the road. The local paper picked this up and gave it publicity. In the process of finishing the job the road worked managed to fill six drains with a mix of the old top surface and the new black top.

Job creation

Well, the drains remain blocked. I have heard nothing from the council, other than an acknowledgement to my email. ( No real surprise there!) The autumn is upon us and the rainy season has returned.

I am wondering how long it will take the council to clear the drains. I am also wondering what the next issue will be, if they don’t pull their finger out. Flooding is on my list. A road traffic collision is not beyond the realm of possibility as the road in question adjoins a busy route. All addition costs and potential distress that could have been avoided if the job had been done properly in the first place. Better still that the inspector that visited the job afterwards had done their job properly and got the rework undertaken quickly. Of course if  inspection was built-in to the work on the ground then the job would have been left in a good shape. However, because management believe that you need to separate inspection from the job it causes sloppy behaviour on the ground, as no one accepts responsibility for the job. Every one blames someone else. Driving costs up and customer satisfaction down.

In the meantime the resurfacing work goes on elsewhere in the town. Guess what the drains are also being filled with debris. A systemic fault with the way that the work is being undertaken. Adding more costs for a council that claims to be hard presses for cash. Getting the job done right first time would be a start. I am guessing that the ‘chaps’ in their ivory tower over in Preston have not been out of the office to see what is really going on across the patch. If they did they would learn how to design and manage the work in a different way, producing better outcomes for everyone. The balanced score card that they rely upon is telling lies, but no one can see beyond the fiction created by made up numbers.

Watch this space….

Boys from the black stuff the story goes on…

If you read the first instalment you will already know that the council came to resurface a road nearby where I live. It’s a road that I travel on at least once a day. It’s a busy road. It took them over a week to get the job done. The work was packaged into discrete components that obviously suited the work schedule and the works order, but singularly failed to deliver a good outcome for local people. Not least because six drains were left blocked by the ‘expert’ work of the team on the ground, whose job it was to remove and re lay the top surface. So, I decided to log the issue of blocked drains using the on-line e form and wait to see what happened. I would have called them, but it was going to cost me money to call them and help them do their job. Why would I bother doing that?

It was not easy to find the form on the web site. You had to know your way around local government departments to find it. Anyway, a few minutes after logging the call  I get an auto response back saying that the ‘aim’ to respond in 48 hours. An hour later another email arrives. A speedy outcome I can hear you thinking. Sadly not! A note to say that the call has now been logged in the highways system and passed to a Highways Inspector who will inspect and decide upon the action required, and that this will be planned and prioritised as seen appropriate. I am then advised that if I want an up date on this matter then I can call the contact centre after 10 days and they will advise me of progress.

Having taken breath, I dropped them a line back to say that the drains did not need inspecting –  they needed clearing! Needless to say they have not as yet responded to my comment. The saga goes on..

But it does not end there. In the local paper at the weekend I read an interesting article “Streets like a minefield’. It talked about the dangerous obstacles faced after the surface had been left pitted and potholed. Apparently three people had been injured as a result of falling over on the poor surface. A local Town Councillor was quoted as saying ‘it’s ludicrous’. Unsurprisingly, no one from the Highways Department was available to comment.

Good job well done?

The councillor is right, along with the resultant insurance claims that will surely follow the cost of this job will rocket as lawyers and bureaucrats from different parts of the council come together to defend their corner. And for what?

The chaos comes down to the design and management of work. Budgets, targets, inspections, specifications all prevent the workers on the ground from doing the right thing. The contact centre operation has so far added only cost into the process, keying data into a back office system, generating pointless emails and doing their level best to dissuade me from contacting them again. I could show them how to save a bob or two.

The clock is ticking on the blocked drains. Poor weather is forecast and even more problems will mount if action is not taken quickly to sort out the failures caused by the work done so far.  Watch this space….

Sheep dipping or feathering nests?

A friend of mine called Jane mentioned to me that HR have finally got their programme of courses out for the year, not bad it’s only August. Now she has the task of trying to link the results of her learning and development reviews to the courses on offer. I know that there is usually a bit of a rush on to book places on the courses as the dates are fixed for the year.  Jane admitted that if she was being honest back in February when she was doing her reviews she had no real idea of the development needs of her team because she had not finalised the business plans that had started being written back in November of last year.  Surely, it would make more sense to concentrate learning and development effort based upon the demands placed upon employees by the customer? In that way training monies would be spent at the right time on the right support.  Not on a standard set of events determined remotely by someone in HR months before they are offered.

Anyway back to the story… The Policy team had messed about with the dates for publication in previous years; leaving Jane and her colleagues in the dark about requirements and timescales. This year she told me that she had tried to get ahead and start the conversations with her team and start pulling plans together. Since last year Jane has had to enter all the plans in to an on line system. So, quite rightly she thought that her action was doing the right thing, until Policy decided that yet again they needed to change the format of the plans to make it easier for them to produce the corporate plan for the organisation. I could see by the expression that Jane gave me that she was fuming! Quite rightly so in my view. All of the work that she had already done was in the wrong format, and according to them (Policy) she had to re- enter the information in their new format. Jane admitted that she tried to ignore this requirement for a while, as her plans were already in the system.  Ironically, she said she never used the online system apart from having to enter her performance data once a month. Like most of us, Jane acknowledged that she fudged the numbers to make them look ok, and had not been caught out so far because ‘no one really looks that closely at the data’.

In the end Jane’s name came up on the naughty girls/boys list, and she got a stern email from the Chief Executive’s Office telling her to get her finger out and get her plans in the right format.  Brilliant! You cannot beat a bit of extrinsic motivation to kill morale.

Anyway, Jane decided that she could avoid the issue no longer, took the ‘bull by the horns’ and copy and pasted the detail from one part of the system to the other. A waste of time and effort! I was chatting to another friend the other day and he was telling that a similar thing happens in the organisation in which he works.

What is going on in the world? Can organisations really afford to waste resources messing about changing templates and entering plans into corporate systems? Reality proves that plans get compromised after month one and become a work of fiction as people fudge the system to show progress again objectives that have been rendered worthless in view of changing priorities. The problem is that the new priorities do not replace the last set, they get added to them.  All this planning and monitoring is little more than a smoke screen. We all know that the real work gets done off plan and often by getting around the system to make it happen in a timely fashion.

If leaders took time to understood the true purpose of their organisation in customer terms, and then designed and managed the work around that purpose they would soon learn that all this corporate business planning and performance reporting added no really value to the bottom line. In really it has the reverse impact. Money down the drain!

However, such action takes guts and determination; and too few seem prepared to do what it takes. Sad really!  Leaders are happy to feather their own nest at the expense of others. Not really leadership at all is it!

Money for nothing!

Today I had to spend a few more quid speaking to a well known embassy to try and sort out the ongoing saga of a travel visa. For those of you unfortunate enough to have to get a visa for America will know how problematic it can be to get good advice. The web site failed to answer my basis questions, the search on the site  just lists media articles that are no use or ornament. So, off I go again spending £1.23 a minute plus network charges for the privilege of talking to a call centre operator somewhere on planet earth. The first minute is a sales pitch that you cannot bypass. I had to get to option 4 to get the access I needed, another minute gone; so £2.50 in and I had nothing to show for my efforts.

The query simple really- the travel plans had changed so what needed to happen next. Eventually I got through to a chap, we will call him Jim. I gave him a concise story and asked what needed to happen. He assured me that the visa would be ok and would stay in operation. He even suggested that provided I got into the country before the visa expired that I could stay out on the student visa until the end of my studies. Jim said he wanted to check some more info and would I hold, well what could I say-  he had me by the short and curlys really. So, off he went, eventually he came back apologising for the delay. The conversation went on a bit longer and then he said that he needed to speak to a specialist supervisor. Guess what I go on hold and he disappears to get help. Time and money is ticking away, but what can I do… Then he is back and guess what everything that he has said before is rubbish! He confirms that having taken more advice that in fact the visa will not cover the revised plans and that I will have to start from scratch. The visa that I have set up cannot be cancelled, and I cannot have a refund. Great news! Well at least I ended up getting an answer to my question, and to be honest I was not entirely surprised by the answer. However, the cost of this privilege ran to another 15 quid.

My beef is that the system, like most contact centre operations is flawed: Well at least from the customers view point. This particular contact centre is a licence to print money. Not only do you get charged a significant amount for the visa itself but you have to spend, on my count, an average of £12.50 for the privilege of speaking to someone. I have no idea what the leaders in this system get up to, well I do really, but they certainly do not understand anything about the nature of customer demand in their system. If they did they would have call handlers that were trained to answer calls against an understanding of customer demand. My question was not difficult, and yet Jim had to get help twice at my time and expense! Of course to the call centre manager it’s money in the bank –  the longer the call goes on the better. If the supervisor had answered the call I would have got an answer in less that half the time. Good news for me, but not for the business. A crazy world!

O2 or Orange?

Well O2 have been taking a fair amount of stick recently over the loss of their network and the thought of trying to sort out a problem with O2 filled me with dread.

Where is help when you need it? I don’t know about you but i am  increasing dependent upon mobile technology to help me manage my busy life. To lose access to your phone, email, and calendar feels like loosing a part of you. How can we function without it?

Well, the other day the worst of nightmares, but not for me but my partner.  She looked at her phone and said that strange  the network message on my phone is  showing no sim! What could this mean i wondered, and soon found out. No access to all the key information that she depended upon. Oh let me have a look at it i said willingly. In truth i had no idea what i might do to fix it.  I tried a bit of DIY – took the sim card out. Even that was a challenge. I had to find the special little key that helps to extract the sim from the body of the phone. Luckily i remembered that i had put it in my man draw. After a bit of searching i found what i was looking for. Ah ha! Anyway two or three goes at removing the sim and cleaning it proved no different, even when i combined it with the classic IT helped advice of switching it off and back on again. I was stumped at least for now. Feeling a little deflated i said that i did not know what to do next, and that she would have to go and get help from the local phone shop.

The next day proved a busy day for both of us and i was worried as i left that my wife did not have access to the phone, she would not be able to keep on touch with the kids. Shocking really isn’t it that we feel so dependent upon bits of technology to help us run our lives. Anyway, she was left trying to find a way to fit in a trip to the phone shop along with everything else in her busy day. I was left feeling that i should have been able to fix it, but what could i do?

As luck would have it i came out of my morning appointment slightly early. I dropped in to one of the mobile shops that sells all major brands of phones and packages and asked them what advice they could give me. Despite the fact that they sell the 02 network they could offer no useful advice, other than to visit an 02 shop. I dropped in to an Orange shop, as a current arrange user i thought that they might be able to offer me some advice as they sold the particular handset, but no they too suggested an 02 shop.  Whilst i was on i had been having a problem with accessing my online account. So i thought this would be a great opportunity to resolve the matter while i was with a real person, rather than a remote voice in a call centre. I explained that the web site did not offer me the help that i needed and that there was no obvious way to get help on the site. He went away to talk to an anonymous person in the back, probably the manager busy doing more important things out of the way of the paying customer. After waiting a couple of minutes the helpful chap came back and said that he knew that there was a number because he had given it to another customer in the past, but that he could not remember it. His boss had no idea. So that best thing to do was to call 150 from my phone and see if they could help me. Great help!

Disappointed  i walked out of the shop still keen to try and fix the problem with my wifes phone. As luck would have it i came across an 02 shop. I walked in and spoke to a really helpful employee. I briefly explained the problem and what i had tried to do to fix it. She listened intently.  I was keen to know if the sim needed replacing. Myabe not she said. Can i suggest that you try two things before taking the phone into an 02 shop. Within a minute she had explained and demonstrated what i needed to do to try and fix the issue.

Well i though it must be worth a try. So i took the bull by the horns and phoned my wife at work. Thanks to the demonstration offered by the sales assistant in the shop i talked her through the first of two reset procedures.  Within in two minutes the phone had rebooted and hooray the connection to the network had been restored.  A problem fixed through the expert knowledge of a key worker who had the skills and knowledge available in the shop to first explain and the demonstrate what i needed to do to restore the service to the sim card. An excellent example of having the technical knowledge in the right place to help the customer.

All the other shops on the high street that i visited and who claimed that they could not help me could learn a thing or two from the women who helped me in the 02 shop. In the end the procedure that she offered could have been explained by any of the assistants in the other shops as i have since learned by looking at my own phone on the orange network that the same procedure will reset my phone.

So to unhelpful staff in the  Orange shop who referred me to dial 150 to sort my problem out i would say study the demands that are made by customers like me in your shops and make sure that the colleagues that you employee at the front line have the basic technical knowledge and skill to help customers whilst they are in the shop. Fending me off to a call centre is not the answer. It costs you more, both in terms of bottom line and importantly by brand reputation. After all if you had done a good job in the moment i would not have been tempted to compare your service with that of the assistant in the 02 shop.

Think on!

And for anyone with an iPhone that hits the same problem go to settings/general scroll to the bottom of the page and touch reset. Look for reset network setting and follow the instructions. If that fails switch the phone off by holding down the on off button on the top of the handset and the circular menu button together until the phone completely shuts down. Failing that

Room service

I have been using a hotel recently on business and have managed to strike up a good relationship with the local staff. My business priorities changed after I had made a booking locally at the hotel. No worries I thought I will ring them and let them know that I need to change my plans. That’s when the fun started. How hard can it be?  Well I was about to find out!

I googled the hotel to find the number and make the call. I hit an IVR system, I thought this is strange –  the hotel is not that big and an IVR system seemed a bit over the top. I started musing about the IT salesperson the had flogged them an overly specified system for the purpose. A large bonus would have resulted and you would have not seen him/her for dust. Anyway, back from my day-dream and  having chosen the bookings option I was then surprised to hear that I was 5th in the queue! It started to dawn upon me that this was not a call that was going to be answered by the hotel reception, but by a call centre somewhere in the world. To cap it all the message playing advised me that I was being charged 10 p a minute by the hotel for the call and I was still 5th in the queue. At this point I thought stuff it! I put the phone down and emailed the local sales manager at the hotel to make her aware of my experience and to change my booking. She answered first thing the following morning and all was well.

Upon my arrival at the hotel the sales manager immediately apologised for my experience and said that they had no control over the phone calls. The hotel group to which they now belonged had centralised it call handling facility some time ago and that there was nothing that she could officially  do. However, she then whispered that I could have the local number for reception which is managed about 20 hours a day and that they would be very happy to help me in future. Of course she was quick to let me know that this was against company policy,and she could be shot for giving the number to me. Shot for doing the right thing!

The conversation then went on to reveal that the centralisation of the booking system causes all sorts of problems for not only the customers, but also to the local staff. She said, Imagine trying to book a conference or a wedding through a call handler somewhere else in the world who does not understand the local hotel, its provisions etc.  It causes a lot of problems which have to be sorted out once the hotel become aware of the booking, causing duplication of effort and frustration for the customer who is keen to ensure that their event goes off well. As is always the case the local team pull together and do their best to make sure that the customer gets what they want on a way that best suits their needs, but at what cost to the business and its hard-working employees?

Another classic case of a bunch of suits in an ivory tower somewhere in the world thinking that they can save money by centralising and standardising their approach to customer enquiries. Of course they will be using a bunch of metrics that tell them that the system works wonderfully and probably also helps to justify the decision to invest in the IVR system and call centre operation. If only those guys got out of their tower and came to study and understand the reality of their decision through the yes of the customer and colleagues in the workplace they would understand that all was not what it seemed. Until then I will use the local phone number to sort out my accommodation. However, the obvious frustrations and morale of the staff will continue to suffer along with the reputation and lost business to the hotel and others in the chain until someone is brave enough to wake and realise that this does not make good business sense.