3. Is the investment in engagement worthwhile?
Case Study Overview:
After a recent re-structure three business units that operate in a mid-sized government organisation have been merged. The departments previously operated independently and now will report to you replacing the previous Group Manager. The three areas merged are:
- Facilities Management (30 staff)
- Acquisitions (45 staff), and
- Transport services (22 staff) have been merged.
The new group (FAT) is structured as part of the Corporate Services Area of the organisation. The FAT group collectively has an important role in supporting the entire Organisation to achieve its strategic goals and vision.
You have recently reviewed a consultant’s report that was commissioned due to significant conflict that exists between the department managers. The conflict is particularly negative between the Facilities and Acquisitions managers. The conflict has become so significant these managers no longer speak to each other and both have received counselling and have made complaints about each other to Senior Management and Human Resources. The transport services manager is also challenging and there is no love-loss among this management team.
The Management Team:
The general orientation of the leadership team is to have a tendency to emphasise task outcomes rather than people’s well-being. This can lead to stress and decisions based on status rather than expertise. There was evidence during the interviews that several Managers and Staff presented stress related symptoms and emotional reactions to the interview process. In general the team are described as:
- Dogmatic, rigid and abrupt
- Runs things by themselves instead of collaborating with others
- De-emphasis of team emotion
- Blaming others for mistakes
- Not allowing for mistakes
Also present in the leadership team was a style that described people who subordinate themselves to the organisation but in the process, end up creating stress for themselves and allowing the organisation to stagnate. The cost to the organisation and its teams is often the ability to learn and adapt to change. Specific behaviours that depict this orientation include:
- Evasive and leaving decisions to others
- Conforming; thinking rules are more important than ideas
- Agreeing with everyone
- Avoidance in dealing with difficult situations and conflict
It was often suggested that that “the FAT group are heavily constrained by bureaucracy”, “red tape” and “poor group leadership”. Further, there was a general criticism of the area that a “one-size fits all” approach was detrimental to many operating areas. A further theme noted that communication from the group was often convoluted and could be a lot better.
In terms of service delivery the interviewees were highly critical of some areas due to poor processes and high levels of inefficiency. This criticism was directed predominately at Acquisitions. Transport was also criticised but to a lesser degree. Facilities were generally described in very positive terms regarding their service delivery.
While there were relatively few commonalities between the areas of the FAT Group there was an overarching view that this organisation was a “good place to work”, with “good people”. It was suggested that there was appropriate “flexibility” and a generally positive “work life balance”. The participants described the Organisation as a “family aware” environment. It was also regularly noted that “it’s a good environment” that is “mostly flexible in terms of working hours” and there is “appropriate job security”. In general, it was thought that “there are lots of opportunities” and “training available to help you improve at your job”. In general, the members of each area spoke highly of other staff members in the Group and it was thought that most people “are doing the best they can”.
However, many participants suggested they “were under a significant amount of pressure from workload and poor resourcing” and that people were “under the pump”. Many staff indicated that they are “just keeping their heads above water” and they were often “in damage control”. Further, it appeared that many areas felt that they are under staffed and that “while the workload is growing, the manpower is shrinking” and “work just continues to build up”. Finally, it was felt that “things are regularly dropped on staff at the last minute” with no explanation of what is happening. This has led to a situation where staff feels they are “always on the defensive” and creates a “highly stressful environment”.
The apparent “hyper-busy” nature of some areas appears to be having important implications. It was a view of the participants that many problems are amplified because clients of their areas do not do the appropriate diligence or “always want it done now”. The staff of many areas felt that their clients are “too demanding” and “do not take responsibility”. There was also a theme that this is caused to a degree because Management at the Group-Level and above was overly “pampered” and they use their position to drive outcomes outside of the normal processes. This refers to some staff in organisation using their position in their hierarchy and personal connections to receive special treatment. Related to this was the view that the “rules of the game” were consistently changing and staff was not informed.
Other descriptions of the culture in the areas of FAT included “pretty negative”, “has been deteriorating”, “people often sulk”, and there is “no fun at work” from some participants. There are problems of motivation across all sections and a distinct lack of teamwork within and between departments. It was also suggested that many staff are “highly resistant to change”. In general staff appeared very busy and there was evidence of some staff being “highly stressed”, “defensive” and “emotional”. Claims of significant inequity in workloads and concerns about job security in some areas where staff are kept on month-to-month acquisitions for inappropriately long periods of time were also flagged. Finally, there was evidence of high levels of micro-management and a general lack of trust from the staff regarding management intentions.
There was a theme of defensiveness and high levels of caution from some members of the area. Staff appeared to be concerned about being identified in the review and the ramifications of saying the wrong thing. This may be a function of a wider Organisational culture and may not necessarily be specific to the FAT area. Finally, there is generally a relatively weak customer service culture across the FAT group.
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