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Voice from the workplace: Consulting staff


Voice from the workplace

We continue with our series looking at problems experienced by an employee working for a government organisation and how HR can help to put it right. In this instalment, John Pope advises on how best to consult staff and make them feel involved.

Like many others, I find dealing with call centres very frustrating. I really have had the experience that everyone jokes about – of trying to be put through to the local branch of my bank, and being intercepted by the call centre who kept assuring me that they could answer every possible question, until I asked whether I had left my glasses there.

But I also feel sorry for the operators in a call centre and those who have to deal with customers face-to-face over a wide range of issues. They have a difficult job and need really good supporting systems.

What follows are the words of someone I know very well. She is very intelligent, would be an excellent manager, has marvellous customer facing skills, and gets frustrated by management incompetence.

The employee’s perspective: What’s wrong with consulting the staff?

We have recently had a new ‘customer relationship management’ (CRM) system installed (there have been two others in the last six years). This new one is all singing and dancing; apparently anyone off the street would be able to use it without any knowledge of the organisation and its partners.

It was designed by consultants, developed by managers (without properly consulting the front-line staff) and rushed into place (without enough staff or training). We actually has just one day of training, with people of mixed abilities on a system, which was not complete, a few days before the launch, not to mention the fact it was launched on the busiest time and date of the year.

Calls are now taking longer because they are all being logged under a customer’s name and address; frustrating for the customer who just wants to talk to a specific person / department. With the new telephone system in place, even the top managers have a problem getting hold of one of their own staff.

Why didn’t ‘they’ speak to and work with us? Then they would have understood how best to implement a new system and make it work.

John Pope responds:

What should management have done?

That CRM change is only one of a series of changes made in response to the government’s directive to make it easier for citizens to deal with its various arms. In this organisation, those changes should have been managed as projects within a clear programme of change.

Somehow or other, insufficient thought went in to the planning of a programme. Deadlines and objectives were set with a view of achieving an unrealistic completion date.

As a result, the programme ran late and there was not enough time to tie up the details, debug the system, do a limited trial, train the staff. Implementation was done before the system and people were ready.

A tough top manager would have insisted on a clear realistic programme, with plans for each project and proper testing, and would have refused to go ahead with an implementation which was bound to fail.

Management should have interrogated IT about the new system, what investigations had been made, and checked the realism of plans for training. They should have also asked HR about the implications of the changes – not just on staff training, but on a wider range of issues.

What could HR have done about it?

  • They should have known what was being planned. They could have pointed out that any substantial change to staff working and responsibilities might have effects on grading and pay.
  • They could have asked what briefing and staff training was planned – and if told by IT that no training would be needed, should have been deeply suspicious and raised issues with the programme director.
  • They could also have questioned the need for such frequent changes and pointed out that it was a major change with wide effects.
  • They could have asked who else would be affected.

But above all, HR should have got closer to top management and, armed with lessons of previous bungled reorganisations, asked penetrating questions on how it would be managed. They should have probed IT when they were told that IT stated that system changes would be easy and present no difficulties.

Even more importantly, since part of HR’s role is to monitor how people are managed, they should and could have become involved when major changes were announced.

Previous articles in the series:
Self-directed teams
HR – who are they and what do they do?
Why do we mismanage people?

John Pope has been a management consultant for 40 years and seen management fashions come and go. He has worked to improve the development and performance of managers and management teams at all levels for most of his career. John can be contacted at [email protected]

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