You have been employed as a consultant to assist the management of House Canteens create a more productive and co-operative climate in one of their canteens. House Canteens has had the contract for provision of food services to a large hospital for one contract period. It is keen to improve productivity and ensure that the contract is renewed.
The operation consists of more than 50 people, including seven managers and 40 canteen staff. Numerous complaints have been made about the standard of food provided by House Canteens, and absenteeism among canteen staff has increased.
Management and union delegates are chronically suspicious of each other: a suspicion growing from a long history of industrial difficulties, and from the style of senior management and union delegates, who each regard “the other side” as obstructive. House Canteens has also inherited an enterprise agreement that is not to the liking of management or staff, and is a further obstacle in the company’s efforts to improve services in the canteen. Union members are as dissatisfied with their union representatives as with management.
House Canteens has appointed more people as supervisors than has previously been the case, a move that canteen staff have read as a lack of trust. However, this move has cut down petty pilfering once considered to be almost a right from the canteen. When management asked staff to let them know if anyone was having a problem, this was seen as asking them to dob on each other.
Allocation of shifts has been another source of conflict. Shifts were once organised by a senior union delegate. Allocation is now handled by a manager who has found that, although some staff are almost always available and prepared to do the hours, many more are never available. He has tried to meet peoples stated needs, but has been accused of favoritism by the union delegates. They seem to use complaints about the roster to maintain a level of conflict. The union delegates are of the “old guard” distrustful of management and adversarial in approach. They have a small band of faithful followers in the ranks, but many staff dislike their methods.
The majority of canteen staff (including the union delegates) see management as being better than before the change to contract services. They report that they are generally treated with respect by management people, but feel that there are too many of them.
There are difficulties in stock ordering and little communication between shifts, with the result that the canteen frequently runs short of food. There is a perception that management does not consult enough, although it has established a series of committees for the purpose. This is partly due to a lack of “meeting” skills among the staff, and partly to the power of the union delegates over workers in the meetings.
The state manager for Home Canteens agrees with the site manager that Home Canteens took over the contract with high hopes, but their behavior has darkened toward canteen staff. The combative style and lack of co-operation of the union delegates, and the general suspicion about all issues, have generated much negativity.
The HR manager of the hospital the canteen serves has long experience of canteen operations. He agrees that mistrust is endemic and has been exacerbated by the poorly conceived enterprise agreement. The union representative has been involved since the beginning of the original contract, and would like it changed. These changes might include more staff training to upgrade skills and an increase in the number of union delegates. The current delegates are resisting these ideas.
Proposed solution #1
Margie Bluett has been consulting for more than 20 years. She operates within a network of top-name consultants and trainers. Her areas of expertise include change management, communication, recruitment, performance management/rewards, time management, customer service and teams. Margie regularly designs and implements projects to win over employees to new change strategies. She regularly presents and publishes and has been interviewed by local and national print and electronic media. Margie’s work has been published in Australia and the United States
The following major issues were identified:
- Extreme customer dissatisfaction, resulting in frequent complaints jeopardising contract renewal.
- Widespread lack of trust causing low productivity, pilfering, absenteeism, a negative, combative culture, criticism of shift allocations.
- Low skills resulting in poor meetings, poor management of outcomes, poor communication, poor consultation, poor conflict resolution, poor teamwork, and poor process control.
- Ineffective enterprise agreement, no doubt exacerbated by the above two points.
House Canteens is running a real danger of losing this contract. It is highly unlikely that the contract will be renewed, given that there have been repeated customer complaints, unless swift and decisive action is taken to turn the situation around.
I recommend immediately a pair of facilitated meeting to be held separately by unions and management to identify the issues they each see as inhibiting performance. The second step is a facilitated crisis meeting at which all stakeholders are represented, held within 48 hours of the first. The purpose is to rally forces to make critical decisions supported by all parties. The most important outcome will be performance indicators (PIs), to which all will have agreed, to assess the level of performance the customer, that is, the hospital, specifies as sufficient to save the contract. The recommended facilitator must be a highly capable person, able to talk sense and to galvanise warring factions into co-operative action.
Further, I recommend a residential workshop conducted over two weekends for all staff, union delegates and management. The program for the first weekend should include outdoor exercises which, it has been shown, help build trust. This first program would extend the process started by the facilitator of building bridges between the warring factions. It would also seek solutions to the issues identified by both groups as blocking productivity and would seek to improve conflict resolution, meeting and team skills.
The second weekend would continue the process of work-team and cross-functional team development while at the same time working on customer focus skills. Much work would be done in syndicates to ensure participants come up with their own solutions while at the same time re-inforcing their new team skills. Syndicate composition would change twice each day to enable different groups of employees to work together. Hostile parties would be kept apart until such time as sufficient conflict resolution skills had been attained, and greater trust and bonding of the groups accomplished. Opinion leaders would be identified beforehand and particular efforts made to gain their views and ensure that they see themselves as sharing responsibility for the workshop outcomes.
At the end of the two workshops I anticipate that the group will have developed greater trust and that morale will have improved. They will have fine-tuned the customer PIs drafted during the previous crisis meeting. It is also expected that many issues blocking productivity would have been resolved and action plans developed to affect and monitor the changes.
I suggest the workshops commence late Friday afternoon and continue through until Sunday afternoon and that outside contractors be brought in to maintain the canteen.
- Design of a simple single-page customer/employee survey which employees could fill out regularly to monitor their performance against the agreed customer PIs. The closing of the gap between employee and customer perceptions should be monitored and publicised.
- Provision of suitable reading material to all employees to heighten awareness of customer focus and teamwork benefits. A module should be done each month.
- Changed performance management/reward system to reflect changes to operations if the establishment of work teams and cross functional teams is decided upon by the group.
- If it is decided that managers are to be absorbed into the teams as coaches and perhaps monitors of customer satisfaction, a follow-up program to provide these new skills is suggested.
- A new enterprise agreement to reflect the mutually-agreed arrangements.
- Constant communication with customers to monitor performance, report actions taken and consult about proposed actions.
Proposed solution #2
Tony Holmes is a certified management consultant and co-director of Business Builders Australia Pty Ltd, a management consulting and training firm. The business assists clients across a range of industries nationally and internationally
One approach to solving the problems at House Canteens is to identify the underlying causes contributing to the workplace behaviors and attitudes, and then seek ways to develop agreed solutions. The application of relevant management models to the problems helps us to conceptualise a whole solution, rather than a partial fix.
Two fundamental issues emerge: the enterprise agreement and the culture of House Canteens.
The model of “principled negotiation” provides a useful framework for resolving the enterprise agreement issue in House Canteens.
This model has four components:
- First, separate the people from the problem. Clearly, many of the problems revolve around the behaviors, beliefs and perceptions of the people within House Canteens.
- Second, focus on interests, not positions. The apparent interests of management include renewal of the contract, improved productivity, meeting skills, services, and a desire to renegotiate the enterprise agreement.The apparent interests of the staff include a reduction of the number of supervisors, management to show more trust, and a reduction of conflict arising from shift arrangements and poor communication at changeovers.Similarly, the apparent interests of the union delegates include making changes to the enterprise agreement, achieving more training, and retaining their power.
There are also several implied interests of the various parties, such as a desire to develop a positive workplace environment (by changing the adversarial approach to a problem-solving one), to improve communication, to develop a more effective stock-ordering process, to achieve greater co-operation with the union delegates, to stop petty pilfering, and to make the consultative committees more effective.
By focusing on these interests rather than the entrenched positions of the different groups within House Canteens, we can address the issues and not just the symptoms.
- Third, canvass options for mutual benefit. Renegotiation of the enterprise agreement (assuming a Queensland business context) could be based around three options. The first option is a certified agreement either with the union involved or between the staff and House Canteens. The second option is a workplace agreement negotiated with individual employees. The third option is to fall back on the award safety-net level of employment conditions and wages.
- Fourth, develop objective criteria by which to measure customer service and satisfaction, improve effectiveness, wage and productivity levels, and workplace co-operation. This approach will also create more openness within the business and help resolve much of the conflict.
A second framework to help conceptualise a total solution is known as the McKinsey Seven S s model of organisation culture. Very simply, the model shows the relationship between structure, systems, skills, strategies, style, staff and shared values as they enhance business effectiveness.
It is useful to group these elements as “hard”, “bridging”, and “soft” factors. The “hard” (tangible) factors, which can be readily identified, measured and evaluated, are:
- Structure which must relate to the level of risk or uncertainty the business faces in its operating environment. For House Canteens this includes the appointment of additional supervisors, shift conflict and poor communication flows. A review of spans of control and levels of delegation will reduce these problems.
- Systems to operate and gather information (such as for customer service needs, sales and general market research). Within House Canteens, issues of communication, stock ordering processes, shift changeovers and consultative committees could be resolved by a close review of its systems.
- Skills are the distinctive capabilities of a business, and for House Canteens there are the issues of further training, as sought by the union delegate, and the improved meeting skills for staff. Again, a “skills audit” to identify the existing range of skills, the desired future range of skills and the “training gap” between these two positions, will help resolve some of the conflict.
The strategies of a business are the “bridge” between the tangible and intangible factors and must be responsive to customers, competitors and changes in the operating environment. Here, the House Canteens strategy of an enterprise agreement might be sound, but the actual agreement is acknowledged as ineffective.
The remaining elements of the model, the “Soft” factors, are less tangible and are as follows:
- Style, or culture. Clear evidence of absenteeism, distrust, petty pilfering, an adversarial approach to problem solving, disproportionate power of the union officials, and a lack of co-operation suggest an unhealthy culture in House Canteens.
- Staff, the people factor, includes levels of development, motivation and morale. Once again the varying levels of dissatisfaction between staff management and union officials within House Canteens indicate poor morale, unresolved conflict, and the lack of a culture of co-operation.
- Shared values include the vision and goals of a business. The ineffective enterprise agreement and general level of resistance to change within House Canteens suggest the absence of any such.
One solution to the problems within House Canteens would be to renegotiate the enterprise agreement within the framework of principled negotiation and to examine the factors which will improve the workplace culture. It is preferable to build on the implied interests of all the interested parties by developing processes which enable participation in making decisions for the improvement of the business. By taking this approach it is more likely that staff, union delegates and management will take greater responsibility for important decisions, and consequently greater commitment to achieving goals.