Roy James felt the need for some relaxation after his first fortnight at Brennan Industries and took a weekend break at the Central Coast. Roy had been employed for 12 years at O Rorke Ltd, but the company had run into difficulties and had closed several plants as well as downsizing many workers, one of whom was Roy.
Roy was well regarded in the industry and was soon approached by Brennan. On his drive to the coast, he reflected on his years at O Rorke and his new position at Brennan as it looked after his first two weeks.
Roy had always been part of a team at O Rorke and had been happy there. His personal goals were being met, as were his expectations. As a result, he had been aligned with the company’s purposes and had been enabled to develop as a person.
O Rorke had a staff development program that helped employees advance through the organisation. Senior staff at O Rorke recognised that staff training was essential to the bottom line and to retaining valuable employees.
The company was generous in its recognition and reward of his services, and promotion to middle management had been readily achieved. The company structure was also consistent with Roy’s preferences. He liked the decentralised approach and the considerable freedom afforded to its managers.
Communication was seen as important by senior management, who worked at keeping all employees informed, and the organisational culture supported the company’s vision and mission. Staff members were kept up to date with what was happening in the company, and middle managers and staff were equally encouraged to bring their ideas to the attention of senior managers.
Company personnel were compatible and enjoyed considerable social interaction outside work hours, attending a range of cultural and social events with their partners. Managerial-level teaming was strengthened by these events. Recognising that outside socialisation was important to employee morale, O Rorke subsidised the social club and encouraged employee participation in events and outings.
Therefore, redundancy came as a great shock to Roy, who felt let down by an organisation to which he had contributed much. The effect was traumatic and his hopes for re-establishing elsewhere were not high. However, he got the Brennan Industries offer only one month after leaving O Rorke.
Moving so quickly to a new company was gratifying, but it soon became apparent that the transition would require a great deal of adjustment if he was to be happy in the new position. He intended over the weekend to reflect on his future with Brennan Industries and his position there.
His experiences to date had not been reassuring and he was beginning to feel like the invisible employee. Senior management showed little interest in employees; and they were poor communicators and showed little understanding of enhancing performance through engaging employee commitment and application.
Roy had learned that there was no staff development program and, given the attitude of senior managers to employees, there would never be one. In other words, if Roy was to advance his career, he would have to do it on his own.
It seemed that the senior managers saw little value in sharing the company mission and vision with the employees. Most of what Roy learned about the organisation came from informal chats with his peers.
Senior management’s approach was to extract performance through heavy-handed management tactics. To a large extent this was achieved through a rigid hierarchy and bureaucratic structure. Rewards and promotion were usually based on length of service and political manoeuvring.
Not having experienced management politicking, Roy soon realised that he was out of his depth and that he had little chance of ever being promoted past middle management. This also meant that his salary would peak at a lower level than he had expected from his career.
Roy recognised that Brennan Industries was a bigger organisation than he was used to and its product portfolio was concerned with basic component manufacturing for a wide range of industries. There was little push for innovation, and the bottom line had been consistently good over many years despite the fact that the employees seemed to be demotivated and only there to collect a pay cheque.
Having come from an organisation that encouraged innovation and idea sharing, Roy at first tried to introduce new ideas and make suggestions for possible improvements. However, his ideas were quickly and quietly shunted to the side never to be heard of again.
The senior managers were clearly not willing to hear, let alone implement, any suggestions. So, even after only two weeks in this position, Roy was feeling more and more concerned that he had made the wrong decision.
He was perplexed by the operational procedures that persisted in spite of large expenditure on computer systems. Any expenditure required a proposal and approval, often involving two or three management levels as well as accounting endorsement. Delays were common and often further explanation was required in writing.
Some other employees who had faced such delays intimated that the convoluted expenditure-approval process was a deliberate ruse used by the senior managers to quash projects that they did not endorse.
There was little opportunity for personal development and not much place for individual contribution at Brennan Industries. Besides which, Roy was treated as a recent addition and was accorded none of the respect for achievement that had been so much a part of his life at O Rorke.
Roy realised that the only way of breaking into the senior management group was to get to know those managers on a more personal level.
Most of the senior managers had been with Brennan for more than 10 years and had formed a tight group within the organisation and at social events. However, it soon became evident that he was not to be included in the company managerial social set, as his overtures were politely but firmly rebuffed.
Roy had much to think about. His world of work was changing and he would need to understand those changes and adapt quickly if he was to survive and thrive.
How should Roy manage upwards to improve his standing with senior managers? How could he cope with, or even change, the societal, organisational and personal factors of his new position?
Proposed solution #1
Paddy Spruce is a keynote speaker and corporate trainer who specialises in bringing out the best in people in influencing, selling, working in teams and presenting with impact. He is also a former training executive of the Australian Institute of Management and is president of the National Speakers Association in Victoria.
Of today’s world of work, Descartes might have written: I work, therefore I am. Many of us define ourselves by our work. We have set ourselves up for a fall by putting so much of ourselves into work and so little into the rest of our lives.
If we assess that the predominant culture at Brennan is power based, our strategy would be to get more power or align with those in power. Typically, a power-based organisation is governed by one person or a coalition that makes the decisions. The source rewards and punishes. It also discourages opposition. This works fine if the governing body or individual is competent and only requires compliance from the workers. If you are not sure what to do, you ask. You do what you are told.
So, if Brennan is a power-based organisation, Roy’s best bet is to influence the senior person to change the organisation to meet his needs. He can do this by mentioning the different way that business is conducted at O Rorke and present a strong case amply supported by hard data. If the CEO has chosen to treat people as lesser beings, Roy’s career will be short. Maybe the CEO has carefully picked the people and deliberately designed the culture at Brennan. Roy’s alternative is to become more skilled at politics, aligning himself closely with the CEO’s way of thinking.
If we assess the dominant culture at Brennan to be more rule-based, then Roy needs to stay up late learning the rules. Have you ever been at a meeting when someone questioned the meeting procedure or prevented someone from speaking? If you are informed about meeting procedure, people will defer to you and you become the de facto leader at least until the meeting finishes. Roy needs to learn the formal and informal rules that run Brennan. If he becomes the expert on the rules, he will be drawn into the hierarchy.
If we assess that there is a dominant achievement culture at Brennan, then Roy needs to work quickly to tap into the energy and be seen as the incoming hero. He will need to work with a senior manager to begin with. The achievement culture is about a clear direction and maximum use of discretionary energy.
Roy needs to set an example of taking initiative and working with his whole brain, not just the bit that does what has always been done. Roy can motivate himself for this herculean task by figuring out his own purpose and working on his self-esteem. This is a lonely pursuit but, if there is dormant achievement energy, he will attract followers who will waken to a new, faster drum.
My feeling is that the culture at Brennan is an extreme example of power and rule with negative expectations of the workers. If Roy has the energy and the support to make the necessary changes, he should go for it. If not, he should consider a move to Roy’s Mowing.
Roy should decide whether he wants to change anything now that he has realised what sort of organisation he has joined. In many myths an underdog fights a larger adversary and wins. In life, it is more likely that the larger adversary will win; so, let us assume that Roy wants to cope until he decides on his next step.
First, a medical check-up to make sure his health is fine. Check everything. He is under stress, so let him make sure that nothing is about to pop.
Next, he needs to assess just how much stress he has. Does he swear when he drops something? Or does he say: Oh well, that’s OK. Does he listen to music, do yoga, read for pleasure, sing, dance and be silly? Roy will get more satisfaction if he looks at his daily contribution for itself instead of as a stepping stone to a more senior position.
If the organisation does not provide for the individual, the individual must provide for the organisation. It is our organisation, our country and our world. We all must take responsibility. We hope we will not be downsized to a company like Brennan. But we might be; and then we will need to be clear about our individual purpose and responsibility.
If Roy’s expectations are not met at work, he needs to set his own goals. When the revolution comes, he will be ready. If he whinges in the meantime, he will become a cynic and a victim.
I keep hearing about a cellist called Vladimir Smilikof. He played for the Sarajevo Philharmonic during the bad times when snipers ruled the streets. People stayed indoors; to go shopping could mean death.
The orchestra ceased to play. Smilikof got tired of waiting for the problem to be fixed. He was not a soldier, so there was no question of fighting back. He was a cellist. Cellists play cellos. One bright day, he took himself, his cello and a chair to the middle of the square in full view of the snipers and played. He was frightened, but he loved playing his cello.
Roy must decide whether he will be intimidated by snipers or play his cello.
Proposed solution #2
Ricky Burges FAIM, is chief executive officer of the Western Australian Municipal
With more than 12 years of senior level management experience in the public sector, she was the recipient of the 1997 AIM Western Australian Businesswoman of the Year Award.
O Rorke Ltd sounds like the sort of place we would all like to work doesn’t it? If ever there was a model organisation, it is O Rorke. And, somewhat surprising, that with all of its excellent management and human resource management systems the company ran into difficulties and needed to downsize.
Despite all the effort that managers put in and all the training and development they do, there are still very few organisations that can claim to have such good processes and practices across the board.
In the changing world we live in, the situation Roy found himself in is a pretty common one. However, before dealing with what I think Roy can do in his new role, I would like to encourage him to look up someone to talk to about how he feels about what has taken place. This is such a big change in one’s life, and it rates high on the scale of stressors. Roy does not seem to have stopped long enough to deal with the sense of loss, pain and anger that comes from losing something you care about as much as Roy cared about his job with O Rorke. This may be coloring the way he sees many of the aspects of his new role.
There are lots of people who work with life-transition issues such as psychologists, career placement counsellors, organisational psychologist and I think that this would be a good start for Roy. It would also be a good idea if Roy maintained contact with this support person for a few months, perhaps looking at adjustment issues, some reality testing and checking out potential strategies.
Roy’s reaction to the lack of response from his managers after two weeks is a good indicator that he needs to stop and do some reality testing. Some corporate executive groups meet only once a fortnight and there would hardly have been enough time for them to have thought about any suggestions he has put forward, never mind respond to them. Although Brennan Industries may well be all of the things that Roy is attributing to it, my hunch is that there is more than a bit of projection going on.
My thoughts about what to do when confronted with a work environment as neurotic and unhealthy as Brennan Industries would depend largely on Roy. I would want to know just how toxic Roy finds the environment and how well supported he feels. If he feels that he has a fairly good support structure and that he is interested in pursuing this job with Brennan Industries, then I would suggest some of the following:
Sit down and develop a personal vision, mission and strategic plan. The plan should have a timeframe, objectives and strategies for achieving the objectives. It should also contain the desired outcomes that will demonstrate to Roy that he is moving forward and can celebrate some of his successes.
There will be many things that Roy will be learning in his new role at Brennan’s, and developing a list of these things and a mindset that accepts a timeframe to learn all that Brennan’s has to offer will help to quell the rising sense of panic about jumping into the fire. Even the worst work environment offers a learning experience if we are open to it.
No one likes the new employee who knows how to do things better than everyone else, has had better experiences and knows how to fix things for the poor saps at the new place. The staff will resist Roy’s advances, and the managers will find him intolerable and threatening. If Roy wants to stay at Brennan’s it is time to be strategic, button up, head down and learn everything there is to learn about the new job. Watch and learn about the power structure and communication channels.Learn about the formal channels and the informal channels. Discover who connects with who and which people lunch together. Timing is everything and, in due course, Roy could suggest coffee or lunch to some of his colleagues and start developing his own network.
During this period of establishment, Roy can build company knowledge, apply his industry experience, demonstrate his capabilities and try to work himself into an indispensable position.
A staff consultative committee is a great way to discuss issues that affect all staff and to develop recommendations that can be put forward to management for consideration. At some point in the future, Roy could consider putting this suggestion forward to staff and be prepared to participate in order to get the committee up and running.
If, on the other hand, Roy can determine early in the process that Brennan’s is too unhealthy for him, I would recommend he look for an organisation that better matches his values and needs. It is worthwhile remembering that he will look more attractive to a prospective employer if he is employed. I would counsel against any rash decisions about leaving Brennan’s.