Our recent white paper discussing work-based people-technology balance shows that managers make decisions about the technology and people employed in a firm to realise the firm’s capability. The firm applies that capability to its markets to create sales and profit. This blog argues that manager decision also determines organisational soul.
Equation 8 of the white paper suggests that capability is a function of a number of technology and people-centric variables.
The equation illustrates that the capability of a firm is a function of the sum of the characteristics of all technologies, operatives and customers.
If you’d like to understand more about how this equation was built, do read our white paper. Otherwise the equation is easily summarised – people and technology are a duality and greater or lesser amounts of each can be applied to achieve that capability. Here’s how it works.
Deciding on technology
Firstly, there’s nothing God-given in the technology a business uses. Management selects the technology. There are a number of key factors and players influencing those decisions. First there’s the technology defined by the norms of the industry. Then there’s the technology specified by the regulators governing the industry. And there are the views of the product managers in the various technology vendors as they seek to gain competitive advantage for their products. Finally, there are the opinions of the firm’s managers.
Those last two – vendor product manager and local managers – are important. The local managers can choose to buy from one firm or another – from one product manager or another. And those local managers can specify a substantial element of the technology themselves for vendor development and supply.
In the same way, local managers have control over the competencies of their operatives and the jobs they do. And whilst local managers may not actually control the motives of their people, those managers can select staff with the right motives when recruiting. Finally, local managers can decide how much of the capability is to be pushed back to the customer. Today, as customers, we all get used to serving ourselves to ever-more complex products and services.
In setting up their organisation to achieve a specific capability, managers have choice.
Linking technology with staff feelings
Since manager decisions affect the jobs operatives do, the competencies they acquire and the motives they hold, and since these variables affect how staff feel and behave, it’s not a big leap to say that in implementing technology, managers can determine the soul of the firm.
People go to work because by so doing, they derive a sense of meaningfulness. This meaningfulness comes from the job done and the way in which the job gives variety, identity, significance, autonomy and feedback on achievements. These five variables (the job characteristics) are designed-in to the job by the firm’s managers.
Meaningfulness is facilitated by the conditions in which the job and jobholder exist. Those conditions are largely determined by the manager. If staff are treated with respect and fairness, if they have a good working relation with their manager and enjoy a sense of career with the firm, they give commitment. And once committed, engagement can follow. Engagement occurs when there’s a balance between the demands of the job and the skills and knowledge that the employee brings to the job. It occurs when the job has been designed to give those all-essential characteristics of identity, significance and autonomy. Engagement also occurs when the firm meets the personal growth needs of its staff.
Commitment and engagement are substantially determined by management action and hence the effect of the manager and his or her behaviour is substantial.
The job itself, the way the employee is motivated, the development opportunities with which they are provided and the environment of the job all affect their beliefs, behaviour and attitude.
Example – a call centre
Let’s take an example – the employee working in a call centre.
Call-centre workers have been the subjects of study for many years. The essence of a call centre is that customers make calls to the call centre for assistance (concerning how to use a mobile phone, for example).
In the first instance, significant effort is made to persuade the caller to use a self-help website and hence to abandon the call altogether. This is an example of expecting heightened customer competence. Indeed virtual mobile operator giffgaff, an offshoot of mainstream operator O2, has no customer service and expects customers to be quite tech-savvy. Any complex questions that might normally be answered by a support helpline are referred to an online forum where customers help one another.
In a call centre, calls are queued and presented to operatives by the technology. The call centre operator generally has little control over which call he or she responds to. Once presented, the call centre worker uses on-screen questions and canned answers. The technology gives the answers, lessening the operative competence. Traditional call centres breach just about every meaningfulness-enhancing job characteristic. The result is that they are the archetypal example of where technology has destroyed employee commitment, engagement and ultimately meaningfulness. Manager decision determines organisational soul – and the result’s not good in call centres.
In those traditional call centres, job satisfaction is typically rock-bottom, staff turnover is high (indicating low commitment), absenteeism is rife and quality (as perceived by customers) is often poor.
Call centre improvements
In defence of managers running call-centres, some have re-designed operative jobs to make improvements. In instances where it’s difficult to avoid using call technology, these managers have let employees work to specify the technology they will use and to determine how work will be done to increase the capability even further. These enlightened managers are choosing local specification of the technology over the call-centre technology product manager’s idea of what it should do. They are using the balance available to them in Equation 8.
And whilst call centres are much-derided for their crass use of technology in search of enhanced capability at minimum cost, they serve as a good example – albeit an extreme one.
Manager decision determines organisational soul
So, managers have a choice about the technology that they employ. They can choose to demean a call-centre job or they can enrich it. Which they do affects the culture of the organisation, as described by the beliefs, behaviours and attitudes of the operatives. Technology and employee is a duality – like yin and yang. And managers can have more yin than yang and vice versa. And they’ll reap the corresponding benefits or dis-benefits of the balance.
This balance applies to all jobs.
Technology specification is a strategic choice for a firm. But by impacting on the workforce, this decision affects the soul of the firm. This decision determines if the firm comprises committed, engaged, happy employees enjoying high job satisfaction – or if the converse applies.