I use to gripe alot about 'management insensitivity' to operational challenges at the line level, sometimes to the point of discouragement. My mind-set betrayed a certain deep-seated assumption that 'management' is responsible for almost anything that has a name about my work life. Job specifications, job enrichment, service quality, customer relationship success and the like. Sometimes I think, albeit on a subconscious level, held 'management' to account for my work-life balance and career progress. Suffice to say that work became a prison of necessity, designed to be tolerated than appreciated or even celebrated if you dare. As I sat down to pen down my thoughts on this central corporate issue, I recollected some past experiences that were lodged away into the deep recesses of my weary soul. Experiences that by reasonable considerations are worth celebrating not for its inherent value or contribution to my swollen ego but for its legitimate claim to the power of corporate problem-solving.
Following a quick poll of close friends and associates, it became increasingly obvious to me that, my frustration with bureaucratic corporate hierarchies, unresponsive middle managers and slow decision-making structures were widely shared but closely held secrets of 21st Century corporate Ghana. Not a single day goes by without a low level employee, mumbling out restrained invectives at the 'top people' for problems faced whilst discharging their daily duties. I did it, my wife does it (annoyingly), and my neighbor who works at the bank also does it. My curiosity was peaked to its zenith when even, an associate pastor at my church, grumbled about the fact that too much emphasis is placed on the choir to the neglect of other departments. So I began an inquiry into the phenomenon of change management from a bottom-up perspective. Solving problems in a practical manner given due consideration to all the formative forces and influential variables at play within that environment. The questions that have guided this inquiry are threefold:
1. Why do so many people experience this kind of frustration in a structured corporate environment?
2. Does the broader cultural environment have any impact on this phenomenon?
3. Are there any tools and techniques that provide a remedy?
The ensuing text in this article would focus on addressing the questions above and would end with an anecdote related by a professional associate on the issue problem-solving and managing change in a corporate environment, from the bottom against all odds. I would then proceed to conclude by recommending a model for managing change from the bottom thereby consolidating your leadership credentials.
The Frustration - What the Survey Says
Metis Decisions in its recent online survey of professionals (266 respondents) sought to understand the motivations behind occupational mobility in Ghana. Respondent were drawn from Banking (43%), hospitality Services (14%) and others (retail, media, logistics and aviation) - 43%. Male respondents constituted 71% whilst female had 29%. Several critical questions were put, two of which are relevant for an exposition of the current topical issue. After establishing the respondent's frequency of job change, a follow up question sought to clarify the push factors that motivated career change. When asked about their (respondents) perception of management attitude towards employee opinions, they provided the response below:
Q. Please assess top management's attitude towards employee opinion on issues.
Notwithstanding a clear majority that thinks favorably of management attitude, a sizeable 36 percent thinks otherwise.
To help measure the effect, another question was put to assess the contribution of various push factors that influence the respondents exit decisions. Out of the 266 respondents 79 percent who had changed careers, at least once, in their career spans. This category provided a response to the aforementioned questioned as summarized below.
Q. Please indicate what motivated you to move from your previous to current company/job.
A final part of the puzzle is to consider the respondent's self-image in order to appreciate the subtle interplay of emotional intelligence and perception to create a counter-productive corporate culture.
Respondents were asked to rate themselves on three dimensions; goal setting, decision-making and group dynamics. The responses were eye-opening indeed.
Conclusions drawn from the findings are these:
1. A strong self-perception influences one's ability to positively shape group behavior and build capacity in terms of decision-making.
2. Weak self-image influences one's self-awareness and tendency to attribute reasons for sub-optimal performance to extrinsic causes.
3. Admittedly further study is warranted to establish clear linkages between an individual's strength in areas of decision-making, assertiveness and group management skills on one hand, and their propensity to change jobs (due to dissatisfaction) on the other. There is sufficient evidence however to suggest that one's sense of control over career-related matters contributes to career stability.
Impact of National Culture
There is sufficient body of literature that suggest a clear linkage between national culture and individual behavior within a corporate setting. Hofstede (1991) was instrumental in identifying six dimensions of national culture;
a) Power distance
b) Uncertainty avoidance
e) Long-term/short-term orientation
Table 1 - Approximation of Hofstede's Indices for Ghana
Hofstede's model, not only introduces tremendous clarity on the state of Ghanaian culture, but it poses fundamental questions for policy formulation both at the public sector level and the private sector firm-level. With very high Power Distance Index (PDI), Ghanaians are likely (theoretically) to be subservient, self-deprecatory (in the derogatory sense) and more prone to the 'Yes Sa! (Sir)' syndrome, particularly within structured working environments.
Low index on Individualism presupposes our tendency and reliance on social grouping and cohesion in decision-making and resource management.
The contemporary emphasis on social advocacy as a tool for addressing gender imbalance points to the high index on Masculinity in our society. At the firm level, unequal access to opportunities and the relatively fewer management positions occupied by females of equal experience and education as their male peers, is an expression of the challenges posed by our collective acceptance (albeit subconsciously) of Masculinity as a preferred way to govern society.
Clearly, the impact of these variables on organizational behavior may be consistent with the survey results as presented prior, impinging on leadership quality and problem-solving skills of corporate employees.
Managing Change - Empowering the Base
A business associate narrated his experience with a global brand as a manager in charge of operations. He indicated how he discovered, by chance, a useful key to bottom-up communication, whilst venting out his frustration with management attitude towards a dilapidated agency under his control. Fortunately, his gift of clear articulation, aided by his skill in connected thinking proved useful as he wrote a lengthy email to vent out his frustration. Fraught with restrained anger and moderated with fear of authority, he made a compelling argument for intervention (infrastructure facelift) in the interest of protecting brand reputation and restoring customer confidence. Clear, detailed and rational arguments with supporting data he advanced in order to justify his recommendations. To his pleasant and unexpected surprise, the response was immediate. Long story short, every single recommendation saw the light of day. Beautiful conclusion to a story of perseverance and possibilities in an environment of rigid corporate structure and slow decision-making. Here is how he stated his lessons learnt, 'I found out that the top speaks only ONE language; Business Case. What is the problem (opportunity statement)? What does a solution look like? What is the business impact of your proposed solution? Why is that the optimum solution (cost/benefit, pros/cons, before/after)?'
Business case is the language for any employee that seeks to communicate with top management in order to influence decisions and create change. Enabling one's sense of control requires a systematic effort at building capacity
Speaking the business case language compels one to think in terms of data, hard facts and not sheer sentiments, which is usually what a lot of line staff (and sometimes middle managers) engage in. This is one way that a company can reinforce employee's confidence and bolster their inner sense of control.
As the survey findings show, the broader cultural environment and the Ghanaian educational system promotes a philosophy that runs contrary to the tenets of structured problem solving as is required by the discipline of building business cases. Companies that seek to engage the full potential of its people must therefore appreciate these nuances and set-up mechanisms to mitigate its negative impact whilst creating opportunities for leadership development.
I strongly recommend the process map below to institutionalize business-case presentations as a standardized problem solving technique for middle managers and line staff.
1. Create a comprehensive policy document covering the subject matter.
2. Delineate clear processes and procedures to follow.
3. Provide structured templates to minimize variability.
4. Outline an inventory of possible business scenarios that merit use of templates.
5. Define eligibility thresholds and clarify data requirements for each heading on the template.
Any corporate management team that seeks to grow a pool of remarkable leadership talent with strong change management skills, must compel adoption of this practice through formal policy.
The writer is the founder and C.E.O of Metis Decisions Limited, a professional services company that offers B2B value propositions such as; Mystery Shopping, Employee Opinion Surveys, Corporate Training and Strategy Advisory. For further info please visit www.metisdecisions.com or email to [email protected] Kindly send comments or feedback to author on [email protected]