Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Broken Windows and the zombie minimum culture

I recently had an experience at an organization that had seen better days. The headquarters of the organization that were once magnificent and stately were now in desperate need of thorough cleaning, fresh paint, and light repairs. Although after using the “facilities” before my meeting, I would say those were in need of a MAJOR overhaul, but I digress. As I sat in the HR office waiting for my meeting, I noticed that the space was more organized chaos than anything else. Even the Receptionist, who was attentive, knowledgeable and polite, had a wrinkle problem with his clothes that made me think he either a) needs to do a wash, or b) like me, he absolutely abhors folding clean clothes. However, no matter how much I hate folding, I always run a warm iron, as needed, over my business clothes (for suits I use my professional steamer). Additionally the non-HR personnel I did meet had a slightly better than zombie look about them as they conducted their business. They seemed sucked lifeless by an organization that valued nothing and was the embodiment of a policy book that set a minimum “15 pieces of flair” without rewarding those who did more. As I sat there I thought two things. First, I thought how sad a state of disrepair this once prominent organization has fallen into. Second, I thought how gross the bathroom was; eye level exposed copper pipes, green and yellow tile and a trough sink. Seriously gross.

It wasn’t until about a week later as I drove through the town where the organization is located and right past the HQ itself that it dawned on me… Broken Windows! More so “broken windows theory” is what I was thinking about. I then thought if I were in charge of the HR area, I could whip that place back into shape in no time (okay in some time, but you get my point). Notice how I didn’t say “if I were in charge of the whole organization”, I said just in charge of the HR department. Why? You ask. Because in a situation such as this, a disorganized zombie culture cannot be effectively transformed from the top, but rather has to be manipulated from within. HR is the police department in the broken windows theory looking to stop the crime of murdering the souls and minds of the employees. Just like in the theory I would start by solving the petty crimes or rather, fixing the broken windows.

Step 1) Reorganize the HR office. Organized chaos is a shambolic front to have. Any potential or current employee who walks into that office should at least walk out impressed with how it looks. They should almost think, well the building itself is terrible, but HR is on top of their stuff. Clean the space up, change the feng shui

Step 2) Enforce the dress code, in the HR office at first, but then throughout the organization. Now “professionals” from around the world will argue with me on this one, but let’s face it how you dress reflects how serious people take you. My receptionist friend could have been the guy from the DOS EQUIS commercials, but with all those wrinkles I wouldn’t even ask him directions if I saw him on the street holding a map. In the HR office, people need to be reassured of the quality product we are providing. Ironing your completely acceptable clothing choices is one way to help assure them of that.

Step 3) After the HR office and staff is on the right path, I would start recruiting and hiring better for all jobs in the organization. Better is a sliding scale, for me talent is talent, but people who are going to fit the mold of professionals and organized are moving to the top of the “to hire” and therefore BETTER than those who don’t. In any event the goal would be to fight the zombies by bringing some life back to the organization.

Step 4) Lobby top management for the funding to have the bathrooms fixed. Now I know in this day and age financial capital can be put to better use than upgrading bathrooms, but as part of the plan to fix the broken windows this has to be the next step. The bathrooms are the only common thread of space between all employees and all visitors to the office, including potential new hires. As any college sports follower knows the better your facilities the more likely you are to have better recruits playing on your team!

Step 5) Zombie management interventions. What are these you ask? Most people know them as management training. Let’s face it, we all tend to manage those beneath us how we were managed or the complete opposite from how we were managed. That means for all the different classes of management in the text book, most people are only using the 2 they know about somebody else’s or the opposite of someone else’s. Neither of which may be a good fit for them as managers or the organization as a whole. By intervening and looking for ways to improve management, their might just be an opportunity to breathe life back into the existing employee base.

Those are just the basis for fixing the broken windows and changing the zombie culture at this particular organization. However, no matter the situation I believe that HR has to be the driver of organizational change. So let me ask you loyal readers… is it HR’s failure that leads to these types of organizations? Is HR the right place to start fixing the broken windows?

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