Business Case Scenario – Assessment 2 Managing Culture and Change 21926, SPRING 2021
Ozfone is an Australian telecommunications and technology company, which markets voice, mobile, internet access, pay television and other services. The company has more than 5,000 employees and has been selling services to businesses, households and individuals for over 45 years.
With COVID-19 vaccinations now underway, countries are beginning to map out their roadmap out of lockdown. For companies, it creates important challenges and opportunities as to how they choose to return to work. That presents an interesting new dynamic for both the employer and the employee. In 2020, Ozfone was forced to transition its employees from being physically present in their offices to working remotely. However, at the beginning of 2021, the company implemented the hybrid working model – allowing employees to work both remotely and in the office. This was supported by the CEO of the company who is aware that even if a vaccine or effective treatment will open the possibility of a safe return to the traditional workplace, remote work will take a permanent place in the employment mix. Hybrid working models, done right, (1) allow organisations to better achieve innovation and attract talent, (2) lead to higher job satisfaction and autonomy of employees, and (3) define a future of work that is more flexible, people-oriented and sustainable.
However, the way how the company approached the hybrid working model has been causing some serious problems. One of them is that the managers hold an unconscious bias that because remote workers are not seen in the office they work less as those seen in the office. There is
also the belief that showing up to work, having good attendance and putting in long hours is more important than the results. Managers feel that they cannot trust that their working-from- home employees are actually doing the work and as a result, the employees are feeling micromanaged. The management by results (supporting employee autonomy on when, where and how they do their work) in the company has been clearly not embraced by the managers. Moreover, the conditions in the office space are not designed for a hybrid form of collaboration due to insufficient technological support. Not all meeting rooms are connected to the video conferencing software which causes remote workers to miss out on important information because it was communicated in person. The other problem is that the way how meetings are run has not changed from the pre-Covid version. For example, although most meetings are now attended by both remote and in-person team members, activities such as brainstorming are done on a traditional flipchart with paper post-it notes. This leaves remote workers feeling like they are not part of the team. Apart from that, the physical separation of staff in the implemented hybrid model makes forming working relationships between employees very difficult. Yet the question of how staff may be supported and developed to face current and future challenges tends to be neglected since managers are busy coordinating the work of remote employees and those present in the office. As a result, lack of socialisation and genuine support from managers – an essential part of office life – deteriorated the firm’s culture by creating a lack of trust and disengagement.
In your role as the HR leadership team, you would like to contribute to an increase in productivity through a more engaged workforce as well as making the company more attractive to talent. To do this, it has become clear to you that the company’s approach to hybrid work is underdeveloped and what is more, the current way of how the combination of remote and office work is done is not effective. You are not alone in this view. In conversations with frontline managers and employees, you have established that their feelings about the current way of working range from resignation to downright hostility (‘toxic working environment’, ‘demotivating’, ‘too stressful’ and ‘lack of support’).
The problem is, the senior executive team is nervous about tinkering with a system that, in their minds, has so far worked fairly well. There are a number of views in the leadership team. The CEO is fundamentally open to change as long as it aligns with the company’s value statements (see below) and helps increase the company’s competitive market position. In particular, his message on the company’s website is: “For the many challenges this pandemic poses, it also presents opportunities – new ways of thinking and working, new approaches to business and a greater emphasis on community-focused solutions.” He is joined by the Marketing and Sales Operating Officers who believe that the firm’s culture would benefit from becoming more collaborative and trusting. The Divisional Leaders tend to have a more neutral position: they are aware of frontline managers’ and staff’s disengagement with the current way of hybrid work across all divisions, but see it as a ‘necessary evil’ since they believe there are no alternative options and that employees just need to get used to it. The Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer believe that the company has a solid system that everyone knows how to use and that provides clear communication channels, so why change it?
To make matters more complex, there is a degree of change fatigue in the organisation. The company’s approach to change has traditionally been to have experts design the change and then tell managers to implement it. But the workforce consists predominantly of unionised, long-time employees, so it is difficult to mandate changes if they do not like them. As one of the frontline managers has told you: “We’ve been through different change management programs, and the perception at the front lines is that if you duck your head, they go away.
There is a certain amount of cynicism in the organisation.” Knowing this, you are fully aware that the senior executive team will likely have concerns and queries around the proposed change in regards to the hybrid working model, e.g.:
– What are the key benefits for the firm? Is it really worth the effort?
– What will make this change initiative successful, as opposed to other failed change initiatives by external consultancies that they have endorsed in the past?
– How does your proposed change initiative align with the company’s current value statements and external market drivers?
– What is the business case for it, compared to the status quo in how hybrid work is currently handled by the firm?
– How will staff and frontline managers be involved in the process so that the initiative does not end up being undermined, as has been the case with previous (top-down) driven change efforts?
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