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looking a bit backwards – Part 5 – means not ends

December 11, 2014

This is the 5th in my looking backwards series examining what corporations have forgotten in the last 50 years. It is based on a document I found from 1968 entitled GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND OBJECTIVES IN EMPLOYEE RELATIONS. The earlier piece on the value of credit and criticism can be read here

In this day of e-mail, text, iMessage, MSMessenger, Yammer, Facebook, Twitter and intranets you would think organisations would have communication covered. Employees should be better informed about what is going on in their organisation than at any other time in history. It is clearly not the case as I have lost count of the number of times I have asked the people I meet what they have got coming up in the next few months only to have them tell me:

  • that they do not know,
  • that they do not know what role they will be in or who they will be reporting to,
  • that they do not know if they will have a job, or worse
  • that they do not know because their position has been made redundant.

As an occasional series I tend to forget that I have the wisdom of my 1968 Corporation to draw on to provide some perspective. Today I am looking at the last three elements of the first section entitled INDIVIDUAL RECOGNITION which sets out management’s responsibilities in ensuring that each person, whatever their job, has the opportunity to develop their talents and receive recognition for their successful efforts.

Means not ends

You can see the consequences of forgetting these three principles playing out in many places around the world at the moment but for me it is showing up most clearly here in my home State. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you work for Government or for a private corporation at the moment – both seem to have chosen to ignore them.

One of the worst examples that I have heard of is a team of Government employees having spent weeks wondering what the future holds for them  being told on Thursday to attend a mandatory Friday 9 am meeting. It was common knowledge that the meeting was being called to tell them they were no longer needed.  Assembled anxiously as a group it was left to a senior manager to announce to them that there was nothing to announce and they should go back to work.

A mandatory meeting to announce there is nothing to announce!

The particularly vigorous media criticism of Government job cuts the night before may or may not be the reason for the announcement that there was nothing to announce, but the result was a group of employees who were expected to continue working productively knowing that they were not being kept informed of their personal status or of the circumstances which affect them or their group. I know of similar meetings in the private sector that have followed the same script.

Which begs the question, why does this keep happening?

My 1968 Corporation knew the answer was means not ends.

MEANS an agency, instrument, or method used to attain an end (or result): The telephone is a means of communication. There are several means of solving the problem.

I think the answer lies in section 1.7.  … systems, organisational structure and associated procedures should be put in place as a means of implementing the successful efforts of those by whom and for whom they were made rather than as ends in themselves. Casting this principle aside, many who see themselves as leaders today seem to believe that changes in organisational structure (making people redundant, changing reporting lines, shifting or embedding resources) is all that needs to happen. Once it is eventually announced and people have changed desks, changed their email footers and changed their roles then that is apparently the end. Change implemented.

Perhaps the worst example of this is the organisation that periodically ranks itself against others in their sector or industry and decides they have too many people. Positions are cut, contracts ended, people are hurt, lives are disrupted. There are no changes to systems as the organsiation longer has the people needed to develop or effectively implement those changes. It wouldn’t matter if they did because those employees who remain in the organisation have taken on up the slack and are too busy to help make those systems serve them. Few of the benefits of the new structure or system are realised beyond short-term cost savings, management sheet responsibility for this failure to poor project teams or, perversely, poor systems for project management.

A few contractors and part-timers are employed to help ease the load, then additional full-time positions are justified and before long it is suggested that the organisational structure needs to be reviewed. Someone thinks it is a good idea to benchmark against other similar organisations …. and so the vicious cycle continues.

Some days I do wonder if the leaders of our 1968 Corporation, who looked forward to the advances we would make in the 50 years since, would look at how we operate today and conclude that we are looking more than just a bit backward.


This is the 5th in my occasional series looking backwards to find a way forward series examining what corporations have forgotten in the last 50 years. The first piece in the series can be read here.

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