The objective of this assessment is for you to critically analyse the human resources situation in the case provided (“Unitel”). We expect you to identify key HR and ER issues, and using the theories and knowledge that you have gained from this unit, develop well-supported recommendations for changes/improvements to the current HRM practices employed at the firm.
It is important to remember that reports differ according to the audience for which they are written. For this assessment task, we would like you to act as if you were an HR consultant who has been contracted to develop a plan to reform Unitel’s approach to managing its staff. As such, your report should be prepared as if it were to be delivered to Unitel’s board of directors. Your report therefore needs to be written in a way that will encourage the directors to implement the recommendations you develop.
Unitel is one of the largest telecommunications companies (telcos) in the Asia-Pacific region. Like most large telcos it was formerly government owned, but was privatised in the early 1990s. Since privatisation, however, Unitel has faced increased competition from foreign and local competitors. Unitel remains profitable, but the telecommunications industry has seen considerable innovation in terms of both products and services in recent years. Automation and increased competition have also become pronounced features of the industry. Senior management at Unitel are concerned that the firm’s culture needs to be improved if the telco is going to continue to grow its presence and maintain its profitability in a continually developing and changing market.
Last year, Unitel senior management unveiled a new corporate strategy to guide Unitel into the next decade. Called “Vision 2022”, it is an ambitious program which aims “to place customers in a pivotal position” and to seek “excellence in products, customer service, product delivery and corporate image”. Developed by an external management consulting firm, Vision 2022 aims to reposition Unitel as the “best enterprise in the region” by developing “action teams” and “change teams” whose role is to encourage “possibility thinking” and “customer comes first values” in the large industry incumbent.
Vision 2022 has been enthusiastically embraced by many senior managers at Unitel. “It is bringing field staff and high-level management together for the first time”, remarked one plant coordinator. “Problems are heard, solutions sought and once found their implementation is pursued”. “Unitel has a lot of internal problems”, said another manager, “and I see in Vision 2022 the possibility of salvation”. “I don’t see anything wrong in trying to produce more trust in the company” commented a technical officer. “The regular Vision 2022 de-briefings help to let all staff know what is going on and offer all of us a chance to have input into things”.
Some managers see Vision 2022 as creating a “bottom-to-top” communication system and inaugurating a new style of management founded on a renewed commitment to staff, getting employee involvement in problem-solving, improving customer service and creating a “family-type” environment. Yet there is also a considerable degree of scepticism about Vision 2022 among Unitel’s 32,000 staff. “I don’t think Vision 2022 is accepted by my workmates”, observed one customer service operator – “they generally regard it as a joke”.
It is clear that Vision 2022 has many critics at Unitel. As one senior technical officer commented “I hold a serious concern that some managers and staff have an almost fanatical and single-minded belief in the ability of Vision 2022 to save the company.” “They do not tolerate others who do not share their views”, remarked another. “I believe a climate is being generated where people who dissent are marked out and discriminated against” he concluded.
Vision 2022 has led to much standardisation at Unitel (from the timing of coffee breaks to the introduction of new forms of financial reporting) and improvements in internal communication (e.g. through the institution of a company-wide e-newsletter and an internal video conferencing system). It has involved the development of goals or “milestones” that each of the restructured Unitel departments are expected to meet. These include “enabling decisions to be made at the lowest possible level”, the development of a “customer needs” tracking facility (called Unicats) and the implementation of a decision-making process called the “U-test”. The “U-test” is essentially a diagram which asks Unitel management and employees to consider the following three questions when making any decision: (1) “If I were a customer, would this satisfy me?” (2) “If it was my business, would I do this?” and (3) “If it is done this way, will the team support it?”
But the benefits brought by the new strategy are often contested even by some managers. “I find the Vision 2022 program a complete waste of money,” commented one regional manager. Most staff seem to have accepted that Vision 2022 has created a rift between “believers” and “non-believers” at Unitel, and has exacerbated rather than solved many pre-existing problems. Some departments have even taken to sending Vision 2022 material “straight to the small circular filing system” (i.e. the rubbish bin). “Where once there was a team spirit,” complained a senior maintenance officer, “now we are being told all our problems are ‘self-inflicted’ and that it is our attitude that most requires changing.”
Other staff spoke of “cheerleaders” and “puppets” when describing advocates of Vision 2022 who worked in their departments. “Management are deaf,” claimed one sales officer – “our office has been faced with constant understaffing, excessive overtime and a shortage of materials and products.” “The rank and file,” complained another, “are expected to ‘work smarter’, but management seem only to care about buying the cheapest equipment and about belt-tightening on bread-and-butter items such as computers and photocopiers.”
The union is also suspicious that Vision 2022 is merely an attempt to undermine its standing among Unitel’s employees. Senior management have made it clear that the union “can get on the bus, but can’t be a driver” as Unitel’s CEO put it to the press. According to him, Vision 2022 “is all about leadership … about achieving cultural change”. Senior Unitel management mostly come from engineering backgrounds, however, and according to one union delegate “their understanding of social science is, to put it politely, not profound.” A union research officer more categorically claimed “it is all about marketing to their employees. Vision 2022 is largely a campaign to attack the union.” Yet many Unitel managers regard Vision 2022 as a great success, a necessary response to the greater competition the large telco faces in an increasingly competitive, globalised world.
At the outset of Vision 2022, Unitel management had commissioned a staff survey that found “staff-oriented values are not found within the dominant existing culture characteristics at Unitel” and that employees desired a culture that had a “distinctive external-internal orientation, placing the customer in a pivotal position but not at the expense of the staff”. Vision 2022 is intended to be a “major corporate change intervention” with “change agents” drawn from different work areas and chosen by management from among those staff “who are motivated to change and constructing processes to channel their enthusiasm, energy and commitment productively”.
As one of the change agents describes it “A central aspect of Vision 2022 is to involve people, to empower them. The Vision 2022 program is partly about empowerment so you contribute to the organisation in the way that you feel and you are not just following supervisors or managers orders.” But a criticism of union officials is that “Vision 2022 does not seek to change the corporation but merely the way employees perceive the corporation when change needs to occur at all levels of the organisation rather than only at the lower levels”.
Some staff remain dismissive of Vision 2022: “Some friends of mine went to a Vision 2022 presentation last year”, recalls one technician, “and they said it was really verging on lunacy for want of a better term.” Another commented “We were down at Albert Park, 300 of us in a huge white tent, and after the HR director had spoken one of the senior engineers loudly muttered ‘what a wanker’.” A training executive commented that Vision 2022 has “a cultish feel about it – there is no methodology or systematic approach to it”. Vision 2022 is seen by some as an opportunity for management to move “believers” in over the heads of local technical leaders with a view to breaking down union influence. “I’m scared of it”, said a young union delegate, “I’m scared of Vision 2022’s power to control people”.
Unitel has produced a monthly video bulletin called “Vision news” that depicts the benefits of Vision 2022. In one episode, an assistant technician relates how she has been taught new skills and that Vision 2022 is good for her personal development and job satisfaction. In another episode, a programmer describes how “Vision 2022 has allowed me to go to management with my ideas and talk to other people within my section.” A third employee relates that Vision 2022 is all about “Unitel people using their initiative to solve problems, finding new ways of doing things which benefit the customer”.
Vision 2022 has also occasioned job losses. As a Unitel IT executive noted “Despite all the nonsense about people being our greatest asset et cetera, et cetera, you look around and you see all of a sudden the six people who were sitting around you have gone. Do they really believe that people are stupid?” The Advertiser reported a staff member criticising Vision 2022 as “corporate spoon bending”, comparing it to American television evangelism. A senior union official contended that “Vision 2022 has cost a lot of money and achieved very little of what Unitel management want it to do.” Another IT executive commented that “Vision 2022 lacks structure and has not received proper management commitment.” It is widely suspected that Unitel’s board is now considering abandoning the program.