Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Frozen Horror at City Hall

A well kept, professional woman walks into City Hall and scans a public bulletin board for real estate information. Since her camera phone isn't working very well she reverts to Plan B. The woman simply removes the three documents from the bulletin board and heads over to the reception area looking for help.

She politely and respectfully asks the man sitting behind the well appointed reception desk, if it would be possible for her to get the documents photocopied. She also offers to pay.

The man, his face instantly frozen in horror, stammers he does not have the power to make that decision. He tells the woman she will have to ask the two ladies working at the next counter.

The two ladies, who take care of water bills, parking tickets and other payments made at City Hall, are equally horrified when the woman asks if its possible to photocopy the three documents; photocopies she is willing to pay for. Lady #1 attempts to draw a line in the bureaucratic sand.

"We're really not supposed to. It's against our policy".

Lady #2 shrugs her shoulders and chimes in:

"You can go ahead if you want to, but count me out".

Lady #1 jumps back in, telling the woman:

"We kind of have to cover our asses around here. And besides, if we did it for you, we would have to do it for everyone else".

As this exchange unfolds, one can't help but notice the presence of a large photocopying machine, sitting directly behind the two ladies at the counter.

There is an awkward silence, before Lady #1 offers to save the day:

"Let me go check with my boss".

Lady # 1 gets up, walks over to a nearby office before returning several minutes later with good news. "Operation Photocopy" has been approved by her immediate superior, her commanding officer - and at no charge to the civilian!

Before you think I am making a mountain out of a City Hall molehill, this is the type of organization that will also post the following information on its "Employment Opportunities" section on their website.

Working for the City of XYZ

The City of XYZ has a team of 600 people on the leading edge of policy and program development and service delivery. We're looking for people who share a commitment to community and to the lives of our citizens, and who share our values of responsiveness, excellence, fairness, integrity, leadership, and learning. If you want to be part of a challenging, safe, healthy and rewarding workplace; and have fun ... then our team is the place for you!

No ... I am not making this up.

Is it just me or do you see a disconnect between what's advertised on the web and how things really play out on the municipal front lines?

How much leadership, learning and fun can there be had when you work in an environment where otherwise fully functioning adults can't be trusted to make no-brainer photocopying decisions? And does a blatant "cover my ass" mentality truly reflect what has been described in HR speak as a challenging, safe, healthy and rewarding workplace?

Sadly, this scenario plays out at far too many government and bureaucratic organizations all over the continent. Qualities like initiative and resourcefulness take a back seat to the need to control human sheep as they graze through their professional existence without ever thinking how utterly ridiculous it is to see grown men and women paralyzed when faced with making the simplest of decisions.

You can probably guess where HR buzzwords like "Empowerment" need to be shoved.

But take heart TSB readers ... all is not lost.

Hope can be found in those precious few organizations that still value what the human spirit can bring to the workplace. Like Southwest Airlines and the story that broke recently over a pilot holding a flight so a grieving grandfather could make his connection to be at his dying grandson's bedside.

That's just the way things are done in the Southwest world as President Emeritus Colleen Barrett describes how life works on the front line.

Barrett has been with the company since it started flying in 1971 and is a big reason why the culture at Southwest continues to reverberate - even at the annual shareholders meeting.

Two questions:

What do companies like Southwest know about workplace culture that most organzations - especially the public sector - don't?

Why do we not call "bullshit" more often on organizations that force otherwise capable, bill-paying adults into thinking they still need to ask the teacher to be excused?

Instead of being free to think for themselves.

"A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear"

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Alan Weatherley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Excellent (and humourous) rendition of how so many "adults" function.

Carpe testes people, carpe testes. Grow a pair.