Updated: May 10
Very quickly I realised, this was different.
Even though it is so many years ago, I remember stepping into that lift in the Bank's Head Office and thinking to myself, this is different. I had worked in a branch of the organisation for 8 years and when my ideal job, which happened to be in Head Office came up I jumped at it. What made it different was that it was in a dealing room and jobs in this part of the bank were not advertised. Through my foreign exchange dealing in the branch, I had made friend in this unique part of the organisation and so was tipped off when the opportunity came up. I won't go into the value of networking which is another article but it did have a significant influence in me getting this job.
Back to the lift and I was amazed to see the scramble to get into it and it was only when I heard 'Good morning, Mr Walker' several times I realised what was happening. It was a scramble to get noticed by a Department Head, something I was to witness every day (same behaviour, different name) until I left.
I settled in very quickly but noticed that there was a different culture around me. Yes, of course they were friendly and they were colleagues but the department I was part of did not mix with other departments. This was different to my experience at branch level where we met up socially with other branches and colleagues from other banks. There was a friendly atmosphere and it was common practice to call on friends in other branches and sometimes rival banks for help to keep the day to day show on the road. This did not seem to be the case in Head Office where every department worked autonomously. But there was another side to it that truly shocked me, those who had joined the bank and were in Head Office from day one had no concept of what was happening at branch level. They were isolated from the front line and the challenges posed by the daily interaction of real customers at the counter, and furthermore, they weren't interested.
Through the medium of my radio show interviews over the last couple of years this issue of two cultures in one organisation has come up time and time again. Many of my guests who have gone on to be successful entrepreneurs talk of their experience working for large organisations that have a branch network. Those who have worked in both branch and head office roles talk about the distinct cultural differences they experienced and the negative impact it has on morale. Naturally, when you have issues with morale you have issues with employee retention, a cost that many organisations fail to calculate accurately in their P&L. Another aspect is the impact on customer service because of the failure to understand at head office level the real needs of the customer which is heard first hand by those on the front line. This shows a communication gap that motivational missives from head office fail to address.
So let's talk about some solutions that every organisation could embrace at minimal costs but would have a real and positive effect on the organisation.
Mystery shopper with a difference - those at senior management level in Head Office ring into a branch or Customers Service part of their organisation anonymously and ask for a something that would be a common request. Now assess the experience from the time you dialled in to the time you hung up. I believe that experience would be more valuable that any third part mystery shopper report. To further support the value of this exercise have a look at the TV program 'Undercover Boss' which is a variation on this exercise.
Put in place a system where those working in head office have to work in a branch for two weeks every year. Equally, get branch staff to work in head office for two weeks every year and finally, facilitate a session where they meet up and discuss their experience. Have notes taken and circulated.
Examine the communication flow both up and down throughout the organisation. I delivered a talk recently where I identified €1.75m in losses in one organisation because of a communication gap. A problem had been identified by those on the ground who alerted personnel in head office to the issue but because the cost aspect was not identified it was not prioritised. Had the correct communication gone to the right person who understood the implication to the organisation it would have been resolved at a minimal cost.
Finally, this is not rocket science but simple business processes that deliver real and lasting value. If you would like to read more or hear me talk on other business topics then email me firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up to my Resources, articles and blogs.