Human Resource Planning in a Changing Environment

Chapter 4:Human Resource Planning in a Changing Environment: HRM in Practice 4.2: Unitel (Nankervis et al 2014)

HRM in Practice 4.2: Unitel Pages 140 to 141

 

 

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Unitel is one of the largest telecommunications companies 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, and senior management are concerned that the culture needs to be improved at Unitel 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 2020’, it is an ambitious programme that 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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 as creating a ‘bottom-to-top’ communications 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 2020 among Unitel’s 96 000 staff. ‘I don’t think Vision 2020 is accepted by my workmates,’ observed one customer service operator. ‘They generally regard it as a joke.’

Indeed Vision 2020 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 2020 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.’

Vision 2020 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 e-newsletter). 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 that 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 2020 programme a complete waste of money,’ commented one regional manager. Most staff members seem to have accepted that Vision 2020 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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 is merely an attempt to undermine its standing among Unitel’s employees. Senior management has 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 2020 ‘is all about leadership … about achieving cultural change’. Senior Unitel management largely hails 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 2020 is largely a campaign to attack the union.’

Yet many Unitel managers regard Vision 2020 as a great success, a necessary response to the greater competition the large telco faces in an increasingly competitive, globalised world.

Source: Contributed by Dr Bernard Mees, School of Management, RMIT University.

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