Attitudes injects New into the Old

Regional training and human resources consultant wants to help region's established companies fill themselves with New Economy energy

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By  David Ingham Published  January 9, 2001

Old Economy company wants a touch of New Economy dynamism in its organisation. That company wants to implant some of the fast moving culture, the feeling of ownership and the habit of knowledge sharing that drives these startup companies along.

But can an organisation that’s sometimes decades old and whose ways of operating are set in stone really achieve this? Absolutely, according to UAE-based Attitudes, a training and human resources consultant.

Attitudes has been helping companies overcome HR and organisational challenges since 1993, and now it’s hired Sophie Offord, a former Andersen consultant, to help its clients close that gap between New and Old Economy habits. The key to doing this? After a one and a half hour chat with Offord and company partner & co-founder, Hazel Jackson, the answer seems to be ‘communicate.’

Take an example of a company that wants to automate a manual system or might be going further by putting in software that can facilitate knowledge sharing. There’s always a hard core of employees, either young or old, that will resist the change. “That resistance to change, if it’s not managed or worked with, goes underground and that’s where it becomes dangerous,” explains Offord.

So get things out in the open. “Successful companies decide at the beginning to involve individuals using a new system in its design, in making sure a screen is usable, in making sure individuals understand why they’re using the system,” she says.

If this is done properly and everyone knows why they’re using a new system and how to use it, then the drop in productivity that often follows implementation can be avoided. And if a particular individual or individuals are persistently difficult about change? “Brainstorm with them before you reach that stage,” urges Jackson. “You have to start them thinking that there are other options. If someone knows why it’s happening, when it’s happening, how it will affect them and what they need to do along the way, they might still feel uncomfortable but it won’t be the unknown for them.”

Two classic New Economy attributes that could be very hard to apply to regional companies are the feeling of ownership and knowledge sharing. Employees in dot-com companies, for example, often have equity stakes and in the case of most major IT companies, child care and concierge services are common.

Stock options is an interesting one and something that isn’t likely in regional companies. But Jackson says that companies in the region can at least look at the idea of performance related pay and bonuses for achievement. “At the end of the year your salary increase could possibly be linked to a set of results,” she says. “That is the most simple tool for getting employees on board.”

Offord says companies here should certainly look at providing extra benefits beyond financial rewards, such as childcare facilities. “Extra benefits make your people happy and they then make your customers happy,” says Offord.

As for knowledge sharing, knowledge is supposed to be power, but in the case of all too many middle managers, they see that as power to themselves rather than to the company. It’s why knowledge management initiatives like intranets, which enable information sharing, meet with resistance from middle managers. “Communication often gets stuck at middle management and employees below them feel no-one is listening,” says Offord.

The solution is to make the middle manager understand that passing on his knowledge empowers not just the people under him but also enables him to move upwards in the company. “Knowledge is power, but only when it’s shared,” says Jackson.

One group of the working population that often frets about the changes wrought by technology is older employees. They fear that they won’t be able to understand and will be left behind. Get over that fear, Jackson and Offord urge. “I’d say get your kids to teach you,” says Offord. “In a previous consulting job that’s exactly what they were doing.”

In the end, running a company well comes down to one thing, as Attitudes points out. “It’s common sense, and making common sense work in your organisation,” says Offord. It’s just that sometimes, you need a company like Attitudes to remind you what constitutes common sense.

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