In the fast paced and hyper competitive environment most companies find themselves embroiled in, the human aspect critical to a company's success can often be brushed over or in some cases, overlooked altogether. In the strategic planning process, many organizations fail to realize that their own employees are their most valuable asset. In fact, employee satisfaction and motivation are so critical to an organization's success that those firms who fail to grasp this concept are not only caught in a downward spiral that involves a loss of market share to the competition, but also the power it has to attract and retain highly skilled and competent employees in the future. One such company that made the mistake of forgetting the value of its employees is Nortel Networks, a giant global telecommunications company now struggling for its very existence. This paper will identify many of the human resource problems currently facing the telecommunications giant, as well as provide paths the organization can take to reestablish itself through its employees by using concepts and methods found in the book Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage by Raymond A. Noe (Editor), John R. Hollenbeck, Barry Gerhart and Patrick Wright.
The mistakes made by Nortel during the 1999-2002 timeframe concerning its employees are numerous. For one, the sudden economic downturn within the telecommunications industry in general focused the company's attention on the external environment and away from the employees responsible for day-to-day operations. Communication channels seemed to dry up overnight, and employees were left to speculate as to their immediate future. In addition, managers, once judged by the level of feedback they provided, were suddenly too concerned about their own immediate future to worry about motivating the masses. These same managers, once empowered to make the decisions necessary to keep their groups functioning effectively, were now striped of all powers and left to wait for the next major layoff decision. In effect, the organization stopped functioning as a well-oiled machine as it focused on everything but the employees who had helped catapult it to success in the first place.
In addition to employee loss of moral, many of Nortel's hiring processes lacked continuity and structure. For instance, candidates were often hired without being prescreened by the human resource department based on whom they knew or by sending the resume directly to the hiring manager. Although this system seemed to work for a while, in effect it allowed many unqualified employees to be hired as well as created a gap in the hiring process by cutting the human resource department out of the loop during the employee evaluation process. Along with the above, the company utilized a system where bonuses and pay increases were based solely on the individual assessment of managers that often left employees feeling cheated. And, although the company often stressed open-door policies, it failed in may respects to give its managers adequate training in the communication process necessary for successful employee/manager relations.
Many of the problems faced by Nortel during the so-called "fall of the telecommunications industry" still exist today as the organization struggles to regain its position as a leader in the industry. For one, many employees and managers still feel as if they have no power in the areas that directly concern them such as advancement possibilities, open-door policies, and the day-to-day operating decisions that they once handled as a routine matter of course. The barriers associated with multi-level decisions and red tape, once abolished, were rebuilt almost overnight leaving many feeling frustrated and afraid to make any decision lest it put them on the next layoff list. In general, employees were left feeling used, abused, and unappreciated, and their sense of security totally gone.
Although the human resource problems facing Nortel today are many, there are steps the organization can take to reestablish the trust between itself and the employees who are vital to the organization's success. First, the company must take proactive steps to reestablish the communication channels including that of effective feedback. Second, Nortel must find a way to empower its employees to make the business decisions needed in order to both regain and retain market share. In addition, the organization must develop pay and recruiting policies that not only motivate employees, but provide the company with a competitive advantage as well.
When communication processes within an organization break down, effective feedback is cut off at the source, and the manager's ability to directly motivate employees' dies as well. In order for any organization to function effectively, communication must flow openly in all directions and be free of unnecessary and confusing clutter. Without effective communication systems, firms cannot meet organizational objectives or goals. In order for Nortel to reopen the communication channels with its employees, it must encourage its managers to reestablish both upward and downward communication. Managers should be instructed to pay attention to the conversations overheard in the hallways, around the water cooler, and sent through the email systems in order to get a true feel for the concerns of employees. Once management acquaints itself with these concerns, effective feedback channels must be established in order to address them directly. Management must encourage two-way communication at all levels within the organization. Management must ensure that some face-to-face communication occurs so that the employees can take advantage of both verbal and nonverbal behaviors that lead to building trust.
Next, Nortel must assess the effectiveness of its current feedback channels and take whatever action necessary to ensure they are being used as a tool to motivate as well as clear up any misinformation within the department. Ineffective feedback not only harms the organizations effectiveness, it also stifles the creative process. Line managers as well as those within the human resource department must be trained to evaluate both verbal and nonverbal feedback.
Such feedback is critical because it provides employees with a method of discovering if their input is being accurately received and understood. It provides a means for both employees and employers to assess both the information given and received based on the perceptions of others.
In addition, this feedback will allow Nortel to determine whether or not it needs to make adjustments in order to reach its goals. Not only will it help prevent many of the harmful consequences associated with noise in the communication channel, it will also help guarantee that the listener perceives the senders words correctly.
Nortel managers who use the feedback system will improve the accuracy and productivity of both groups and individuals. By clarifying instructions or statements by restating the sender's message, both managers and employees will come away from the communication process with a better understanding of not only what was said but also what was meant. This feedback process will provide another benefit in that it will increase each individual employee's satisfaction with his or her job. When employees feel that the boss is actively listening to what they have to say, it increases their sense of importance and self-worth, and makes them feel as if they are a valuable part of the organization.
To achieve this goal of an effective feedback system, Nortel managers must be trained by the human resource department or an outside training company to ensure that they have well developed listening and paraphrasing skills. Second, the feedback must be formatted in such a way that it does not make the employee feel as if he or she is under attack. The manager must ensure that the feedback is directly related to the context of what was said and not the individual saying it.
Effective and productive feedback works in both directions. While it is true that employees need feedback to function properly in their roles, management needs feedback also. Nortel managers can encourage such feedback by rewarding it when it is given. For instance, management can compliment the feedback giver in front of other employees, or offer some type of reward for the best employee suggestions. When feedback is given, management must set aside some time to follow-up with the employee so that the employee will know his/her suggestion was not merely swept under the rug. When in doubt, both employees and managers should ask for clarification before tabling the subject at hand. Trying to guess at what another actually meant can often lead to frustration, loss of valuable time, and a loss of productivity and employee moral for the organization.
Along with rebuilding the employee/employer relationship in terms of trust by way of effective feedback and open communication channels, Nortel must also develop new ways to motivate its employees. First, the organization must work on giving employees a sense of security. Many of the employees retained by the company have lost friends and co-workers to the layoff lists, leaving them feeling vulnerable themselves. When employees do not feel as if the company has their best interests at heart, they are unlikely to go above and beyond in their daily work. When employees feel unappreciated,…