Managing People and the Employment Relationship

BMA583: Managing People and the Employment Relationship
Assessment task 2: Individual Report

Case Study: Unitel

Unitel is one of the largest telecommunications companies (telcos) 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. Automation and increased competition have also become pronounced
features of the industry. Senior management at Unitel are concerned that the firm’s
culture needs to be improved 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 2022”, it is an ambitious program which 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 2022 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 2022 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 2022 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 2022 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 2022 as creating a “bottom-to-top” communication 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 2022 among Unitel’s 32,000 staff. “I don’t think Vision 2022 is
accepted by my workmates”, observed one customer service operator – “they generally
regard it as a joke”.
It is clear that Vision 2022 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 2022 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” he concluded.

BMA583: Managing People and the Employment Relationship 2

Vision 2022 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-wide e-newsletter and an
internal video conferencing system). 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 which 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 2022 program a complete waste of money,” commented one
regional manager. Most staff seem to have accepted that Vision 2022 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 2022 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
2022 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 2022 is merely an attempt to undermine its
standing among Unitel’s employees. Senior management have 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 2022 “is all about leadership … about achieving cultural
change”. Senior Unitel management mostly come 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 2022 is largely a campaign to attack the
union.” Yet many Unitel managers regard Vision 2022 as a great success, a necessary
response to the greater competition the large telco faces in an increasingly competitive,
globalised world.
At the outset of Vision 2022, Unitel management had commissioned a staff survey that
found “staff-oriented values are not found within the dominant existing culture
characteristics at Unitel” and that employees desired a culture that had a “distinctive
external-internal orientation, placing the customer in a pivotal position but not at the
expense of the staff”. Vision 2022 is intended to be a “major corporate change
intervention” with “change agents” drawn from different work areas and chosen by

BMA583: Managing People and the Employment Relationship 3

management from among those staff “who are motivated to change and constructing
processes to channel their enthusiasm, energy and commitment productively”.
As one of the change agents describes it “A central aspect of Vision 2022 is to involve
people, to empower them. The Vision 2022 program is partly about empowerment so
you contribute to the organisation in the way that you feel and you are not just following
supervisors or managers orders.” But a criticism of union officials is that “Vision 2022
does not seek to change the corporation but merely the way employees perceive the
corporation when change needs to occur at all levels of the organisation rather than only
at the lower levels”.
Some staff remain dismissive of Vision 2022: “Some friends of mine went to a Vision
2022 presentation last year”, recalls one technician, “and they said it was really verging
on lunacy for want of a better term.” Another commented “We were down at Albert Park,
300 of us in a huge white tent, and after the HR director had spoken one of the senior
engineers loudly muttered ‘what a wanker’.” A training executive commented that Vision
2022 has “a cultish feel about it – there is no methodology or systematic approach to it”.
Vision 2022 is seen by some as an opportunity for management to move “believers” in
over the heads of local technical leaders with a view to breaking down union influence.
“I’m scared of it”, said a young union delegate, “I’m scared of Vision 2022’s power to
control people”.
Unitel has produced a monthly video bulletin called “Vision news” that depicts the
benefits of Vision 2022. In one episode, an assistant technician relates how she has
been taught new skills and that Vision 2022 is good for her personal development and
job satisfaction. In another episode, a programmer describes how “Vision 2022 has
allowed me to go to management with my ideas and talk to other people within my
section.” A third employee relates that Vision 2022 is all about “Unitel people using their
initiative to solve problems, finding new ways of doing things which benefit the
customer”.
Vision 2022 has also occasioned job losses. As a Unitel IT executive noted “Despite all
the nonsense about people being our greatest asset et cetera, et cetera, you look
around and you see all of a sudden the six people who were sitting around you have
gone. Do they really believe that people are stupid?” The Advertiser reported a staff
member criticising Vision 2022 as “corporate spoon bending”, comparing it to American
television evangelism. A senior union official contended that “Vision 2022 has cost a lot
of money and achieved very little of what Unitel management want it to do.” Another IT
executive commented that “Vision 2022 lacks structure and has not received proper
management commitment.” It is widely suspected that Unitel’s board is now considering
abandoning the program.

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