The two morning SMRT train faults on 15 Nov 2017 will make anyone want to find out the reasons why problems continue to exist regularly for the brand.
At a press interview in October 2017, the CEO took full responsibility for the many past failures of SMRT's train services. He mentioned that many of the major disruptions had been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure. He also mentioned that although the company had find ways to create a positive work culture, there remained some deep-seated cultural issues that needed to be resolved over time. When further asked about what exactly were the deep-seated cultural issues, he did not elaborate.
Hence, if SMRT, one of the largest employers in Singapore with a workforce of 10,000, continue their usual work culture and habits, they may likely experience more issues, more unhappy customers and more PR disasters.
Let us analyse why there might be some deep-seated work cultural issues in large companies like SMRT.
1) The Organisational Drag
In the book,"TIME | TALENT | ENERGY: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power", the authors stated that the average company loses more than 25 percent of its productive power due to organisational drag. Organisation drag usually occurs when the company grows the workforce. It is attributed to many factors such as bureaucracy, loss of empowerment, micro-management, and pretty much, a lot of ego issues.
2) Work-Blame Culture
Regardless of your company size, you might have encountered a typical work-blame culture scenario when individual department representatives will start to blame one another for the mistakes and errors the company made.
At the end of the day, somebody from the losing end, will be shown to the door. Those who are left, will continue to work in fear and low morale which may lead to more human error. Individual staff will do their own department stuff. They will refuse to cooperate, and they may plan to 'defend' themselves when mistakes happen again.
In such a work-blame culture, trust within the company will literally disappear and morale will decline by the heartbeat. With low morale, distrust and fear among the employees, the company will continue to fall in its productivity, customer service and public image.
3) Poor PR Image
Talk to anyone on the streets of Singapore about their views on SMRT, probably most of them may tell you about the frequent train disruption. They might also tell you that despite the problems, they have no choice but to take the trains.
As the brand continues to face one PR disaster after another, the pride of working with this brand may decline gradually. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a company to solve its deep-rooted work cultural issues immediately, to prevent the domino-effect on the company's productivity and image.
4) Lack of Communication Within the Workplace
As mentioned earlier, the problem with a company's work culture, may be caused by the distrust among its staff. Distrust is usually caused by the lack of communication and empathy. It is impossible for the CEO to communicate with every of his company’s 10,000 employees.
Therefore, everyone in the senior and junior management will have to communicate very well among themselves as well as with their staff. This is because every employee is a bridge of communication in the company's ecosystem. If there are too many broken bridges, then this company will not be able to function well.
5) Sense of Responsibility
To rescue a company from recurring PR disasters, is not just the responsibility of the CEO or the PR department. It is the responsibility of every single staff from the cleaners, drivers, operators, engineers, managers, vice presidents and all the way to the CEO. If one only thinks of himself or herself without thinking of ways to help their colleagues, or find ways to help the company from PR disasters, then nothing can really help the company.
6) Lack of Empowerment Within a Company
Empowerment is the key to success in every company. If a company does not empower its staff to make decisions or give valuable opinions to the company, then this company will never advance.
Companies that lack of empowerment are the ones with a lot of micro-managers. This group of micro-managers obviously did not trust the work delegated to their staff. They may feel that the staff does not have the experience to complete their work, therefore they micro-manage. A company with a lot of micro-managers will likely see a fall in its productivity as well. This is because time is often wasted due to micro-management. Moreover, it will cause fear among the employees too.
Ego is always the number one problem in any workplace's culture. Let’s look at ego in two factors.
Firstly, it is ego of the company. If the company had been enjoying a profitable run for many decades with little or no competition, ego may set in unnoticedly. Things will be taken for granted. This is because whether consumers like it or not, they will still have to pay for its services.
Secondly, it is ego among the senior staff. Experienced managers and staff may feel that they are too competent in their line of work such that complacency sets in unintentionally. Hence, complacency may result in human error.
For now, we can roughly ‘CSI’ or guess the reasons of the deep-rooted cultural issues of SMRT. This is because only the people within the company will know exactly what are the issues.
So, the question is, 'Is there a way to address such workplace cultural issues?'
Yes, definitely! Look at Google! It has a strength of 57,100 employees worldwide and it continues to receive millions of job applications each year. The reason why is because people want to work in a company that values them individually.
In Google, the Human Resources department is not named 'HR', it is called 'People Operations'. Some call this department, the Department of Happiness. The people at this department have only one simple task, that is to make sure everyone working at Google is happy. This is because happy people will make a company grow at a happily faster speed.
Well, since SMRT has about 5 times less workforce than Google, I'm sure things will work out for them eventually.
However, in my opinion, I feel that there must be a sense of urgency for them to know their weakness and find out the cause of its deep-rooted cultural issues. Moreover, they need to find ways to quickly resolve the issue and not wait till the cows come home. Everyone must work together to achieve this goal.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Jacky Tan is a professional marketing writer, blogger, speaker, and the author of 'Social M - How Your Startup Can Take On the Big Boys'. Jacky leads the boutique marketing communications and branding agency, Jack and Chaz Pte Ltd. He specialises in the creation of successful branding, content marketing and pr strategies for companies of any size.