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The Dark Side of Process Management Turns People Into Automatons

Do you love your cell operator and their processes? I doubt it.

cell operator

Work in a call center is hardly a dream job. This can be clearly seen by looking at a friend’s story.

As a doctoral student of water management he quickly found out, that taking side jobs in his field wouldn’t be enough for him to make ends meet. So he made up his mind to apply for work in the call center of a big mobile operator and he thoroughly convinced a group of astonished HR managers, that he’s the man for the job. He surely was. His results were so outstanding, that he was soon promoted to company’s elite team of sharks.

But despite being one of the very best, he resigned during the probationary period because of the draconic processes in use. He mentioned few examples:

  • He couldn’t take a break. Being delayed for even a single minute on the toilet meant a substantial cut to his bonuses.
  • Bonuses were set up in such a way that it wasn’t worth it to help customers, since the pay-off was in selling them hard on overpriced and disadvantageous plans.
  • The operator was gathering so much big data about their customers, that it was actually pretty easy to manipulate them towards bad decisions under pressure.

In other words, the call center was in reality set up to squeeze both its customers and employees. For the latter, there was absolutely no advantage to sticking to their moral principles. That’s why he quit.

Sure, not every mobile operator works this way, but at the same time it is one way of maximizing profits on saturated markets.

Order employees to screw over customers and soon enough they’ll tell their employer to go fuck themselves. Or they’ll turn them in to authorities.

But give it to them in doses as steps of a fine-tuned process and you’ll find that many will dance any way you like. Because it’s in the process! And because badly implemented process management degrades people by turning them into automatons.

The dark side of process management often takes over when the process stops being a supportive structure for autonomous thinking of individuals and forces them to blindly follow the steps of a workflow without considering the wider context.

There may be seemingly higher output or profit on the upside. But the downside would be the growing number of disappointed or outright angry customers and corrupted employees, whose moral compass is long gone, no longer recognizing their true north.

By the way, this kind of process corruption was described in detail in David Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle about a operator in a corporate call center, who was blindly following processes to hide from her total loss of conscience.

The takeaways:

Processes are meant to eliminate negative human factors (forgetting, procrastination, loss of concentration, stress, skipping or mixing up steps in order, etc.).

But positive human factors should always be preserved in properly implemented business processes. Remember Tom Hanks trusting his professional gut and acting contrary to the set procedure in the movie Sully to save the lives of the plane’s passengers?

In real-life situations, you need people who listen to their inner voice. Who have a conscience, values and principles. Who can think through everything involved and are able to make an intelligent decision when confronted with an unexpected complication.

A properly implemented process is intended to be a type of support, not a lobotomy.

Robert Vlach, October 22, 2018

Business consultant, writer and EUpreneur. Proud founder of Procesoid and Na volne noze — one of the largest national freelance communities in Europe

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